Ted Leo + Pharmacists/Pearl Jam @ Madison Square Garden, NYC 6/24/08

Our friend Matthew Perpetua (Fluxblog) is a big Pearl Jam fan who hasn’t seen the band live in over ten years. Last night we sent him to Madison Square Garden. Here is his review. Photos by Maria Tessa Sciarrino.

If you need to know anything about this concert, it’s that Pearl Jam’s audience is very, very intense. The Garden was at maximum capacity, and about 96% of the people in the building were flipping out from the beginning of the show all the way to the end of it, about three hours later. I feel like I’ve been in a lot of good crowds over the past ten years or so, but leaving this Pearl Jam show left me wondering if the people at all those other gigs even liked those bands at all. In my experience, I’ve found that arena rock shows tend to attract a lot of fairweather fans — for example, I saw R.E.M. at the same venue last week, and there were certainly a lot of people just standing around waiting for the big hits — but the unanimity of enthusiasm for Pearl Jam was remarkable, and on par with only a handful of acts that I’ve seen in much smaller rooms. At certain points in the evening, the crowd was louder than the band, and very often it seemed like the entire audience was following a specific choreography that I wasn’t aware of due to the fact that I hadn’t seen them play in a decade. A lot of the time it seemed too good to be true, like some perfect fantasy of an arena audience. It was very inspiring.

Pearl Jam put on a no-frills rock show. They don’t mess around with fancy lighting, projected images, or video monitors. It’s just a bunch of guys rocking out on a stage with standard lighting, but given the quality of their performance and the natural charisma of their frontman, they don’t really need anything else. Eddie Vedder has got some rock star moves, for sure — it was particularly cool when he held a guitar up to a spotlight beam and reflected it out into the audience during the instrumental section of “Porch,” as if to give everyone in the house a high-five of white light — but he’s mostly quite laid back, even when he’s letting out a huge scream. He makes his control of the crowd seem effortless, but it’s clear that he’s working hard up there, and emotionally present in the moment of every song.

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists opened up the show, and to the credit of Pearl Jam’s fans, they got a very warm reception. The group opened with two surefire crowd-pleasers — “Sons Of Cain” and “Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?” — but focused mainly on material from their forthcoming album. Though the subtleties of Leo’s songs were often lost in a fairly lousy, ridiculously treble-heavy P.A. mix, the new songs came across very well, and the band were obviously energetic and enthusiastic. There were some moments when it seemed that Leo was slightly out of his element, but the songs themselves made perfect sense in the big room.

01 “Hard To Imagine”
02 “Save You”
03 “Why Go?”
04 “All Night”
05 “Corduroy”
06 “Faithfull”
07 “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”
08 “Down”
09 “Unemployable”
10 “Given To Fly”
11 “Who You Are”
12 “Whipping”
13 “1/2 Full”
14 “Even Flow”
15 “Present Tense”
16 “Daughter” (with the Rangers chant!)
17 “Do The Evolution”
18 “Love Reign O’er Me”
19 “W.M.A.”
20 “Leash”
21 “Spin The Black Circle”
22 “Wasted Reprise”
23 “Porch”
24 “No More”
25 “Crazy Mary”
26 “Comatose”
27 “I Believe In Miracles” (with CJ Ramone on bass)
28 “Alive”
29 “All Along The Watchtower”
30 “Indifference”