INDIO — Early in Pearl Jam's concert on Friday at the Empire Polo Club in this desert city, singer Eddie Vedder--commenting on the out-of-the-way location--told the huge audience, "You gotta run pretty far to get some space for yourself these days."
But even Vedder, for all his recent comments about the pressures of stardom, probably never imagined that later he and his bandmates would have to seek space behind the amplifier stacks, running for cover from a barrage of shoes thrown at them by a pea-brained contingent of the audience.
Vedder and the band made the most of this, hiding from the crowd while performing the Dead Boys' old punk song "Sonic Reducer" in a memorable moment of unplanned rock theater in Pearl Jam's biggest concert so far of its new tour.
Neither the tongue-in-cheek retreat nor the rest of the show, however, really answered whether Pearl Jam, with its record-breaking album sales, is a band for the ages or the band of the moment.
Vedder left no doubt about his own talents, with his charismatic intensity losing nothing in this vast setting, where 25,000 people--an estimated 15,000 of them having driven the two or three hours from the L.A. area, which the band is avoiding for now--stood in the middle of the California desert singing along to anthems of youthful alienation, suicide and survival.
Vedder was clearly communicating with his fans, and such songs as the new "Daughter" and "Animal" and the now-standards "Alive" and "Jeremy"--portraits of young people haunted by familial betrayal and a world with no ground rules--rang solidly true.
The band, though, didn't quite seem ready to jump to the arena and stadium headlining status, showing occasional sloppiness that might have been electrifying in a smaller setting, but didn't really get across in the great outdoors. But maybe it's good that for all its impact, Pearl Jam has room--and promise--for growth.
The site itself--essentially a really, really big, palm-lined lawn--proved on the whole a success, comfortably accommodating the large crowd with relatively few traffic and parking problems. It was certainly far better than last summer's "Lollapalooza" shows at the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area in those respects.