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An uneven Pearl Jam waits until overtime to show it can still rock

June 04, 2003|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

The big payoff came only at the end for Pearl Jam. And this was the very end, a second encore Monday night at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, stomping through Victoria Williams' brooding "Crazy Mary" and the Who's "Teenage Wasteland." Moments of intensity and greatness that only a great band can make, and which don't happen by accident.

Singer Eddie Vedder had just warned that the night's two-hour-plus concert was drifting past the curfew, which meant that playing the songs would cost Pearl Jam a $5,000 fine. It was a worthy investment, a short encore set that by itself justified the band's lingering reputation.

So who was that other band on stage during the bulk of Pearl Jam's show? There were certainly other musical and emotional peaks during the night, but Pearl Jam just as often lacked that focus and intensity. Vedder still has a voice built for big open spaces, a sound deep and troubled. And while the band no longer towers over the rock landscape as it did in the 1990s, Pearl Jam can still rock with purpose and conviction.

But the song "Jeremy" doesn't hold the same drama it once did, partly because the band frequently drifted into low-energy jams during the night. Too often, songs had fewer sharp edges. And despite a wealth of material, the choices leaned toward the meditative, with the occasional eruption from Vedder. The front rows were filled with excited fan club members, a reward for mutual loyalty. And fans across the amphitheater sang along to the hits, while on the screen above the stage Vedder's squinting face remained in almost perpetual close-up.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Song title -- A review of Pearl Jam's Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre concert in Wednesday's Calendar gave an incorrect title for a song by the Who. The title of the Who song that Pearl Jam performed was "Baba O'Riley," not "Teenage Wasteland."

Now beginning its second decade, Pearl Jam sounds less alternative than it ever did. Lead guitarist Mike McCready is a classic rock fanatic in a Social Distortion T-shirt, a gifted player who clearly draws a lot more influence from Duane Allman than the Velvet Underground. The band is spectacular when given the chance, riding the heavy beats of drummer Matt Cameron (formerly of Soundgarden).

But Pearl Jam's unpredictability rests with Vedder, who ignited a small bump of controversy recently when he mocked and stomped a mask of President Bush during a concert. On Monday there were no political messages, except between the lines, based mostly on song choices and the occasional spontaneous reference to F-16s. Pearl Jam's version of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth" was not as biting as the original, except for its timing. And Vedder added his own line: "Just give us some truth, we can handle the truth."

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