Until this weekend, legendary U.S. rockers Pearl Jam had never played in Central America. But it wasn’t for a lack of fans, as was clear from Sunday’s night’s show at San José’s National Stadium. Concertgoers from across the globe, including from several Central American countries, turned out for the Costa Rican debut of one of rock’s most beloved bands.
While the show didn’t fill the entire stadium, it certainly was loud.
Iconic singer Eddie Vedder, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron set the tone for the evening with the night’s first songs, “Go” and “Animal,” the two adrenaline-filled opening tracks from 1993’s album “Vs.”
The energy and the volume didn’t wane for the remainder of the 28-song, two-and-a-half-hour show – even when someone turned on the house lights near the end of the band’s second encore (Vedder and company kept on playing).
With two decades of material to draw from, Pearl Jam – which changes its set list every show – played plenty of older material, including eight songs from the band’s 1991 debut album “10.”
Like so many other bands from the so-called era of Seattle “grunge,” Pearl Jam could have faded away by now. There were plenty of opportunities – and reasons – to call it quits. Stylistically, not much has changed since those early days. Pearl Jam may be older, but they still deliver unmatched intensity on stage.
Drummer Cameron and bassist Ament thunder through each song, allowing Gossard and McCready to show that screaming guitar rock is not dead. Meanwhile, Vedder is, well, Eddie Vedder.
He no longer perilously swings from lighting trusses 20 meters above stage, or dives into the crowd from towering speakers (his onstage antics on Sunday were limited to a few spastic leaps off small stage monitors). But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his edge, judging from the reaction of the thousands of young Pearl Jam fans at the National Stadium.
Following the band’s third and fourth songs, the melodic “Corduroy,” from 1994’s “Vitalogy” album, and “Unthought Known,” from their ninth and most recent studio album, 2009’s “Backspacer”, Vedder, notebook in hand, took a moment to address the crowd in their own language: “Hola Costa Rica, nuestra banda tiene 20 años, pero aún somos jóvenes. No sé por qué no habíamos venido nunca a Costa Rica, pero estamos muy felices de estar aquí, dejamos lo mejor para lo último”. (“Hello, Costa Rica, our band is 20 years old, but we’re still young. I don’t know why we’ve never come to Costa Rica, but we’re very happy to be here. We left the best for last.”)
By the sixth song, both band and audience members were settled in for a long evening, a perfect opportunity for the classic “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town,” from “Vs.”
Other noteworthy first-set songs included “Deep,” “Jeremy,” “Even Flow,” “Daughter,” “Why Go” and “Rearviewmirror.”
After a brief interlude, the band took the stage for their first encore with Vedder setting up the song “Just Breathe,” from the album “Backspacer,” by recalling a romantic moment he’d seen earlier in the day:
“They were just a cool-looking couple holding hands. And I’ve been away from the woman I love for three weeks on tour, and when you haven’t held somebody’s hand in three weeks, you realize what a powerful thing it is to hold someone’s hand.”
It was one of the evening’s moments that showcased Vedder’s talent for writing quiet, introspective, folksy songs that are just as perfect at a campfire as they are at massive soccer arenas.
Other highlights from the first encore included “Oceans” and “Black” from “10,” “Better Man” from “Vitalogy,” and a “State of Love and Trust” from the 1992 soundtrack to the iconic Cameron Crowe film “Singles.”
For their second encore, Pearl Jam covered Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss,” Pink Floyd’s “Mother” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” and performed their own smash hits “Once” and “Alive.”
McCready, who’d been jumping around all night and showering audience members with guitar picks, took front stage to end the night with the bluesy “Yellow Ledbetter.” By that time, the house lights had been turned on, a signal that apparently it was time to go home.
No one budged.
Memorable Moments: Lead guitarist Mike McCready’s two-minute Jimi Hendrix-sounding guitar solo on “Even Flow”; McCready’s, Eddie Vedder’s and Stone Gossard’s three-guitar jam-session on “Better Man,” with Vedder doing the Pete Townsend windmill tribute; “Black,” probably the best song of the night; and the band’s continued rocking of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” even though the house lights had been turned on.
Lowlight: Pearl Jam’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother.” While Ticos love Pink Floyd, the irony of playing a song about war in a country that has no army wasn’t lost on more than a few.
4. Unthought Known
6. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town
7. Given to Fly
8. The Fixer
12. Even Flow
13. You Are
15. Why Go
17. Just Breathe
19. Do the Evolution
20. State of Love and Trust
22. Better Man
23. Last Kiss
27. Rockin’ in the Free World
28. Yellow Ledbetter