Zombie Rockin’

Photo: behindthehype.com

Review of Eddie Vedder’s live solo concert, State Theatre, Sydney, 20th March 2011

It’s nearing the end of the night. Eddie Vedder is blasting out Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World from a stage that resembles a smoke-strangled music room. No such affectionate description can be applied to the stands we sit in however. Our section’s usher, who reacts like a zombie who smelt flesh, has just tapped my Dad’s shoulder: “Mate, sit down or get out!” We’re in the back row – no one is behind us. Yet every time Vedder breaks into a strumming solo and the urge to dance grips us, the zombies come stiff-faced and fast. Why? Because we’re in the State Theatre and standing is prohibited.

It’s Vedder’s third consecutive gig on the Sydney leg of his first solo Australian tour. The venue itself is quality. The acoustics compliment Vedder’s ability to throw his voice. For the past two hours, Vedder has wooed and rocked us with a collection of covers and originals.

“To all of you who come to multiple shows, I’m doing my best to keep it interesting,” he says after opening with the foot-tapping Sometimes and sing-a-long Elderly Woman behind the Counter in a Small Town. For any other artist, this might be classed as a throw-away crowd pleaser, but Vedder is known and loved for his ability to construct a set list. All three Sydney shows have been like a blend between effervescent squally water and calm, shore-lapping swell. Vedder settles into the latter with Pearl Jam cover Just Breathe. He follows it up with Bruce Springsteen’s My City of Ruins which rang poignantly into the March night – a tribute to Japan’s earthquake victims.

The ukulele is becoming one of his signature instruments. In fact Vedder plans to release his second solo album, Ukulele Songs this June. Longing to Belong is the first single and it had the couples in the room floating away on a cloud of lust.

The ikiness broke soon after however as he built up to a powerful, grungy crescendo through Unthought Known, leaving for the first encore after Porch to a standing applause.

Vedder and Pearl Jam regularly cop flack for performing covers but one argument regularly locks the critic’s jaw mid-sentence: Vedder’s so damn good at singing them. Some he’s made his own like Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World. Others he plays with such poignancy and feeling that the original artist has a struggle to hold ownership. He proves this with renditions of the Ramones’ I Believe in Miracles and the Beatles’ You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.

At the end of Rockin’ in the Free World, the second last song of the set, the usher gets his way and we sit down for the beginning of Hard Sun. But people begin to lose their fear of eviction as they realise this is likely to be the final song. By the first chorus, everyone is on their feet dancing and singing. The room is charged. I notice one zombie has even started nodding her head to the beat, sparked alive by Vedder’s passion. Twenty years he’s been with Pearl Jam and the boy’s passion lives harmoniously with the man’s wisdom.

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