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Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam sneaks into Santa Cruz

By Todd S. Inoue

In the past two years, Pearl Jam has been prematurely dumped in the "boring old fart" folder. Wednesday (Nov. 12), at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz--playing under the name the Honking Seals--the band calmly reaffirmed its status as one of the top rock groups in the world.

Surprisingly, the scene outside the Catalyst wasn't too hectic. Getting asked for extra tickets was no different than being asked for a smoke, dirt weed, spare change, etc. on Pacific Avenue. Except I don't think I'd exchange a scalped ticket for $200, as some rat bastards were doing on the sidewalk.

Six hundred people made the cut. The show was undersold on purpose, to make the experience enjoyable and comfortable. And it was. The pit was as friendly and orderly as a Christian rock concert.

I felt like a proud papa watching San Jose's Odd Numbers opening the show with its standard-bearing mod pop. How'd they get on the bill? Joel from Sessions skateboard shop recommended the Numbers to his pal, Eddie Vedder, when word got out that a surprise show was going down.

The fact that Pearl Jam and the Odd Numbers have mutual admirers in Gas Huffer and the Fastbacks didn't hurt either. Before the show, Vedder hung out with the Odd Numbers, jamming with guitarist Dave Baisa on a batch of Who tunes.

"Ved's a bigger Who fanatic than I am," said Baisa. Vedder later gave props to the Odd Numbers before the final song. It was a great moment for the local band.

At 9:15, the lights dimmed, and the fellas stomped on stage. A curious, slightly downcast tune, "Sometimes," opened the show. Halfway through, after enduring some pesky feedback, Vedder stopped midsong. "It's such a nice song, I want to be able to hear it."

A steady stream of hits followed: "I Got ID," "Corduroy," "Hail, Hail," "Dissident" and "Evenflow." The band was subdued, head down, intent on getting the parts right.

Vedder, dangling like an arthritic puppet, took it easy during the first half of the show, reducing the vocal workout of "Dissident" and "Evenflow" into temperate readings. He seemed to be saving his voice for the four nights opening for the Rolling Stones. Nobody seemed to mind.

After complimenting Santa Cruz on its "warm swells," surfer boy Vedder teased the crowd about why they chose to play Santa Cruz. "Ah, maybe Santa Cruz isn't the best place. I just remembered, Detroit. Detroit deserves it more. Or Cleveland. Yeah, now that I think about it, you guys are so fucking spoiled. Now we're gonna spoil you some more and play some new songs you haven't heard before."

Pearl Jam then deliver some fresh material from the band's upcoming album, Yield, due next year. "Brain of J" and "Given to Fly" were standard, better-than-average Pearl Jam stuff--surprisingly catchy, in the vein of "Not for You." "Wish List" was a standout. The track had Vedder wishing he was everything from a sailor to a messenger to the star atop a Christmas tree to an alien to a neutron bomb--all in his coffee-flavored low roar.

The set closed with a roadhouse version of "Nowhere Man" and a blood-pressure intense "Last Exit." Mike McCready ripped a solo on his Flying V. The band was found its groove on "State of Love and Trust." A disco ball spun as the band premiered "Do the Evolution," another new song.

At encore time, Vedder pulled out a cell phone and dialed Neil Young's number. "Hey Neil, it's Ed," he said. "We want to sing happy birthday to you." Once the crowd had serenaded Young and quacked like ducks (don't ask), "Immortality" was rendered with Who-like tones.

McCready began experimenting with his space-like guitar effects. The show ended with a subdued "Once" and a devastatingly good version of "Alive." The curling guitar intro sent the crowd into fits of knowing nostalgia. Fans chanted the break with lust.

    Is there something wrong? she said.
    Of course there is
    You're still alive she said.
    But do I deserve to be?
    Is that the question?
    And if so, if so, who answers? Who answers?

In the past, "Alive" was a testament to surviving personal crisis. Tonight, the song was a proclamation of Pearl Jam resilience. In pop's musical chairs, we all need some constants in our life. On a rainy Wednesday night in a small Santa Cruz club, Pearl Jam proved they will be one of them.

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