photo (2) By Chuck Cox

Special Contributor

Having neglected playing Dallas and Oklahoma City for a decade, Pearl Jam more than made up for its lengthy absence over the weekend. And even if the Seattle quintet doesn’t head back this way until 2023, as lead singer Eddie Vedder joked might be the case to both audiences, it will have left its legions of area fans utterly satisfied and hoarse from singing along.

Taken individually, Friday’s show at American Airlines Center and Saturday’s at Chesapeake Energy Arena were both nothing short of incredible. But for the large group of fans who made it to both shows, myself included, the shows as a collective were like a 48-hour course on showing every other rock band how it’s done.

Both were nearly three-hour marathons, which is typical for Pearl Jam. But the thing that stood out to me was the fact the band played 20 — yes, 20 — different songs on Saturday night than it played on Friday night. That means fans who were lucky enough to go to both shows heard 53 — yes, 53 — different songs in two nights. Even by Pearl Jam’s lengthy standards and nightly set-shuffling, that is absolutely amazing.

I have no doubt that decision had to do with the fact the band had not played in either city for so long. I’m not sure if I had sat down and made my own set list for them to play, I could have come up with two better ones. There’s simply not another band on the planet that can pull that sort of thing off.

The shows were special for a few more reasons. First, the Dallas show was the first night of the second leg of the tour. And the band definitely seemed rested and ready to go. Next, for the first time on the tour, there was an opening act. Denton’s Midlake played 45-minute sets to open both shows, and the band, which just released its new album Antiphon, sounded phenomenal in the large settings.  Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament even sported a Midlake T-shirt for most of Saturday’s show.

The Dallas show was really significant for me. Even though it was the third time I had seen Pearl Jam this year, it was the fourth time I had seen the band play in Dallas. And given that it had been so long, it was almost like having an old friend come home for a short visit. As silly as it might sound, that was a really neat feeling to have them back in Big D.

Vedder also talked a lot about Dallas, alluding to the approaching 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, the Richardson student who inspired “Jeremy,” and playing at Trees back in the day. Pearl Jam mixed the set list up really well, giving the audience a little bit of everything form the band’s nearly 25-year career.

Pearl Jam also played seven songs off of its spectacular new Lightning Bolt album, which sounds to me like it could have been released between 1994’s Vitalogy and 1996’s under-rated No Code. The band wrapped up the show in front of a jam-packed arena with an unexpected treat. Pearl Jam was joined on stage by Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney and hit TV show Portlandia) for a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

And as good as Friday’s show was, Pearl Jam took it up a notch on Saturday.

photo (1)Playing in the home building of the former Seattle SuperSonics, the band dug deep into the catalogue to deliver rarities like “Wash,” “MFC,” “Whipping,” “Parting Ways,” “Supersonic,” and “Satan’s Bed.” Pearl Jam had a lot of fun poking the crowd about stealing Seattle’s team, and Ament donned a Sonics Kevin Durant jersey during the encore. There might have even been an F-bomb or two when the subject came up, but Vedder said the band had “gone to therapy for its anger issues” over the departure of its beloved Sonics.

In addition to a couple of young kids Vedder pointed out in the front row, the show also had a non-traditional marriage proposal. Vedder gave the microphone to a woman in the audience, who got down on one knee and proposed to her boyfriend right before the first encore. Afterward, Pearl Jam promptly played the touching “Just Breathe.” It made for a really nice moment that added to an already incredible show.

The band closed the show with the one-two punch of a rousing cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” and fan favorite “Yellow Ledbetter.” Pearl Jam also covered The Who’s “The Real Me” in Dallas.

After I had time to digest both shows, my love for Pearl Jam just intensified. This band knows how to do things right. And it will continue to do it in front of sold-out arenas for as long as it wants to.


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