10 Reasons Why Pearl Jam’s 2016 Tour Was Their Greatest Yet


Photo credit: Tom Pandi

Pearl Jam just wrapped up their east coast tour with a grand finale, second show in Toronto. It was a concise 17 show run over six weeks that had the potency of a six month world tour. In total, 542 songs were played, in 14 different cities, with an average of 32 songs per show. $3 from every ticket went to their Vitalogy Foundation as the band continues to be pioneers in the activism space.

Additionally, the Pearl Jam Experience was truly heightened by all of the fan-driven events that were available surrounding the show. Fan portraits and the Wishlisht Foundation pre-parties allowed you to both meet fellow diehards and make a difference. A win-win before the main event even started.

The tour contained 0 sponsors, 0 openers and 0 gimmicks. Just rock. Here are Ten reasons why I believe it was the greatest North American Pearl Jam tour yet.

Vs., Ten and Binaural Played in Full
From front to back. Unannounced and completely unexpected. We had been introduced to the full-album-surprise within the setist before as No Code was played in Moline and Yield in Milwaukee during the 2014 tour. Still you never know when it will happen. Three storied nights.

The Compassion
Whether it was addressing the horrific Fort McMurray wildfires (Pearl Jam will be sending money to Alberta and Edmonton), dedicating “Light Years” to those recently lost or honoring Prince the day he passed, the band was very much in tune with what was happening in the world, in that city, and in the room. They added a genuine personal touch. “Prince was one of the greatest guitar players in the world.” He will be missed,” said Eddie Vedder in Columbia, SC. A “Purple Rain” tag was embedded in Mike McCready’s “Yellow Ledbetter” outro as well.

The “Release” speech in Philadelphia on 4/29/16 is another example. Vedder simply understands the feeling of dealing with a major loss and delivers a beautiful intro. “This song is about losing a Pop. This song is one of those healing songs. (long pause) It’s not going to lessen the blow of any kind of tragedy. Sometimes it just helps get through, because you can’t get around it, you don’t get over it, you don’t get under it, you got to get through it.”

Lastly in this category, there are stories like these. An incredibly touching story about the band responding to a letter and meeting/embracing two fans in Toronto who are going through a difficult situation.

The Little Things That Make a Big Difference
Pearl Jam nails the little things that are new, but have a big impact like no one else. Examples include- taking the stage and starting the first song with the lights on, “Release” and “Oceans” mid-set and having various intro songs set the tone for commencement.

Cheap Trick and Sting Special Guest Performances
You knew something was up when Rick Nielson and Tom Petersson came on stage for the sixth song (Cheap Trick’s “Surrender”) during the second New York show, as opposed to later in the encore. That was because there was another surprise in store as Sting joined the band during the second song of encore two, for a purposeful version of “Driven to Tears.” Sting was not introduced. Vedder sang the beginning, then Sting strides in for the rest. Very cool, very Sinatra, very Sting.

The Power of the Music

One undeniable fact, Pearl Jam never phones it in. With thoughtful setlists filled with songs that steer, trigger and empathize with emotions, you get the sense that the band needs the music just as much as the audience. The sincere delivery backs that. Just see the Toronto “Imagine” video below. “I could use the healing restorative power of music. If we do this one together, it would be a real nice memory.”

“Ghost” in Jacksonville
For revered Ten Club Member/Pearl Jam fan Dimitris who was there from Greece. Having missed “Ghost” by one show in two other previous tours, there was a “Ghost” campaign in Jacksonville that included hotel pillow cases. One made its way to the stage and the band obliged. It was the one and only time “Ghost” was played this tour. A small sample of the fan-graciousness that Pearl Jam exemplifies. “This one is for the Greek with our apologies”

The Spirit
The band just seemed happy and it’s naturally contagious. There were a plethora smiles. They embrace at the end of each show while either walking off stage or taking a bow, like they just won the Super Bowl. From where I was sitting at MSG #2, I could see each member walk out of the tunnel and make their way onto the stage. Jeff Ament in particular was in the zone, bopping around and hyping himself up. It was like Russell Wilson coming out the locker room before the big game. Leave it all on the field/stage.

10 Year Old Noah Playing “Sad” in Quebec City
Vedder recognizes a young boy named Noah early in the show, holding up a sign for “Sad.” During the first encore, Vedder brings Noah on stage having seen him play “Sad” brilliantly on YouTube. Noah gets handed a guitar, starts the song and plays it all the way through. He would later return and join the band on stage to take a final bow.

The 10 Banner Raised in Philadelphia

To honor the achievement of 10 sellout shows in Philadelphia, the Wells Fargo Center added a prominent decoration to Flyers, 76ers, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel filled rafters. In response – how about playing Ten in full? Epic. Also a subtle nod (with Mike Tyson punch impact) to 25 years of their debut record. “Philly gives back, they just give back” – Amos Lee to Vedder, on the Philadelphia crowd.

The Audiences
Within my first hour at the New York Wishlist pre-party, I met fans from Ireland, London, Chicago, North Carolina, Boston, Florida and Seattle. One of the most fascinating elements to present-day Pearl Jam tours is that the band is selective with the amount of dates they embark on, which results in the fans traveling to them. Its quality over quantity and provides for an overly moving environment. It may be more challenging to secure certain tickets, but once you are in the building, you feel as if you’re surrounded by nothing but true fans and Ten Club members. The seat number becomes irrelevant. Picture a giant wave in motion at your favorite ballpark in between innings, where your home team just hit a grand slam to take the lead against the divisional rival. Except the concert wave is filled with song. Screaming your lungs out ‘til it fills the room.

It’s amazing to simply watch the crowd during a Pearl Jam show. See their faces, observe them getting lost in the songs, going someplace else, healing, releasing and unifying. As “Yellow Ledbetter” closed out New York, there were a group of fans in the GA section who created an arm-in-arm, chain-link circle. They swayed back and forth, singing every word as the curtains closed. It brought much joy (and maybe a tear) to witness.

Pearl Jam is well aware that 2016 marks 25 years of their music as Ten was released on August 27, 1991. This year also serves as the lead-in to their Rock n’ Roll hall of fame eligibility. With a few festivals, a Vedder solo show, two nights at Fenway Park and two nights at Wrigley still to come, perhaps a tour that was unlike the rest may extend to year (or two) that follow suit.

“Release” with intro and talking about the 10 Banner. Philadelphia 2016

“Imagine.” Toronto 2016

“Sad” with Noah. Quebec City 2016

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