Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016
Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016

By Eytan Eilender • Photos by Jason Koerner  

The last time Pearl Jam graced South Florida with their presence was June 2008, nearly eight years ago.  It almost felt as though they weren’t going to come back to play here.  True fans never lost hope though, knowing one day they would be back.  Little did they know how special of a return it would end up being.

Pearl Jam made their triumphant return to South Florida by opening up their milestone of a 25th Anniversary Tour at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.  This was their first show ever played in that arena, and their first arena show in South Florida in over 20 years.  They had played outdoor amphitheaters each time prior, and there was high anticipation to see them in an indoor arena, because at the end of the day they are an arena rock band and thrive best in that setting. They also had 3 more shows scheduled to play in Florida.  They were to play the next night in Miami, and then Tampa and Jacksonville.  They sure decided to give Florida lots of love after such a long time.

It is truly amazing that Pearl Jam has been a band for 25 years.  Many of the prolific artists from the 90’s Seattle scene have passed away, i.e Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland, Shannon Hoon, just to name a few.  Not only is every member of Pearl Jam still alive and well, but they have kept the core members of the group intact.  They have put out 10 albums, and are one of the few bands in history to be in existence for 25 years and not allow one year to go by without playing at least a handful of shows.  It is such a remarkable accomplishment.  To say they have still got it would be a major understatement.  They truly sound better than they ever have, at the top of their game, like a fine aged wine.  The 25th Anniversary Tour Opener at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida only further cemented this.

© 2016 Jason Koerner Photography

The show was epic in every sense of the word.  The band took the stage at 8:40pm and left the stage at 11:31pm in what was a marathon of magic.  They played nearly 3 straight hours with no set break.  They played a 19 song set, took a very short 1st encore break, came back and played 7 more songs, then took a brief 2nd encore break and came back out for 6 more songs, making a grand total of 32 songs over the course of the night.

They came out on stage while the walk on music was playing over the PA system and the house lights were on.  They started playing the subdued more muted beginning of the song ‘Go’ from the 1993 album ‘Vs.’ and then the house lights went out and right as it became dark in the arena, they burst into ‘Go’ like a freight train.  It was such a perfect song choice as the opener of the show and their 25th Anniversary Tour, basically saying its GO TIME.  The crowd went wild and knew they were in for the ride of their lives.  They then played ‘Mind Your Manners’ which is a rocker from their most recent album ‘Lightning Bolt’ which came out in 2013.  Next came the powerful and passionate song ‘Corduroy’ off of 1993’s ‘Vitalogy’ and by this point the fans were ecstatic merely three songs in.  The chill inducing and emotional favorite ‘Given To Fly’ came next and was played for Florida Panthers hockey player Shawn Thornton, in the arena he plays in.

Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016
Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016

The band was playing lots of old school songs for the fans early on.  ‘Deep’ from their debut album ‘Ten’ from 1991 was a welcomed rarity.  The gorgeously haunting ‘Nothingman’ from their 1993 album ‘Vitalogy’ majorly moved everyone in attendance.  Then the old classic beloved fan favorite ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town’ enveloped the entire building like a warm blanket.  The singalong of everyone belting out the lyric “Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away…” was a magical moment of pure bliss.  The camaraderie between the fans and the band was just unreal, and was such a special feeling.

Eddie Vedder then took a minute to address the crowd.  He said that he did not expect the amount of people that came out. He mentioned that he only brought one bottle of wine, and if he knew so many people were going to show up, he would have brought more so he could share.  Then he told a story that he admitted had no point, about seeing faces in the tiles of his hotel sink that appeared to have been judging him.  He told us that he suspected the “flavor crystals in his toothpaste might not really be flavor crystals” as though his toothpaste might have been dosed.  He wrapped up by warning people to be careful and watch out, and not to “let anyone slip them a Mickey” and the crowd chuckled at the random banter that just came out of Eddie Vedder’s mouth.

© 2016 Jason Koerner Photography

They then went into the next few songs which were ‘Severed Hand’, ‘Unthought Unknown’, and the gorgeous ‘Sirens’ which was happily received.  Eddie then informed us that lead guitarist Mike McCready had celebrated his 50th Birthday three days prior.  He then had the audience proceed to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Mr. McCready.  Eddie mentioned that the band Cheap Trick had played McCready’s birthday party, and that they were probably being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the very moment as he was telling the crowd.  The band then played a cover of the Cheap Trick song ‘Surrender’ but only played one chorus of the song for effect, and then blasted right into the rock anthem ‘Evenflow’, which is one of their most well-known songs off their debut album 25 years ago.  It rocked when it came out back then, and they play it with even more intensity now.  After a raging 8 minute version of ‘Evenflow’ the band played a few slower songs to allow the crowd to catch their breath.  ‘Amongst The Waves’ was joyously triumphant, ‘I Am Mine’ was gorgeous, and then ‘Swallowed Whole’ and ‘Who You Are’ put everyone in a sweet trance.

The band would then proceed to tear the roof off the arena with the last 2 songs of the set.  They played a blistering version of the political arena rock anthem ‘Do The Evolution’ and Eddie Vedder belted out the lyrics “This land is mine, this land is free. I’ll do what I want, but irresponsibly. Its evolution, baby!” with such vigor and intensity, and the crowd was rocking out big time.  Eddie then proceeded to put on a Donald Trump mask and danced around wearing it during an instrumental break of the song.  He was mocking Trump in such hilarious fashion, and the crowd went wild.  Then, to close out the set came the rollicking rocker ‘Why Go” from their debut album ‘Ten’.  Everyone was exploding with energy and excitement, and chanted the chorus “Why go home?! Why go home?!” in unison.  That line was very fitting for the conclusion of the set prior to what would be the first of two epic encores.  It was also very clever of them to bookend the set with ‘Go’ to open, and ‘Why Go’ to close.  When the set came to a conclusion, everyone’s legs were pretty much jelly from rocking out so hard.  The band then left the stage for a brief 1st encore break.

Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016
Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016

They came back out and played a 7 song first encore which started out with ‘Yellow Moon’, the beautiful and emotional ‘Footsteps’ and their well-known cover of the classic song ‘Last Kiss’.  They played ‘Last Kiss’ specifically to the audience behind the stage.  Then one of their most beloved songs ‘Black’ began.  From the first notes, the crowd melted with emotion.  There may not be any other song in history which depicts the feeling of heartbreak and love lost, as the brilliant ‘Black’ does.  The lyrics at the end specifically encapsulate this brilliantly.  Eddie and the crowd both joined in passionately singing “All the love gone bad, turned my world to black. Tattooed all I see, all that I am, all I’ll be… I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life. I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky. But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?”, and every single “why” uttered had such intense angst as everyone was essentially crying out in unison.  Everyone was leveled by the beauty of what they had just been a part of.  They then played ‘Comatose’ and ‘Lightning Bolt’, which is the title track off their 2013 album.  The first encore would end with one of the most high energy exciting songs in their repertoire.  When ‘Porch’ from their debut album ‘Ten’ started, the place erupted.  It rocked out so hard for about 8 minutes, and the energy in the building was at a level of madness.  Eddie stood on the barricade for the outro and when it came to a close our minds were all blown.  We were dumbfounded by what we had just witnessed, and they weren’t even done yet.  The band left the stage for a few minutes before coming back out for a 2nd encore.

They came back out, and before starting to play, Eddie talked about the crew being part of the family and that Tim Quinlan, known to everyone as “Skully” had died today.  He had been a guitar tech and crew member during the first ten years of the band.  Visibly emotional, Eddie let Skully’s family know that he meant very much to the band as well and that they will miss him very much.  It was such a powerful and intimate moment, and we were all extremely moved.  They then played the song ‘Light Years’ and dedicated it to Tim “Skully” Quinlan and his wife and children.  Eddie told us all that he was blown away by the energy and all the love in the room, and that it was really helping to lift their spirits in their time of grief.  The next three songs would lift everyone’s spirits in return.  The opening notes of the classic ‘Better Man’ immediately caused everyone to cheer in excitement.  They played a wonderful version, and during the solo lead guitarist Mike McCready and Eddie leaned and pushed on each other as they played, while bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard rocked out next to keyboard player Boom Gaspar.  Then when arguably one of their most wonderful songs ‘Alive’ began, everyone was up and ecstatic.  Every single person in attendance was belting out the lyrics “You’re still alive she said, oh and do I deserve to be? Is that the question? And if so, if so, who answers? Who answers? Woahh, I, woahh, I’m still ALIVE yeahh, I, woahh, I’m still ALIVE!!!” with more exuberance than possibly any concert crowd.  During the middle of the song, the house lights came on, and it really added to the feeling of being alive, during the beauty of the song.  It was one of the most invigorating moments of the night, and the energy in the building was at a level it hadn’t reached.  A wave of chills took over the crowd.  Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they busted right into their popular cover version of ‘Baba O’Riley’ by The Who.  The whole place went nuts.  Everybody sang in unison, “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye. It’s only teenage wasteland!” and we all felt like kids again.

Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016
Pearl Jam Performs at BB&T Center in Sunrise on April 8, 2016

The house lights were still on, and Eddie said it seemed like the venue was trying to rush them out of there, but they were going to play a couple more tunes.  Eddie was playing acoustic guitar.  He said he was asked to play the next song by someone in the audience.  He noted that Florida has more veterans than any other state. Clearly emotional, he said he will play it for the man’s son.  They then played the powerful song ‘I Am A Patriot’ by Steven Van Zandt.  The final song of the night would be the powerful and haunting ‘Indifference’ from their 2nd album ‘Vs.’ and it was played with the house lights still on.  It’s a beautiful, yet bleak song.  The line from the chorus “How much difference does it make?” really resonated with the crowd, especially during this election season.  When the band left the stage, we all stood around in utter amazement at the nearly 3 hour, 32 song marathon we had just witnessed.  We all stood around for a bit to process and soak it all in.  Then we left the building with the biggest smiles on our faces, as we walked into the night feeling more satisfied by a live concert experience than we had in a while.

All in all, the entire show was beyond phenomenal.  It was such an emphatic way to open up their 25th Anniversary Tour, and we were all blessed to be a part of it.  They may have taken an 8 year break from South Florida, but they sure rewarded the area big time with such a monumental moment as their opening show to their 25th Anniversary Tour.  Many of us were on to Miami the next night to bask in the beauty all over again.  After all, you can never get enough Pearl Jam.  There is no doubt that after 25 years, Pearl Jam is easily one of, if not the greatest live rock band in the world.  We are truly privileged to have them in existence and as on top of the world as they still are after 25 years.  May they keep on rocking in the free world for another 25 wonderful years!

Setlist:

01. Go

02. Mind Your Manners

03. Corduroy

04. Given To Fly

05. Help, Help

06. Deep

07. Nothingman

08. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

09. Severed Hand

10. Unthought Known

11. Sirens

12. Surrender- (Cheap Trick cover – {one chorus of the song only}

13. Evenflow

14. Amongst The Waves

15. I Am Mine

16. Swallowed Whole

17. Who You Are

18. Do The Evolution

19. Why Go
Encore Break One

20. Yellow Moon

21. Footsteps

22. Last Kiss

23. Black

24. Comatose

25. Lightning Bolt

26. Porch
Encore Break Two

27. Light Years

28. Betterman

29. Alive

30. Baba O’Riley
31. I Am A Patriot

32. Indifference

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