“And now he’s home
and we’re laughing
like we always did
my same old
same old friend”
Off He Goes, No Code (1996)

At some point in my life, I do find that I don’t really listen to Pearl Jam as much as I did before. Not that my love for their music had dwindled as there would be moments when the iTunes playlist labelled ‘Ed and co.’ would once again be in heavy rotation, possibly triggered by certain events especially those involving announcements of their next tour in this neck of the woods.

They don’t have any new material released at the moment apart from Ed’s solo stuff (he’s touring Europe solo this July too but I was happy enough to be giving it a miss this time), but they don’t need a good reason to go out and tour. Stateside fans aren’t too happy this year though as Ed & co. will only one non-festival date in Jeff Ament’s hometown of Missoula in Montana. This European tour (this gig at Manchester is the first one on this leg) would be their first in 2012 with their last being that in Central and South America late last year.

I actually re-bought another ticket when I saw the MEN Arena release more seats, this time at the sides of the stage. I found a good spot stage left and thought if I actually watched Cream from the back of the stage, why not this seat. Besides, this will be much better than my original seat which was way up in the back row of the upper tier even though it is in the block nearest to stage left. I arrived at the venue and was told to go to the box office, and much to my surprise, they shifted me much more closer to the stage then I thought. Double bonus!

Being where I was meant I could see the band get onstage and to see my favourite walk up real close made me giddy as a schoolkid. The kicked off their set with Release from Ten, which is one of my favourite set openers I’d find in my bootlegs but not heard live ever. Ed’s voice sounded great and all of us in the rafters would do the obligatory sing-along to the dark and haunting ode to Ed’s dad. They didn’t waste any time and erupted into Do The Evolution earlier than I’d expected. And to do Corduroy and The Fixer just after were just ace. A fast pace to the set somewhat but no one’s complaining.

“This song was written by Jeff Ament”, said Ed and I got to hear Pilate[1] for the first time live (reminds self to create an Excel sheet of PJ songs I’ve heard live. Heh.). The subsequent songs in the main set was a good mix of “not just the very old stuff” with material from Binaural (Insignificance), Backspacer (Unthought Known), Riot Act (1/2 Full began with Ed going, “This song is about politics… 1/2 Full. 1/2 FULL OF SHIT!”). We were treated to Ed doing a Bono reflecting the light from a spotlight onto his Tele and back onto the crowd during 1/2 Full‘s ending.

The first encore started with Ed dedicating Just Breathe to a couple he knows that recently got hitched as well as anyone who is married to a woman named Liz (Liz was the wife of the aforementioned couple) and made a short comment that Richard Burton even married Liz like twice, which must mean a good thing. After a poignant Black, they rocked hard with State of Love and Trust, another one of my favourite tunes.

As mentioned, I do look forward to Ed’s banter at their shows. In dedicating the efforts of their road crew for making their shows happen, Ed aptly mentioned the recent tragedy in Downsview Park, Toronto which culminated in the death of Radiohead’s drum tech, Scott Johnson, especially when Pearl Jam themselves had to deal with a similar tragedy at Roskilde 12 years ago. They then played Arms Aloft, a much-played Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros cover which was on their Live On Ten Legs live record.

If I had been complaining of listening to Why Go a few (okay, three) times live, which they did play as a closer to the main set, I shouldn’t be complaining when they played Porch as the first encore’s closer. The Dutch chap next to me actually saw them play this on a wet rainy day at Pinkpop in ’92 (yup, that video) when Ed was virtually dangling from the stage lights during the solo. Suffice to say no dangerous stunts were committed by Mr. Vedder in Manchester tonight.

For the second encore, it was another rocking set kicked off with Better Man, with a solitary slower interlude of Come Back, the only tune from the avocado album tonight. After ploughing through Jeremy and Alive, they ended the show on a high with Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World, even when the house lights were switched on.

Like the band and the audience will get the hint. And guess what, I’ll be doing the very same thing again tomorrow night, and they will play a totally different set, as they have always done.

[Setlist photo from pearljamofficial @Instagram. They also covered The Buzzcocks’ Why Can’t I Touch It after Insignificance.]

More photos on my Flickr site here.

[1] The last time Pilate was played live in Europe was EXACTLY twelve years ago to the day in Verona, Italy on the Binaural tour.