Pearl Jam played their biggest show in London as they kicked off the final weekend of concerts in Hyde Park.
Frontman Eddie Vedder told the crowd of 60,000 they were the ‘best crowd we’ve ever had’ in the UK, as a hot summer’s evening at the British Summer Time (BST) festival gave way to mass chanting.
American grunge stars paid homage to the country they performed in, inserting Black Sabbath riffs and Sex Pistols choruses into their own numbers, and playing a Public Image Limited cover.
After opening with the catchy Better Man, the only song from 1994’s Vitalogy album included in the setlist, Vedder sounded genuinely smothered as he waved to the sea of people for the first time on Friday night.
He recalled that the band had come to the UK to mix their debut album, the 1991 grunge classic Ten, and spent time in London, visiting Camden in the north of the city to buy counterfeit cassettes.
One of the tapes Vedder said he bought and “worn out” because he played them so often was Live At Brixton by alternative rock band Pixies – the main supporting act on Friday.
“To share a stage with them, in this country, in this city – it’s special,” the Chicagoan told fans.
It was to the credit of the Seattle band’s refusal to become a greatest hits touring band that they ensured there were plenty of songs from the second half of their career during the set of 22. songs.
They played three songs from Gigaton, their latest album focusing on climate change, including Quick Escape, which came with a twist as they rocked into God Save The Queen to end.
The show took off nicely with the arrival of Even Flow, one of Ten’s multimillion-selling singles that showed off his mass lyrical appeal.
The fan-favorite girl soon followed, with Vedder’s distinctive deep vocal performance getting the crowd to join in the chanting before the song turned into a funk-style jam led by guitarist Mike McCready.
Vedder was in a playful mood during the evening, poking fun at fans in the hospitality stand – “We’d like to say hello to the Wimbledon Section” – and comparing the “beautiful” pink-drenched sunset to something akin to a drug trip.
There were also political messages, siding with gun manufacturers in the wake of a series of mass shootings in America and saying spreading false information should be a “criminal offence.”
Thankfully, the three-decade band – made up of rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron – let the music do the most talking, with Porch and his extended solo a particular highlight of the night.
McCready’s picking smoldered and lingered, incorporating a Jimi Hendrix-esque reverb as Vedder raced to and from either side of the long Great Oak stage, looking much healthier than the average 57-year-old.
The UK connection was referenced again during the encore as Vedder performed with Simon Townshend, younger brother of The Who guitarist Pete Townshend, dueting on the guest’s 1983 song I’m The Answer.
Emotionally charged versions of Jeremy and Alive helped bring the encore to a boil as those gathered fired back every word.
A colossal rendition of Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World later – with tennis ace John McEnroe returning for another guitar appearance in Hyde Park following his appearance with Eagles – and the band completed their set of two hours.
The good news for those who still have the lungs and the stamina is that the five musicians play again on Saturday evening at the same venue, before the new wave group Duran Duran closes out this year’s BST on Sunday evening.
The festival saw Adele sold out on two nights, while Sir Elton John and the Rolling Stones also performed to large audiences.
Along with Pixies, Pearl Jam has been supported by Cat Power, White Reaper, The Murder Capital, The Glorious Sons, Simon Townshend, La Luz, Sick Joy, October Drift, Fatherson, Life, Dream Nails and Daytime TV.