A week has passed since PJ20 – Pearl Jam’s 20th-anniversary celebration – went down at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin, and I’m still reeling. Above any one band, I’m a music fan. The Strokes are one of my favorite bands, and I was really looking forward to getting a chance to see Pearl Jam, but I wasn’t fully prepared for the overriding sense of love and fandom that settled over the crowd on Day One of the fest. On September 3rd, 2011, 37,000 fans came together in the rain and mud to revel in the two-decades-strong career of Pearl Jam.
After losing some time getting lost on some of Wisconsin’s loveliest back roads, I arrived at Alpine’s sprawling grounds and settled into a spot in front of Stage Two to catch Glen Hansard (The Swell Season, The Frames, Once). Though generally much mellower than those on the main stage, Hansard embraced the festival’s overall feel with a healthy dose of fuzzed-out guitar and raw vocals that often dug in to the crowd, shiv-like. As the rain started falling again, Hansard abandoned the ukulele song he had planned to play in favor of a group sing-along to “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” despite not really knowing the lyrics. It all worked out, though, and Hansard wrapped up the set with his Academy Award-winning hit “Falling Slowly“. Sadly, Eddie Vedder did not join him as he did on Day Two.
After spending some down time grabbing dinner, exploring the grounds, waiting fruitlessly in line for the Pearl Jam museum (but getting to sign the PJ20 wall nonetheless), and letting my +1 buy me a $12 beer (thanks again, pal!), I hunkered down at the bottom of the lawn to check out Mudhoney. I was largely unacquainted with their music, but enjoyed them for about the first half of their set. They made for an excellent time machine, and it would be fun to catch in a small club both twenty years ago and now. By the end, Mudhoney had started to grate on me, as their sound wandered farther from its punk roots into generic hard rock.
Next up was Queens of the Stone Age. Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard put out the band’s debut album, and it wasn’t hard to connect the musical dots from PJ and the early-90s Seattle scene to QOTSA’s sound. Queens of the Stone Age are ridiculously good at what they do, applying a pop swagger to gritty rock at an impressive volume. While a near-deafening level of sound could easily be dismissed as a gimmick or macho posturing, the decibels really work in the band’s favor, packing a punch the right way and not just for its own “these go to 11” sake.
Queens of the Stone Age – No One Knows
Getting to see The Strokes was the part of the day to which I was most looking forward. Since first hearing “Last Nite” ten years ago, I’ve been madly in love yet had never seen them live. They did not disappoint. I still get goosebumps watching videos from the night, including the one below of Eddie Vedder lending his voice on “Juicebox”. The set seemed shorter than the band’s allotted 45 minutes, but in truth, for me, anything less than every song they’ve ever written wasn’t going to be enough. Despite the public consensus that the members of The Strokes don’t really care very much for each other at this point, they haven’t let whatever qualms they have with each other interfere with their ability to perform. Abruptly leaving the stage to the echos of Julian Casablancas howling “he’s gonna let you down”, the band reminded the crowd that they did anything but that. OK, fan-girl gush over.
The Strokes – Juicebox f/Eddie Vedder
For the main event, Pearl Jam played a two-encore set that spanned three hours and the bulk of their catalog. As a casual Pearl Jam fan (read: their radio hits), I didn’t know most of the original songs they played save “Do the Evolution” and “Better Man”. Despite this, the band was totally engaging. It’s readily apparent how Pearl Jam has lasted twenty years and remained popular; the songs are solid, the band has a solid chemistry and camaraderie, and Eddie Vedder’s voice is still incredible. Furthermore, the band holds a deep appreciation for its fans. I’ve seen hundreds of bands and Pearl Jam’s fans may be the most devoted I’ve seen. The Alpine PJ20 shows were the only US dates on the band’s tour, and the parking lot was evidence that people had come from all over the country. Said Vedder, “Us making it 20 years was probably easier than some of you making it here tonight.” The band expressed its gratitude throughout the evening, visibly humbled by the outpouring of support ringing back at them.
For the first encore, Pearl Jam welcomed Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave) to the stage. Pulling material from Mother Love Bone and Temple of the Dog, Cornell sounded as good as he ever has – hands-down he has one of the best voices in rock. To finish out his guest appearance, Cornell dueted with Vedder on “Hunger Strike”, the quintessential 90s rock track that allowed both men to play off each other’s vocal strengths.
Chris Cornell wasn’t the only guest to join Pearl Jam – nearly everyone playing the fest stopped by at some point, from Dhani Harrison on guitar to Liam Finn and John Doe (X) singing backup. As PJ20 was designed as a two-day destination festival, the end of the night was a bit anti-climactic for me as I was only able to attend the first night and was craving the hits, but by listening to the chatter around me I knew people couldn’t wait until Day Two.
Check out the rest of our videos from PJ20:
Queens of the Stone Age – Little Sister | Queens of the Stone Age – Go With the Flow | The Strokes – Last Nite | Temple of the Dog – Hunger Strike
Sorry there aren’t any from Pearl Jam, we were holding out for “Even Flow”
Release, Arms Aloft, Do the Evolution, Got Some, In My Tree, Faithful, Who You Are, Push Me Pull Me, Setting Forth, Not For You, In the Moonlight, Deep, Help Help, Breath, Education, Once, State of Love and Trust, Better Man, Life Wasted Reprise, Life Wasted
Rearviewmirror, Star Dog Champion, Say Hello 2 Heaven, Reach Down, Hunger Strike, Love Reign O’er Me, Porch
Kick Out the Jams
Day Two Set List