Earth-Shattered: Eddie Vedder and The Earthlings Tour Review
LO4L Host Randy Sobel shares his initial hesitation to travel to NYC’s Beacon Theater to see Ed and The Earthlings, and why the supergroup shattered all of his expectations
The opportunities to see live music in the last two years of pandemic hell have been few and far between. As a Pearl Jam fanatic likely speaking to other Pearl Jam fanatics, I don’t think I need to spend much time explaining the struggle. Covering shows from the band’s past on a podcast for over 3 years without any legit touring schedule has been a coping mechanism for the desire to witness them do what they do best in multiple cities, and in my case, countries, as many times as my wallet could bear. So when Eddie Vedder announced a tour with his brand new Earthlings supergroup, why was I so hesitant on even being there?
Well for one, having a 7 month old who can’t get vaccinated during a global pandemic is frightening. I’ve barely stepped foot in a grocery store, let alone a 3,000 person capacity venue. The second reasoning was that after the release of the first two album singles, I was less than enthused with the direction that his career outside of Pearl Jam was heading in. Even with the knowledge that all-star musicians such as Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Glen fucking Hansard were involved, it seemed like there was still disappointment from my end. With a song that was a clear copy/paste of a Tom Petty super-hit mashup (“Long Way”), and one that felt like the sequel to Pearl Jam’s sort of forgotten love song, “Parachutes” from the Pearl Jam record (“The Haves”), it seemed pretty clear to me that the trajectory of where Ed’s musical influences were headed were unfortunately not intersecting with mine. So I lowered my expectations.
Skeptical of a Vedder-Watt Produced Album
Initially I placed the blame on the young producer brought on for this project in Andrew Watt. Months ago he seemingly came out of nowhere, this Grammy award winning Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber producer was going to work with Ed? And now there was word that he’d be the producer for the next Pearl Jam record? That just didn’t seem to compute for me. Tie that into the fact that those songs I mentioned seemed to have one piece that could be seen as the one to be helping steer Ed into the direction of producing these songs that didn’t quite click for me. Why would Ed choose a 31-year old pop music producer to lead the way in this all-star cast of characters? Just another worry I had, leading into how it could possibly affect my enjoyment of this night.
I was lucky enough to score a ticket through the lottery for the first night at the Beacon Theater and whether I felt excited or not, seeing Eddie without Pearl Jam was not something I’ve ever had the opportunity to witness. I thought at the very least, I’ll be able to hear some of my favorite Into The Wild songs and maybe even a few random Pearl Jam songs such as “Can’t Keep” or “Around The Bend” that Ed will occasionally break out when doing a solo show. I had my hopes for some of that, until those hopes were dashed a mere 48 hours before I embarked on my somewhat anxiety-filled journey.
Surprise Capitol Theater Show Deflates Expectations
After finding out that they had played a surprise show at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, a mere 40 minutes from my doorstep (gee, thanks for the invite), I saw the setlist they played, which is usually a determining factor for what the tour is going to look like. No Into The Wild songs, no Eddie solo songs at all, what looked like maybe a late “Better Man” add was the only Pearl Jam song (which, to be fair, I expected the PJ tunes to be limited anyway), and then there were a couple of covers that I felt were kind of tame, like “Here Comes The Sun.”
After seeing this, whatever excitement I was initially holding onto was completely deflated. Not only did my expectations fall from the low bar that I had set for this, but in the back of my mind all I’m thinking is that if I go and end up contracting COVID for a show that has a bunch of songs I wasn’t into, at a price that exceeded what I could afford (and officially ended my original efforts to see the full band in Amsterdam), it would’ve been the worst decision that I had made in the last two years.
Making the Trek to NYC
Killing Time Before the Show
Riddled with the generalized social anxiety that I refuse to present while speaking to many of you week in and week out in podcast form, I drove into New York City for my first indoor concert since seeing They Might Be Giants celebrate the 30th anniversary of their phenomenal Flood record on February 6th, 2020. Just a hair short of exactly two years. I got in earlier than I had anticipated, in fact, I left at a time where I was actually HOPING to hit NYC traffic. So I killed the minutes by walking around in the rain and getting re-familiarized with an area that I knew pretty well from a time where I had worked there, and hadn’t been to in some time because of… well, you know.
My goal was to find a pizza place, but it specifically had to be a certain type – an absolute hole in the wall with $3 slices that doesn’t take credit cards and has three miniature tables in a square foot allotment no bigger than a parking space. I found that exact spot, a joint called Freddie and Peppers, and while it may be considered the 256th best pizza place in New York City, it would’ve been ranked 2nd in Connecticut. I think at that moment I was able to calm my nerves a bit and wash them down with a Dr. Brown’s cream soda, the absolute perfect comfort food to get the night started. Slowly but surely, I was getting back into the swing of this whole extrovert ideal.
LO4L Podcast Family Meet-Up at the Beacon
After getting inside and getting acquainted with the absolutely marvelous theater that I had never patronized, I got to meet up with Zach, someone who I had met through doing the podcast who has been kind enough to be a contributor. From the very beginning, that’s been a very important thing for me to connect with people who have been a part of this podcast family, and although there were other people there that I unfortunately did not get to see (sorry Joe and Vanessa! Next time!) sometimes it’s crazy who you run into when you least expect it. More on that later.
Side story, some girl in the beer line really loved the Vitalogy hoodie I was wearing… and I mean, like she was ready to rip it off of me and take it. This story doesn’t end there, for anyone that checked out the Facebook livestream, you may know what happens next. Save this one for later too.
The Night’s Live Performances
Glen Hansard’s Pre-Set Performance Raises Expectations
Glen fucking Hansard goes on, and I write it like that out of fucking respect, and he is the consummate entertainer. Five songs, maybe a total of 20 minutes or so? And he had the crowd locked in and riled up from every note. I can’t say it enough, he is an absolute treasure. Who else is gonna unplug his acoustic and hold it out in front of the crowd for them to sing over as he leaves the stage? Truly magical. This was the exact kind of warm-up I needed to feel good about what was to come. To feel hopeful that this band of all-stars was exactly that. To feel that my low expectations had already been raised before Ed popped out from the curtain.
Eddie Vedder and The Earthlings Main Set Shatters All Doubt
And then we begin. It’s near impossible to see Pearl Jam in front of a crowd of less than 13,000, so when Ed and crew walked out on stage and looked around each part of the theater to take in the moment, it wasn’t lost on me. This was potentially going to be the most intimate venue that I’d ever see him in. And with seats dead center on the aisle, ripe for enough room to jump around if needed, I had the perfect catbird seat to witness the true kick off to this once in a lifetime tour. After opening with one of my all-time favorite R.E.M. songs, “Drive”, Ed says hello for the first time and declares his love for playing in theaters such as this one, even going as far to call it a cathedral “so aptly named it feels like a sanctuary tonight, and it does feel like a Beacon.” It was my church, and I sang in the choir.
Ed breaks out the Rickenbacker, a Tom Petty staple, even stating that he was trying to figure out how to play a quiet song loud. I’m pretty sure he figured it out. “Room At The Top” captured a powerful energy and played the role of the tone setter for the night. The opening track off Petty’s 1999 album Echo was a clear definitive sign of how tight this band has gotten since their early autumn Ohana performances. Not that they weren’t tight then, they are all professionals on the highest level caliber of what they do. But it felt more like a friendly get together at the festival. From here on out, whether they are looking to achieve it or not they are entering the realm of supergroup level next to the likes of The Traveling Wilburys, Them Crooked Vultures, Oysterhead, and of course, Temple Of The Dog.
After covering their first of two George Harrison-penned songs of the night to finish out a section of songs that the crowd definitely knows, they transition into their second single “The Haves,” which Ed says we “may have heard once.” It still doesn’t quite connect with me, but I’m keeping it in the back of my head where songs like “Future Days” and “Parachutes” reside in a folder labeled ‘save for when I’m old and boring’ (with all apologies Mr. Sixx). The Flag Day songs that are played at this show also don’t quite resonate with me as much, but as this set continues to evolve I’m finding more and more to dig my feet into and appreciate.
The first of the unheard new songs is “Invincible”, an echoey 80’s anthem similar to something that Genesis would’ve come up with. It has a triumphant dueling vocal between Ed and Glen in the chorus which has a feel good vibe to it, but overall it isn’t the type of song that strikes at my musical nerves. “The Dark” follows, it’s probably the song I remember the least. Even after listening to pieces of it on a bootleg, it really hasn’t grabbed me just yet. Potentially due to other things grabbing me much more, but the beauty of this set is that we keep building and building to bigger and better moments.
“Power Of Right” is the first Earthling original that made me stand up and take notice. It’s very bass heavy and pure classic hard rock with a riff that absolutely bites. Slowly but surely we are building up to things. After Ed tells a wonderful story about Andrew Watt meeting Mike McCready backstage at a Pearl Jam show at the Beacon (logical reasoning deduces that it was 2008), an Athens-inspired “Fallout Today” is played. The song catches my ear immediately because that opening riff has a little of a “Not For You” vibe happening, but it’s as if the song traveled down to the Georgia college town and spent time with Michael Stipe and Kate Pierson. The chorus is right in that R.E.M. wheelhouse and even has some of those high pitched backing vocals similar to Kate Pierson’s role in songs like “Near Wild Heaven” and “Shiny Happy People.” You are starting to see Ed wearing his influences on his sleeve, and it’s telling a story of the soon-to-be released album.
Ed does something unprecedented and mentions that it’s Yield’s, my favorite PJ record, 25th (he was incorrect, it was 24th) anniversary and nods that it was Andrew Watt who let him know. Hmm, two very PJ fanboy stories coming from Watt here? My initial thoughts of Watt being this kind of runt kid who produces pop music and is stealing a lot of classic McCready moves while wearing grown up pajamas are now starting to take a turn. I actually kept calling him Mike McCready Jr. because that’s exactly what he’s striving for. I am not fully sold at this point, that’s to come later. Slowly but surely we are starting to get the story of why Ed picked this seemingly rookie 31-year old wunderkind as the decision maker. He was a Pearl Jam fan way before he ever was a producer, and that’s exactly the kind of performance we got from him. As if any one of us jumped on stage and wanted to be like Mike looking up to the heavens while soloing, come on, you know that’s EXACTLY what you’d do. So we get a little bit of the Yield connection along with a David Bowie record that came out on the same day entitled… yup, Earthling. It led to our first of three Pearl Jam songs of the night in “Wishlist” that the crowd absolutely ate alive. If anyone was sitting for the new stuff, they were up off their seats now. “Wishlist” isn’t usually a song I go for too much, but mixed in with having to process all of the new material made for a moment to get excited about.
Before “Brother The Cloud”, Ed talked about his recent interview with the New York Times and how it touched up on the topic of suicide and started to get a bit personal between him and the author. There have been a lot of questions lately about who the song’s central focus is about (Andrew Watt recently gave a diplomatic answer in a recent article for Variety) whether it could be Ed’s brother who tragically passed away from a hiking accident, or, of course the 2017 death of Chris Cornell. You’d have to think that there was likely a direct reason for mentioning that part of the article before transitioning into the album’s third single. It brought a new perspective to it, and although songs are always up to personal interpretation, especially in the writing style that Eddie possesses, sometimes things aren’t done to be made coincidental.
The next three songs are the final original Earthling tracks of the night being revealed to this crowd. The first of which is “Mrs. Mills”, a song in which Ringo Starr was invited to record on the studio version. Ringo knows a thing or two about “all-star” records and the influence for this one is fairly clear – it’s an ode to many of Paul McCartney’s most beautifully written masterpieces. There is a little *clink* in this percussive rhythm progression that is directly lifted from “Hey Jude,” the overall blossoming of the song is reminiscent of “Here There and Everywhere,” you hear the word “ivory” featured in the lyrics automatically clicking McCartney’s “Ebony and Ivory” (which features another important guest from the Earthling record) into my brain, and finally the content of the song being about an older woman, while after Jonathan Cohen’s Variety article we learned it’s a direct reference to a British performer Gladys Mills who played an upright piano, my mind originally directed itself to connecting similarities to “Eleanor Rigby”. As opposed to the Petty homage in “Long Way,” which is almost as if you asked a bot to listen to 1,000 hours of the Heartbreakers and out popped something clearly reminiscent, but nothing directly lifted from his catalog, the “Mrs. Mills” McCartney homage you can trace back to multiple individual pieces of his songwriting acumen. I never once came out of it with the feeling of it being a Beatles copy/paste track, especially since a literal Beatle was a part of it. (Note, literal Heartbreaker, Benmont Tench, is credited on the recording of “Long Way,” though it doesn’t change my mind about it)
Following this eye-opening (and my favorite) new song, we get two punk rock-inspired tracks to close out the originals. The first one is a song called “Try” where part-time photographer/full-time guest harmonica player Danny Clinch shows up to rip through something that The Ramones and Black Flag never dared to dabble with. The harmonica punk song sounds terrific and is one of the highlights of the night, until Chad Smith decided to pull out one of his patented solos to blow the roof off the Beacon. The show stopping solo transitioned into “Rose of Jericho,“ a song that wouldn’t feel out of place on Gigaton next to something like “Take The Long Way.” As mentioned earlier, everything progressingly matched my personal musical taste and at this point in the set, I’m either on an adrenaline rush from the lack of concerts in my life or have fallen head over heels for the Earthlings. It was most certainly both. Those low expectations are quickly forgotten, ignored and shamed. This is the best day of 2022 in its short-lived period thus far.
And then after the excitement of these great new songs all in a row, they hit the crowd with “Porch” and the house comes down again. This is the final part of the Andrew Watt story that made me realize he was the real deal. To understand some of the history of the band lies directly in performances of “Porch,” whether it’s knowing what death-defying stunts Ed shows off at which shows or knowing about writing PRO CHOICE on his arm, or even some of the great tags such as “Tearing,” “Androdynous Mind,” and of course, “War Pigs.” That’s a bit of a deep cut for a random studio producer to know that that’s where the band would occasionally break into Black Sabbath circa 1993. All respect goes out to him for being on top of this band’s knowledge just as much as anyone else is. He may be four years younger than me, which is about 12 years younger than the average Pearl Jam fan, but originally I kind of considered him the rookie that needed a little bit more service time before getting accepted. Well, Mike McCready Jr. has filled out that role quite nicely. I’ll never underestimate Ed’s choices again. “Porch” ends on a big bang, only a few more left before this becomes a memory.
The encore performance of “Precious” by The Pretenders was something that they originally tested out in Ohana and was a huge success. Ed even states, before the song, that all the group needed was a female presence (calling on Brandi Carlile in Seattle!). I was extremely happy to hear that because that was a nice discovery back in September. Then I noticed a little change in lighting that looked familiar enough to click in my head that this was the overhead spotlight that’s used for “Better Man.” My assumption was probably that no Pearl Jam songs would get played, but here we are now with 3 and I’m fully satisfied with the result.
Just like at Sea.Hear.Now, “Better Man” is tagged up with Patti Smith’s anthem “People Have The Power.” To call it a tag would be shortchanging it, they spent a good 3 or 4 minutes jamming on it and digging through the verses. Once again, just fully satisfying. Ed solo show staple, and another George Harrison classic, “Isn’t It A Pity” is performed by the full band, and enough time is made for them to stay on stage to play “All Along The Watchtower.” A fitting end to an incredible journey.
Reflecting on a Show for the Ages
If you look at the sets from the following nights, which I’m pretty certain you must be on top of, you’ll see the band bring back songs like “Timeless Melody” and of course “Dirty Frank.” They are going to be the most talked about moments from this tour, but in my personal opinion I think it will be extremely difficult to match all that happened on the first night. What this show was able to do was create a buzz, and show the Pearl Jam world that maybe wanted to sit out of this, due to money or lack of interest in material, that this all-star cast was legit and were going to put on a show for the ages.
In retrospect, I can’t believe I was ever hesitant. If there is anything I’ve learned from this band or just from Ed, it’s that their instincts are usually right. If they are committed to something, they never commit to it halfway. No punches pulled, no time to waste on something that doesn’t matter. This mattered. And although I wasn’t feeling the vibe of the new songs from the beginning, all I had to do was trust the process.
After the show I decided to stand outside the doors and hand out stickers and flyers to potentially fill city garbage cans with (I kid, I kid) and I ended up bumping into a few members around the community that knew who I was and what we do here. Honestly, there hasn’t been a ton of time to bump into people and understand that you’re getting noticed. This online community may fit in your pocket, but it’s massive and you never know if you’re ever getting your message out to anyone. It was nice to meet with Marla, who has contributed a write-up for this site before; Tracy, who joined our Secret Santa we did this year; and Donna, who I’ve seen all over Facebook but never got a chance to meet with. A shout-out to a listener named Joe as well that took the time to acknowledge what we do. The sentiment is appreciated, I’m just glad I can be as much of a part of this as anyone else.
The return of Vitalogy hoodie woman! After handing out enough swag I decided it was time to go live to Facebook for my promised post-game analysis. Zach met back up with me and I was able to drag him into the conversation. Right as I begin the stream, here comes Vitalogy hoodie woman. Running directly toward me screaming something along the lines of “give me my hoodie!” and she proceeds to grab it as if to rip it off my body. There were no hoodies injured in the process and it decided not to press any charges. I’ll admit, it’s a pretty damn good hoodie, and yeah, I probably wore it for that exact reason. I guess it worked, just like everything else that night did.
Eddie Vedder and the Earthlings Gallery
A few photos taken by Randy Sobel at the Eddie Vedder and The Earthlings show at the Beacon Theater on February 6, 2022.