Let it never be said that Pearl Jam is not a band of the people.
Their performance at the FleetCenter last night, the first of two in Boston in anticipation of a seven-date "Vote for Change" tour that will lead into the presidential election, was quite simply a show of force. This is a band without a record label, operating on their own terms, and they continue to deliver powerful and thoughtful ideas.
From the first strains of "Release," which was the first massive sing-a-long of the set, it was obvious the band had the capacity crowd on its side. Crashing without comment into "Last Exit," from the group's punkiest effort, "Vitalogy," it was immediately clear that they planned on taking no prisoners in advance of their most political tour.
Singer Eddie Vedder set an early tone with solo renditions of Cat Stevens's "Don't Be Shy" and the Beatles' "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," but the band's set took off with a punchy rendition of Steve Forbert's "The American In Me." Following with their own, "Insignificance," with the refrain of "Bombs, dropping down" echoed by the partisan audience, Pearl Jam managed to incorporate their antiwar ideology without brow beating, a truly rare feat.
Print deadlines resulted in an early departure, but the energy of guitarist Mike McCready on the pulsing "Do the Evolution" spoke highly for what was to come. Prior to the song, Vedder spoke about the pleasure of playing "Boston proper" again (as opposed to the suburban confines of Mansfield's Tweeter Center, which has hosted the band as of late) as well as congratulating the Red Sox on securing a playoff berth. Sox general manager Theo Epstein could be seen good-naturedly accepting congratulations from the side of the stage before the set.
The band had already thrashed through a version of "Dissident" that found the crowd easily as loud as Vedder. This was one of the showcases for drummer Matt Cameron, whose athleticism on the skins when locked in with bassist Jeff Ament truly demonstrates why this is a band that continues to mature.
When speaking of maturation, one need look no further than opening act Death Cab For Cutie, who might possibly be the best band that mainstream American audiences have yet to embrace. The Seattle-based outfit has escaped the indie rock ghetto as a result of high exposure on the television series "The O.C." and their set was outstanding. Highlights included "The New Year" (ironically the first song played this year on local alternative station WFNX) and the gorgeous "Transatlanticism" with the sentiment "She is beautiful, but she don't mean a thing to me."
Actor/activist Tim Robbins followed Vedder's introductory solo performance with his act, Gob Roberts, an extenuation of the folkie politican he played in the film "Bob Roberts." If nothing else, he earned smiles by dedicating "Drugs Suck" to those in attendance who might have been artificially enhanced.