For what was ultimately a simple, uncluttered performance, there were certainly a fair amount of seemingly frivolous trappings during Eddie Vedder's performance last night at the Opera House. (He plays a second show tonight.) There were venue-appropriate fake Playbills (mostly covering Vedder-adjacent topics like "Into The Wild" and pet political issues), a tech crew incongruously dressed in lab coats and a series of backdrops that placed the Pearl Jam singer in such exotic locales as a tenement alleyway.
In the midst of this elaborate randomness, Vedder sat on a stool surrounded by the tools of his trade and delivered straightforward, simplified versions of songs that spanned his career, with a few choice covers by the likes of Pete Townshend, John Lennon, and James Taylor. Arriving on stage to a chant of "Eddie! Eddie!," he sat down and set the tone with the gentle electric arpeggios of Daniel Johnston's "Walking The Cow."
The relative intimacy of the venue did little to disabuse the audience of the notion that they were seeing Vedder in an arena, and there was a constant stream of requests and other attempts to grab his attention. He tried to subdue them by declaring, "I didn't think that we were going to run into the shouting ..... until New York," but it was received as an applause line rather than the not-so-subtle hint that it was.
But even if the crowd was, as a frustrated but good-natured Vedder put it, "slightly belligerent," their enthusiasm occasionally paid high dividends. Even without the full-band arrangements behind it, the audience instantly recognized "Wishlist" from little more than a steady eighth-note electric guitar pulse. Each "Hey!" in the chorus of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" was met with hundreds of hands being thrown up in the air. Vedder even got applause for blowing his nose.
In fact, the entire performance seemed like a head-clearing exercise, with Vedder relishing the opportunity to play songs like "Porch" and "I Am Mine" without the weight of Pearl Jam behind him.
A substantial portion of the middle of his setlist was devoted to songs from his "Into The Wild" soundtrack, but for the most part, Vedder seemed like someone without an album to flog or a major band to lead. Instead, he was just a guy playing his songs, nothing more.
Opener Liam Finn's approach also seemed simple enough --just him and singer/percussionist Eliza Jane Barnes -- but from his discursive songs to the seemingly bottomless array of on-the-fly loops constantly created by him and Barnes, his performance took on the complexity of an aural fractal.
"I'll Be Lightning" was a jaw-dropping centerpiece, keeping at a steady clip until the guitar loops reached critical mass, at which point Finn sat down behind a drum kit and exploded the song in a sudden, perfect, unexpected climax buoyed by Barnes's gorgeous stacked harmonies of the title phrase.