Pearl Jam didn’t design the first of its 20th anniversary concerts Saturday at Alpine Valley Music Theatre with the casual fan in mind.
Instead, the 2 ½-hour, 28-song set in front of a packed house was one for the diehards, a celebration of some of the more obscure back roads of the quintet’s considerable legacy.
Rarer still was a mini-set during the encore built on Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell’s “Temple of the Dog” project. Cornell recorded the album in 1990 with four members of Pearl Jam – Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron and Mike McCready – as a tribute to his roommate, Andrew Wood, the lead singer of Mother Love Bone. Wood died before his band’s debut was released, and the Temple of the Dog songs became his epitaph, presaging the Pacific Northwest rock resurgence.
Cornell channeled Mother Love Bone’s glam-rock swagger on “Stardog Champion” and brought a melancholy ache to three “Temple of the Dog” tracks. Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined him for “Hunger Strike,” reprising his role on the original track as a baritone anchor for Cornell’s high-pitched cries.
The flashback was the centerpiece of an evening that dug deep into Pearl Jam’s earliest days: four tracks from the band’s 1991 debut, “Ten,” and two cuts from the 1992 “Singles” movie soundtrack. “Breath” remained a sure vehicle for McCready’s classic-rock solos and accompanying poses – head tilted back, eyes squeezed shut, fist-pump-accented chords. “State of Love and Trust” came storming out of the gate with a three-guitar attack that included guest Dhani Harrison (and, yes, that’s George Harrison’s only son, who played earlier in the day with his band the New No. 2).
Besides Cornell and Harrison, there were cameos by a half-dozen performers during Pearl Jam’s set, notably an awkward stab at “Not for You” from the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and a more organic high-harmony contribution from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on “In the Moonlight.” Mudhoney’s Mark Arm was born to yowl the MC5’s “Kick out the Jams,” and he did just that during a short, sharp, kick-in-the-spleen second encore.
Vedder played congenial emcee as much as he did singer or front man – though he surely found his inner Roger Daltrey on a triumphant cover of the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” and slammed the door on the first set with a raging “Life Wasted.” But in ceding key spots in the encores to his Seattle compatriots, Vedder acknowledged that Pearl Jam’s considerable success hardly occurred in isolation.
Arm’s Mudhoney opened the main-stage portion of the day’s music with a rampaging set that ranged from grunge prototype single “Touch Me I’m Sick” to the relatively recent “The Lucky Ones.” They finished things off with a savage take on Black Flag’s “Fix Me,” as if daring any who would follow to top them. Queens of the Stone Age didn’t back off from the challenge, with Homme bending guitar strings and expectations in songs that veered into adventuresome detours, only to return just in time to punch home the chorus. The Strokes played as if they were in a hurry to be somewhere else, dashing off a handful of songs in 35 minutes. Despite the hurry, Casablancas took time to gush about Vedder’s voice, and was joined by his hero for a duet on “Juicebox.”
Pearl Jam set list Saturday at Alpine Valley Music Theatre:
2. Arms Aloft (Joe Strummer cover)
3. Do the Evolution
4. Got Some
5. In My Tree
7. Who You Are
8. Push Me, Pull Me