Pearl Jam’s Love Balm at BST Hyde Park

The shows started with the London crowd of 60,000 singing along to the Beatles recording of “All You Need is Love.” 

Then Pearl Jam came on to slay the audience. 

This pattern of duality between love and rage continued throughout the two shows July 8 and 9 at BST Hyde Park sponsored by American Express. 

Pearl Jam and “Crazy Eddie” Vedder seemingly want to build a love vibe with their audiences as they grow out of their wilder years and into their 50s and 60s. This worked wonderfully for Elton John, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles earlier in the festival, and it works for Pearl Jam. “We are among friends,” said Eddie Vedder.

But many in the crowd want Pearl Jam to rock like they are opening for Red Hot Chili Peppers at Lollapalooza 1992 or Neil Young in London in 1993. 

Pearl Jam are trying to satisfy both sides. The July 8 show started mellow and folky with “Better Man” and then caught fire in the second half as they rolled out anthems such as Even Flow, Jeremy and Alive.

The July 9 show began with the spellbinding riff of Corduroy and descended into crowds belting out lines from “Why Go” and “Deep”, two of the angrier tracks on Pearl Jam’s first album “Ten”. But Eddie Vedder, sweating profusely, quickly turned down the temperature and calmed the crowd with a speech about gun politics in the US and a wistful version of “WishList”.  The love vibe peaked by song number 16, “Black”, which had women taking my hands to dance with them as Mike McCready’s guitar cast a magic spell on the crowd.

Pearl Jam are taking the higher road into rock heaven. To honour Neil Young for taking them on tour in 1993, they played Neil’s songs both nights. Eddie Vedder once thought of Pete Townshend of The Who as a sort of wise uncle teaching him about life, and on July 8, Eddie sang a duet “I am the Answer” with Pete’s brother Simon.

Pearl Jam are big sports fans (they originally named themselves after NBA player Mookie Blaylock). McCready once played with John Isner against Bill Gates and Roger Federer in the Match for Africa. So it was fitting to see former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe appear on stage in the July 8 finale of Young”s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”. They also invited up twins from White Reaper because, as Eddie said, “we’ve known them for a long time.” Pearl Jam also got Johnny Marr to sit in with them on July 9 for Young’s “Throw Your Hatred Down”, which further expanded the love vibe. 

After the July 9 finales of Alive, Yellow Ledbetter and Baba O’Reilly, the crowd demanded to hear Even Flow. But Pearl Jam left the stage around 10:10 pm, about 10 minutes earlier than expected, and the crowd filed quickly out of Hyde Park, with many wishing to hear more.

Ultimately, Pearl Jam still lack an outro song such as “Hey Jude” to send off the departing crowd singing into the night.  Yellow Ledbetter has a sweet vibe like an ode to Hendrix, but it’s not really a singalong song, since Eddie used to mumble whatever came into his mouth. Maybe “Better Man” is the better song for this purpose. 

All in all, Pearl Jam played 22 songs each night. They only repeated “Porch” and “Alive”. Thus fans who went both nights heard 42 Pearl Jam songs at Hyde Park. 

There’s a lot to love about that. 

words and images Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved