July 6, 2011
Terrace Theater, Long Beach
When I first heard Eddie Vedder was releasing an album composed solely of ukulele songs, I wondered if we were about to watch the venerable grungeman do a David Lee Roth-style scissor kick over the proverbial shark. Shame on me for believing such nonsense. After hearing Vedder's Ukulele Songs, released in May, I was reminded what a wonderful instrument the “uke” can be–evocative of a simple, childlike frame of mind–innocent and seemingly lacking in musical potency, yet incredibly sweet sounding and always a little heartbreaking.
Sitting alone on a stool at center stage for most of his two-hour set, Vedder was surrounded by a few props, including an analog tape machine and a couple suitcases. From the first curtain pull to the final encore, it was clear the audience was never going to get enough of this man whom they've worshiped for more than 20 years. Toward the end of the set, when the curtain dropped, people began chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie,” just like they had in 1994 when Pearl Jam played the Empire polo fields in Indio.
Distilled Vedder was lush in its simplicity–his gorgeous deep voice with the occasional raspy crack, unhindered by the distortion of loud guitars and rattling drums. Vedder himself rambled jokingly about how the ukulele doesn't get intimidated by larger instruments like cellos and lacks a “Napoleonic complex.”
Second, the rest of the set was dedicated largely to music from Vedder's soundtrack for Into the Wild, not his best work when considering the songs from earlier in Pearl Jam's career. The exception to this was the duet Vedder sang with opening performer Glen Hansard of the song “Big Hard Sun.” Thanks to Hansard's powerful howl harmonizing perfectly with Vedder's, the inspirational strummer evoked majestic images of the Alaskan back country. Judging by the crowd's exuberant reaction to the entire set (read…multiple standing ovations), my disappointment was far from universal.