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Review: Pearl Jam rips through 25 years of rock at Tampa's Amalie Arena



There are few guarantees at a Pearl Jam show, but one is that somewhere in the encore — or the second encore, or the third — you'll probably hear Alive, one of the early hits that set them on this wild path to superstardom.

It's a ripcord that can rev any crowd's engines into overdrive, as guitarist Mike McCready's most towering solo erupts to the rafters; and Eddie Vedder, soaked from two hours of furious howling, screams at the top of his lungs: "I'M STILL ALIVE! I'M STILL ALIVE!"

Twenty-five years in, those words have never sounded truer. Days after launching a massive silver anniversary tour in South Florida, Pearl Jam roared into Tampa's Amalie Arena not as relics from the grunge era, but as an act still busy writing its legacy as a great American band.

In a nearly three-hour set packed with hits, covers, career-spanning deep cuts and bolts of actual lightning, the band showed 18,429 fans why they're becoming their generation's live answer to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band — and why they could be for years to come.

"We got a lot of friends and family here tonight," Vedder told the crazed crowd, which, judging from signs and flags, included fans from Italy and Brazil. "Who knew we knew so many people in Tampa?"

Well, it has been eight years since Pearl Jam's last show here. But fans were eager to have them back. One even brought an old stage prop, a cow that according to Vedder used to sit on guitarist Stone Gossard's amps during the band's early years. Vedder took it from the pit and returned it to its rightful home.

The band wasted no time reminding everyone of their prowess with an electric opening five-song run — Go, Mind Your Manners, Animal, Got Some and Corduroy — that felt relentless, breathless, pummeling and punishing, and still somehow like they were only getting warmed up.

No matter your Ten Club number, you had to like the setlist the band picked Monday. There were big, familiar tracks like Daughter, embellished with a bit of Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall; and Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, performed facing the back of the open stage as a gift for the fans in the rear view. And of course there was Better Man, one of the warmest sing-alongs in the band's catalog, which ended with Vedder demolishing a guitar at center stage.

There were also rarities, such as the muddy swamp-rocker In the Moonlight; and Hard to Imagine, a fuzzy, dreamlike Vs./Vitalogy-era track played live only a few times this decade. They covered John Lennon's Imagine in tribute to a host of military veterans in the building. And in a moment you won't see anywhere else, the band kicked off Lightning Bolt by cueing the Tampa Bay Lightning's Tesla coil in the rafters to spark tendrils of actual lightning. (Vedder loved it so much he aksed to see it again during Better Man. Alas, one shot was all he got.)

Vedder doesn't go stage-diving anymore — he's more into responsible stage-sauntering, as he skipped off for a palm-slapping lap around the floor and a few bars face to face with the pit during a full-throttle Porch. But he can still execute a mean split kick from time to time, and his possessed howl on Do the Evolution still connects like the claws of a grizzly.

The band's not-so-secret weapon has long been McCready, whose clean, crisp, soaring solos are the stuff of '70s-kid dreams, harkening to masters like Rick Nielsen and Ace Frehley. He toed the edge of the stage during wondrous solos on Corduroy and Love Boat Captain; hopped down and literally bent over backwards in the pit on Even Flow; and even raced down to the pit for that epic signature solo on Alive.

While Pearl Jam is a band that shines as a whole, every member got their individual moments. For drummer Matt Cameron, it was a thundering solo on Even Flow; for bassist Jeff Ament, the buzzing, burning intro and outro to Jeremy; Gossard blazing like a buzzsaw through Do the Evolution. It's a band that just loves to rock out, as evidenced by their closing covers of the Who's Baba O'Riley and Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing, both delivered with the house lights all the way up.

Vedder told a story. He was 23, working the graveyard security shift at some fancy hotel, and couldn't resist the temptation to grab the valet's keys to a Ferrari and go joyriding.

"I was never going to own one of those cars," he said. "Even if I somehow, by some crazy dream, ended up in a band that made a lot of money, I still wouldn't buy one of those f---ing cars."

He still remembers how cool it felt. And yet.

"All these fancy cars," he said, "and nothing rode like how it is now. Standing in front of this drummer right here."

He pointed to McCready. "Ferrari."

He pointed to Ament. "Lamborghini."

Twenty-five years in, they're still firing on all cylinders, giving it all at every show. Pearl Jam is still alive, all right. And they're not letting their feet off the gas until we feel that way, too.

[Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2016 8:21am]


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