CLEARWATER — They bellowed and shouted and huzzahed, a worshipful, wahooing sold-out crowd at Ruth Eckerd Hall Monday that slobbered affection on Eddie Vedder like a pup dripping drool. The 2,180 in the packed house meant well; a lot of them just didn't listen well.
"Tell you what," the gone-solo Pearl Jam frontman smirked at one fan who refused to stop shrieking requests, "I got it allll under control up here."
Indeed, he did. Vedder is still a lot younger than his rock heroes — such grunting truth-tellers as Neil Young and Bob Dylan — but he's no idealistic young punk, either. He turns 48 this month, decades removed from his Seattle-boosted PJ heyday. He's earned this cozy lil' solo tour, which ends on our shores tonight after two final gigs.
The man deserves some quiet to work with, too. He eventually got it toward the end of the two-hour-plus gig — but not without a few sly reprimands. To one boisterous moron who yammered on after he played a gut-check version of Nine Inch Nails' Hurt: "That's a really long sentence to be shouting out loud."
On the penultimate night of the tour, Vedder, mostly alone on a puckishly spare stage, swapped cover songs (Cat Stevens' Don't Be Shy, Tom Petty's I Won't Back Down) with solo cuts (Long Nights) and PJ gems (Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town). He had a few effects pedals (for his ukulele, his guitars, his stomp box); a few special effects too, like a cheeky campfire that ignited just before he launched into a gorgeous take on the Beatles' You've Got to Hide Your Love Away.
Vedder is an eclectic dude, and his guest list was equally colorful. He had a bunch of family in the house (his kids scampered on stage as the most adorable roadies you've ever seen). Good buddy Sean Penn, with whom he's worked on films, stopped by on his way to Haiti. And right there in the front row was Vedder's childhood hero from the Chicago Cubs, baseball great Jose Cardenal, who stood and waved to the crowd. (Wait — what?!)
The singer was almost as romantic talking about Cardenal's former 'fro as he was gushing about Mrs. Vedder, to whom he dedicated PJ ballad Just Breathe. (His wife, he said, grants him "the ability to write a love song and not have it be fiction." Wow, that's a really great line — every man on the planet should steal that immediately.)
If you came to the show hoping to hear some PJ hits, well, Vedder reprimanded one guy shouting out popular titles by saying, "Man, you're so off-base. You need to nominate somebody else." Yeah, buddy, not that kind of night. But he sure sold the heck out of the deeper album cuts, including ferocious, arena-racket versions of Immortality and Porch, the final ending like a fistfight.
Behind Vedder was a subtly shifting backdrop: a back alley, a circus tent, a sea of stars that left the crowd oohing. He put on no airs; he stuttered and stammered through his, though usually managing to find the punch line. By the end, he had presented a rather mellow portrait of a middle-aged rock star who's found wisdom, happiness — and a whole lot of patience to deal with the wild things who love him so.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.