Rock Gods at the ‘Mini Gorge’

Pearl Jam, with Sonic Youth

At the Santa Barbara Bowl, Thursday, July 13.

Reviewed by Matt Kettmann

Pearl%20Jam1.jpgIn these wicked days of corporate pop sensations and the resulting musical cynicism, rock gods are hard to come by. It’s a sad state, because we need them more than ever. They scare the white men in charge, they breathe hope into despair, and they provide strength to fight institutionalized fear. Luckily, Santa Barbara got a dose of such divinity last Thursday, when Eddie Vedder and his little band Pearl Jam descended from their heavenly thrones to deliver a spine-tingling, chill-inducing concert at the Bowl.

The godly display began with Vedder himself, playing a tight ’n’ tasty version of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away.” Then Sonic Youth — rock gods in the post-punk cabal — unleashed their noisy fury, with a sonically solid set, ranging from 1984’s “Brother James” to tunes off this year’s Rather Ripped. But with the Bowl only one-third full and the afternoon sun burning their pasty skin — causing Thurston Moore to quip about never needing sunglasses onstage before — something just wasn’t perfect. As the shade slid up the stage sometime around “Do You Believe in Rapture?” however, the band found its groove, and the growing crowd responded with delight.

Then came Pearl Jam, for whom the Bowl’s security force was overly prepared: There were twice as many ushers, they were twice as edgy and combative (in one instance, giving a perhaps-deserved beat-down to a man and a woman), and water came in plastic cups because someone was scared about thrown bottles. No worries, though, for Pearl Jam’s modern arena-rock transcended authority’s unwarranted fears.

Assuming their positions to a standing ovation, Pearl Jam jumped into “Hold On” and then ran through an acoustic sing-along of that song that goes “I seem to recognize … .” Chugging wine from a bottle, the personable Eddie Vedder announced to the crowd, “I don’t mean to overstate the obvious, but this place is beautiful.” He then pronounced the Bowl a “mini Gorge,” referring to the other outdoor rock palace in Washington. It was a welcomed comparison.

What followed was a blend of Pearl Jam classics and solid covers, including the Rolling Stones’ “I’m Just Waiting on a Friend” and “Last Kiss,” the early ’60s hit that Vedder decided to play as the night’s “teen death song,” opting out of “Jeremy.” After “Black,” Vedder said they were getting warmed up, but they were already surging, the crowd singing and clapping in unprovoked unison. During “Crazy Mary,” Vedder passed his bottle around to lucky front-rowers.

Encores ensued, though Vedder assured he’d cut out before the 10 p.m. deadline because of the next day’s big swell. “You’ll thank me tomorrow,” he said, around the time he played “Big Wave.” After “Even Flow,” “Better Man,” and “Life Wasted,” we were treated to a raucous “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World.” As the Middle East slips into World War Three, the song was eerily poignant — perhaps the next time these rock gods come through town, the evening’s increased security might just be a daily reality.

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