PEARL JAM / X @ MEN ARENA, MANCHESTER 20/06/12 - REVIEW BY PHIL KING
It’s a strange co-incidence that both Pearl Jam and X came to prominence on the back of great musical change; X riding the first wave of American punk rock in the seventies, and Pearl Jam as a pivotal band in grunge movement in the early nineties. However it’s also true that both these bands have transcended their roots and have become a force in their own right, so it was a marriage made heaven for me to get see both these bands on the same bill last Wednesday night. Thus after completing my pre-gig ritual of sinking a couple of pints of Marble chocolate in the Marble Arch Inn on Rochdale Road, I headed down excitedly to the MCR Arena in anticipation of hearing some great music. I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s debatable whether a lot of people who’ve come tonight have encountered X before. This is a shame because X are one of the few bands has stuck steadfastly true to its principals, and for me it’s a dream come true that the four original members have reconvened to breathe life into their songbook. As soon as the band charge into the first number ‘Your Phone's Off the Hook’ it’s easy to see that there’s still elegance and urgency about X’s sound that refused to be tarnished by time. Now some thirty-five years since the band’s inception X have lost none of the explosive energy put them at the forefront of American punk. Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe share vocal duties whilst guitarist Billy Zoom stands with his legs spread wide, letting rip with fluid guitar solos. The final element is provided by drummer D.J. who drives the songs along with ruthless efficiency. You get the feeling that songs like ‘Johnny Hit and Run Pauline’ and ‘We're Desperate’ still resonate as powerfully now as they did when they were first played back in the late seventies Los Angeles. By the time X close their set with a quick fire rendition of the Doors’ ‘Soul Kitchen’ they’ve managed to win over a fair portion of Pearl Jam’s audience, though as they leave the stage I wished that this wonderful band were headlining their own gig. Promoters please take note!
It’s true that a cavernous place like the MCR Arena can disenchant music by making intimacy its first casualty. But not so with Pearl Jam who from the opening chords of ‘Release’, the first song they play tonight, pull the crowd close and embrace them like long lost friends. Perhaps it’s because the members of Pearl Jam look like average Joes; there’s definitely no flash about these guys because everything the only thing they care about is the music. Front man Eddie Vedder looks like a mate from down the pub, albeit a mate that’s also an international superstar rocker.
Whilst Pearl Jam’s sound is heavy, it’s not bombastically so. In fact it get’s quite tender at times especially on the absolutely awesome version of ‘Nothingman’ whose tale of love lost makes a direct hit on the heart and is nothing less than sublime. But it’s the second song the band plays from debut album ‘10’ the sparks really start to fly. In guitarist Mike Macready, Pearl Jam has a genuine guitar hero, and the monstrous solo he plays on ‘Even Flow’ is worth the price of admission alone. There’s no filler played here tonight though and every song that blasts out of the PA is lithe and precise and given a welcome cheer. There’s so much that’s commendable here; but for me it was the mighty ‘Black’ that takes the glittering prize for best song played tonight. But really the whole performance offered a welcome reminder of how good music can make you feel when it’s played with passion and commitment.
After two and half hours Pearl Jam bring the evening to end with a rousing sprint through Neil Young’s ‘Rocking In The Free World’. Gigs like this only come along in a blue moon and this one was a testament to the enduring power of music at it’s best. Catch either band soon.
Release Do The Evolution Corduroy The Fixer Given To Fly Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town Pilate Even Flow Unthought Known 1/2 Full Insignificance Immortality Nothingman Got Some Why Go