Ten was the soundtrack for my coming of age. It sounds cheesy only because it is true, and Truth, we are told, must be more complicated than that. And yet, Pearl Jam returns me to those late teen years - a time of new friends, guitars, freedom. It was then that I met my best friend Dan. We learned guitar together, Alive the chosen anthem of our friendship. We spent hours and days climbing mountains and mountain biking, Ten invariably accompanying us on our travels. So it was with some trepidation that Dan and I drove down to Cardiff. Pearl Jam are a better band now but we are different, both married, me with a child. Will it mean the same now with our wives and babies, our bills and mortgages, our careers?
It was a beautiful summer's evening in South Wales. Walking to the Arena it was good to see so many like-minded souls. Pearl Jam have all but disappeared from popular consciousness in the UK; one of Dan's friends thought they were a girl band, most others remember Jeremy and wonder whatever happened to those Nirvana wannabees. The crowd is diffuse, mostly late teens early twenties, but some older - all post-Ten fans, which bodes well.
Nothing As It Seems is bathed in blue light. It becomes obvious that this is going to be Mike's night. He makes this song, wahhing away like a man possessed. It's a good dirge and Eddie is in fine voice. Jeff is sitting down with his stand-up bass. No hats, but you can see why he wore them!
Breakerfall and God's Dice follow and the moshing begins. It's boisterous but not violent and the crowd know the album. These aren't particularly memorable songs and I am disappointed to see that Binaural's better efforts aren't represented tonight. But as it's been 4 years, it is nice to have a good spread.
And so to Animal. The first crowd-pleaser of the night, the pit bouncing to Eddie's five's and one's. Mike is out of control already. We're on Stone's side of the stage so can't make out what Mike is finding so interesting in the crowd. He's clearly enjoying himself. Stone looks nervous, or maybe he just always looks like that.
Red Mosquito and Stone begins to loosen up. Mike is sucking on a cigar. Insignificance follows. This is a great song and they perform it tightly - there's a pause of about 5 seconds mid-song and most people cheer as if it's over. With beautiful precision the band enter the bridge again and by this time the crowd is converted to what I feel is one of Pearl Jam's best. "That's a really, really good song," I note.
Corduroy. Very popular. I realise now that many of us have been waiting a long time to see PJ live. It means a lot and I think that is why the band seem to have a good time tonight, reflecting as they do the crowd's genuine passion. Mike is still on fire and Stone continues to crank himself up, mouthing the guitar parts as he does. With the glasses and the smart shoes he doesn't look like a rock star. That's probably why I like them so much - little pretence. I Got Shit and Stone has finally found the groove.
Alive next and yes, it's a Radio Friendly Unit Shifter, but hell it works and Dan and I are transported back to those helicon days of youth, sitting in a room with two cheap guitars hacking out Alive as if it was our own. The night before I got married, we had played Alive again, perhaps the first time for years. It seemed a fitting end to youth, and tonight I remember why I love this song so much. Dan pats me on the back.
During the second chorus they have their first noticeable cock-up, Eddie singing the four "I'm Still Alive's", the rest of the band getting stuck on three. Great hilarity all around. Eddie is sweating like a pig now.
Given to Fly, and we all Fly! at the obligatory moment. I've never really liked this song, but tonight I think Bugs would sound good, such is the mood.
Eddie stands in a solitary purple spotlight as he croons Better Man. Afterwards he chats to the crowd for the first time: "Thanks a lot! You're almost singing as good as me, Cardiff (laughter)! Good singing!" He goes on: "So that was Betterman and I'm guessing you might have known that one. You'd have to be a little bit more of a hard core friend to know this one." Cue Leatherman. Evidently, not many are that hard-core.
Light Years follows, one of Binaural's best. Eddie puts a lot of energy into this one and finishes by saying, "that was a song which means a lot to me".
Tonight's setlist surprises me at times. I had followed the other UK concerts on the web and thought I had it all figured out, that is until they played Pilate. Eddie remarks that it was off a record they had made since they had been here last and then turns to Jeff and wonders if they have actually been to Cardiff before. Jeff shrugs. Anyway, Pilate sounds good and Stone seems surprised, mumbling afterwards his amazement that it worked. Daughter with WMA tag is next. Huge cheers. Huger cheers for DTE. Mike has a pair of furry dice around his neck and is jumping up and down on his monitor.
Another surprise: Once closes the set, a good Ten moment. When they return Eddie thanks us for sticking around, saying that, "we just had to figure out what the rest of the menu looked like for tonight." Launch Go but the crowd is too knackered to go too wild. Ditto MFC.
It is time for Uncle Eddie to begin his story. The day before he had taken a sightseeing tour-bus around Cardiff with a friend. Of note was the tour guide, Jerry, "whose teeth were as yellow as this" (pointing to the fret board of his guitar). Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! Eddie laughs. Anyway, the people were all nice and friendly and he had a great time only to find out that his friend had had his wallet stolen. "It was one of those nice people, those Cardiffians". The moral of this story? "I don't trust anybody". Which then leads in to Elderly Woman.
Black and it's Stone's turn to take centre stage. Mike's solo is awesome and seems to go on forever. His eyes are closed, feeling every note. Then a big surprise (for me anyway), Vitalogy-style: Immortality. I remember the music media jumping on this song as being about Kurt Cobain. Hmmm. I am reminded that I had tickets to see Nirvana at this venue, before Kurt put a gun to his head. I'm thankful that Eddie and Pearl Jam have made it this far. They seem maturer - plenty of youthful energy remains- but they've cut themselves a nice niche away from the crap that killed Cobain. I'm glad. Anyway, Immortality is excellent, particularly the outro where Matt Cameron unleashes hell on the drums. The band turn toward him and I think we realise what a good addition he is.
Spin the Black Circle? Surely not. But yes, drop, drop, drop it down. End of encore 1.
Encore 2 gives us Even Flow (or "I Save Cigarettes For A Poor Girl"), Smile (with Stone playing bass, and Jeff lead), and Yellow Ledbetter.
YL is played with all lights on. Eddie is busy taking Polaroid's and you get the feeling they won't be back. Dan had seen Jamiroquai recently, £20 for a soulless 50 minutes. Today we paid to same for 125 minutes, and although I know they're filthy rich because of it, I don't resent them that as they seem so bloody genuine. It's made them unpopular with the British music media, but that's the price they'll always pay. Thanks Pearl Jam. Hail! Hail! to you.
The band sit back and watch Mike finish things up. Like I said, he stole the show. Eddie walks off saying it is time for us all "to take showers." I'm back to changing nappies, but I just might dust off that old guitar of 17-year-old-hood.