After 30 years of performing as one of the best live bands in rock music, Pearl Jam has a pretty solid understanding of what its core fan base expects. And for a one-of-a-kind show at the legendary 1,500-capacity Apollo Theater — a day before they perform at Madison Square Garden in a show that brought in fans from across the country — the band leaned into a set that die-hards appreciated. And even through some technical difficulties, Pearl Jam delivered surprises, deep cuts and roaring renditions of iconic favorites that will easily enter the lore of classic shows that the group has put up since their debut in the early 1990s.
The show on Saturday (Sept. 10) was part of SiriusXM’s Small Stage Series, and was originally scheduled to take place more than two years ago to mark the release of the band’s 11th studio album, Gigaton, released in the early pandemic days of March 2020. And while the set list was heavily skewed towards songs from that record — six of them, including “Dance of the Clairvoyants” and a soaring “Retrograde” — the show was bookended by the kinds of deep cuts that the superfans in the building (and listening on the act’s dedicated SiriusXM station around the world) could appreciate.
The opening song was “Footsteps,” originally a B-Side from Pearl Jam’s sessions for their debut album, Ten, more than 30 years ago, with frontman Eddie Vedder on haunting harmonica and the band opening the set sitting down, not acoustic but more laid back, and fitting for the intimate setting. Then followed “Pendulum” from their 2013 album, Lightning Bolt, with lead guitarist Mike McCready utilizing a violin bow to wreak havoc from his guitar, before sliding into “Sleight of Hand” off 2000’s Binaural and “Parachutes” from 2006’s self-titled album — not rarities, but certainly not hit singles, either, to the delight of a crowd hoping for, and getting, something completely different given the setting.
As they went into “Hard to Imagine” — another B-Side that showed up on the rarities compilation Lost Dogs released in 2003, and a fan favorite — the band began to get up from their stools and the energy started to pick up. But just as suddenly things ground to a halt, as a technical issue of some sort led to an extended delay, about which Vedder quipped, “Something they never told John Coltrane when he played here — they need a minute to reboot the computer, or something…” (Ultimately, he chalked it up to a PA issue.) But during the delay, as the band members wandered around the stage and ultimately left for several minutes — and as the crowd from the mezzanine sparked into an impromptu a cappella rendition of “Daughter” — Vedder picked up an acoustic guitar, pulled his stool up to the very edge of the legendary stage, and, without amplification, led an intimate version of Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me In Your Heart” as the crowd went silent.
The band returned after about 20 minutes and ripped into “Who Ever Said” and “Evenflow,” kicking the energy into high gear (with McCready ripping through his solo on his knees), before the mesmerizing “Dance of the Clairvoyants” and “Quick Escape” led into the blistering “Spin the Black Circle.” The set ended with a fiery, electrifying “Porch,” before the band came back out for an encore of their massive 1994 single “Better Man,” the animalistic “Do the Evolution” and a euphoric rendition of The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly.” But in keeping with the unexpected, rare nature of the night, Pearl Jam ended the night not with the classic rock standard, or their usual set closer “Yellow Ledbetter,” but with a soaring run through the contemplative “Indifference,” putting a stamp on a performance that, after 30 years of performances, was still one of a kind.