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Pearl Jam’s 10 Best Shows, Ranked

From Chicago to Tokyo and everywhere in between

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now. Obviously, the advent and speedy spread of the coronavirus has managed to impact practically every facet of daily life. Fans of live music have watched as–one by one–concert promoters have either postponed or canceled some of the season’s biggest festivals. Meanwhile, scores of big-name musicians have done the wise thing, putting off tours they had planned for this spring and summer.

Pearl Jam was one of those bands, who’ve postponed the North American leg of their Gigaton world tour. As soon as life returns to something resembling normal, and this global pandemic’s under control, Pearl Jam will be hitting the road again, in support of one of their strongest releases in years.

Those who’ve already seen the band perform live know what they’re in for when those dates are rescheduled, and for first-timers fortunate enough to have scored tickets will soon learn: seeing Pearl Jam is an experience one simply doesn’t forget. That’s because Pearl Jam is a band of true entertainers, who go out of their ways to make sure that, at the end of every fucking night, the fans walk away from their shows pleased

Given the critical reaction Gigaton’s received, chances are Pearl Jam will be booking even more shows than the ones already on their schedule, something that was hinted in their FAQ published a day after the postponement. So, if you weren’t able to get tickets for this run, fret not: you’ll get your chance.

In the meantime, as we all sit indoors patiently awaiting normalcy, let’s take a look back at Pearl Jam’s decades-long career, and enjoy some enthralling (and in some cases, grainy) clips from what we have deemed the band’s 10 greatest concert performances. As usual, the following ranking is from least to most awesome. And as always, let us know your thoughts in the comments section and on social media. Now, without further ado, here’s our list:

10. March 3, 2003: Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, Japan

In early 2003, the world-famous Budokan arena hosted Pearl Jam for what would end up being a rather memorable concert on their Riot Act tour—for a variety of valid reasons. First, there were the obvious cultural differences between the Americans on stage and the 8,000-plus fans there to see them. In fact, the crowd that night was described in reviews as “orderly” and “polite,” and at one point, Eddie Vedder tried and failed to get them to sing-a-long with him. Second, the 30-song set was chockablock with tracks from the band’s back catalog, like “Dissident” and “Yellow Ledbetter.” Lastly, the Evil Knievel antics of yore were gone, and in their place, a politically charged, short-cropped Vedder, who emerged for the first encore donning a silver sport coat, bedazzled with sparkly sequins and a George W. Bush mask, and unfurled a long scroll during their cover of The Clash’s “Know Your Rights” like he was the town crier. Other covers that night included Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy” and Wayne Cochran’s “Last Kiss.”

9. Nov. 6, 2000: KeyArena in Seattle, Washington

At the end of a massive tour, all in support of Binaural, Pearl Jam closed things out at home with a more than three-hour concert featuring a cornucopia of 29 tracks—newer selections as well as the classics, the hits, and a few covers, including The Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” and their formidable take on Victoria Williams’ “Crazy Mary.” Additionally, Pearl Jam added “Alive” to their setlist—the one and only time on that North American tour that they did. It sounds like every single person packed into the KeyArena sang along with Vedder during the band’s performance of “Betterman,” and Eddie elicited rounds of boos when he told the crowd the band might “never play again.” Of course, he was joking.

8. Sept. 4, 2011: Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin

To celebrate its 20th anniversary as a band, Pearl Jam booked a pair of shows in 2011 with openers Mudhoney at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre—a favorite venue among touring artists. The shows, dubbed “PJ20,” were once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for grunge fans, as late Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell was brought out each night during the first encore to lead moving pseudo-Temple of the Dog reunions. On that second night, which featured a much longer setlist, Cornell and the band delivered a holy-shit moment, playing “All Night Thing,” “Reach Down,” “Call Me a Dog,” and “Hunger Strike.” Before the night was over, Pearl Jam would invite X’s John Doe on stage for a cover of that band’s track “The New World” and would be joined by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas during “Red Mosquito.”

7. Sept. 11, 1998: Madison Square Garden in New York, New York

Three years before the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center, New Yorkers were treated to a captivating two-hour set from Seattle’s favorite sons, featuring a hodgepodge of 26 tracks, culled from their five successful studio LPs. The boys played two consecutive nights at Manhattan’s fabled Madison Square Garden. However, on that second night, which featured an imposing cover of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” the will of the people was heard. Fans in the front row had attended both shows, wielding signs adorned with the word “Breath,” prompting Vedder to inquire, “What is this some kind of organized religion or something?” Then, he joked: “You know, we come up here as a collective band, and we give and give and give, and you just want more? Do you think you deserve it? Well, I think you do. Fuck you, we’re gonna play it!” It was the first time in four years Pearl Jam had played the popular tune from the Singles movie soundtrack.

6. July 19, 2013: Wrigley Field in Chicago

By now a seasoned rock phenomenon, Pearl Jam rolled into the Windy City in 2013 for two shows at the home of frontman Vedder’s beloved Cubs. Mother Nature refused to cooperate that night, and heavy storms ended up interrupting the proceedings soon after the seventh song in Pearl Jam’s set. Thick clouds drenched the Pearl Jam faithful, most of whom waited for more than two hours for the band’s show to continue—and it did. Pearl Jam rewarded the audience with another 29 tunes, including Eddie’s solo rendition of Cubs anthem “All the Way,” bringing late Hall of Famer Ernie Banks out onto the stage to prolonged applause and eventual chants of “Ernie, Ernie!” That night also marked the first time they performed Lightning Bolt’s title track live. The boys rocked on until after 2 a.m., returning the next night for another powerful performance.

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