Eddie Vedder leads Pearl Jam at Consol Energy Center Friday night.
The lights went down in Consol Energy Center at 8:21 — almost an hour after the ticket time — and with the live premiere of the pensive new song “Pendulum,” the Lightning Bolt Tour was on.
Having rehearsed on it all week, Pearl Jam was well acquainted with the Consol stage and everything to be played on it, and tonight, it was time to christen Pearl Jam’s first full U.S. tour since 2010 and first concert in Pittsburgh since 2006.
“I was starting to get nervous about our first gig,” Eddie Vedder said at one point, “and I happened to be talking to Bruce Springsteen, and he said, ‘Aw [expletive], it’s in Pittsburgh, it’s going to be a smoking crowd.”
True to form, it was a high-energy, high-spirited, nearly 30-song Springsteen-style marathon from Eddie and the boys, who made it feel like they were FROM Pittsburgh.
Pearl Jam had teased a few new songs in a pair of shows this summer — one at Wrigley Field, one in London, Ontario — but this was the live debut for many of the tunes from “Lightning Bolt.” Although it doesn’t come out until Tuesday, it was streamed on iTunes this week, so the Pearl Jam faithful were prepared.
When he sang “Pendulum” in his rich baritone, drawing out that great line “Easy come, easy go/easy left me long ago,” there was already a spark of recognition. The band is obviously proud of this one, and with good reason.
When they powered through the title track and the breakneck single “Mind Your Manners,” they already sounded like songs from a future “greatest hits” collection. They were paired with the furious “Animal” as an easy compare and contrast to older days.
Of course, Pearl Jam is just as effective, or more so, in the mid-tempo zone, making songs like “Nothingman,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in Small Town” and “Faithfull” sing-along celebrations.
Add to that “Sirens,” a beauty from the new album about the fragility of life, with death right outside the door. “Unemployable” was delivered as “a fate I wish on everybody in Congress,” Mr. Vedder said. Something about “Daughter” made him think of Franco Harris because he inserted a breathy chant of “Let’s Go Franco” into the song, followed by a toast to the running back he said was the best when he was growing up.
Pearl Jam, surrounded on all sides in the sold-out house, chose to forego the giant screen approach. There were hanging lantern globes, and a cluster of lights above that looked like a found object sculpture of a metal band’s unreadable logo.
Later into the set, Pearl Jam — also Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron — applied its full force to “Unthought Known” and “Rearview Mirror,” and the brooding power ballad “Yellow Moon,” with its David Gilmour-inspired solo.
After the energy flagged on “Footsteps,” PJ brought up a special guest, a wound-up Jason Grilli, who delivered a rowdy pep talk for Pirates fans and stayed to stomp around the stage and play air guitar, in a matching Vedder plaid, for “Whipping.”
The energy cooked on an extended “Better Man” and amped-up “Porch,” which had Eddie swinging around on one of the lanterns, and the songs that brought ’em to the dance 22 years ago — “Black” and “Alive.” The band wrapped up with a lights-up cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and a quiet “Yellow Ledbetter.”
If Pearl Jam was saving anything for show No. 2, 3 or 10, it certainly didn’t show on an amazing, exhausting, uplifting opening night.
Corrected: Jason Grilli appeared on the song “Whipping.”
Of the Girl
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Mind Your Manners
Given to Fly
Let the Records Play
Speed of Sound
Do the Evolution
Rockin’ in the Free World