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Review: Pearl Jam opens 2016 North American tour at the BB&T Center in Sunrise

Review: @PearlJam opens 2016 North American tour at @thebbtcenter in Sunrise. #PJTour2016 #PJSunrise

Pearl Jam opened their 2016 North American tour Friday night at a venue they had never played, in a county they hadn’t visited since 1996. But throughout the nearly three-hour, 32-song set the Seattle band performed at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, they looked, and sounded, right at home.

Falling 25 years after Pearl Jam’s first national tour, this 15-city trek across the continent began with a typically broad survey of the band’s work, from their 1991 debut album, “Ten,” to their most recent effort, 2013’s “Lightning Bolt.” The show featured expected hits (“Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”), familiar covers (the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” long an encore favorite), little-played deep tracks (“Help, Help”) and surprising detours (a portion of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender,” an honored request for Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot”). Most Pearl Jam shows run this way, and have for years.

That’s not a complaint. And it’s not to suggest anything about this concert felt routine. Even if you were to disregard the fact that an album-oriented rock band — particularly one that formed in the pre-AutoTune, pre-Spotify ’90s — playing a big arena tour in 2016 is far from ordinary, Pearl Jam’s performance Friday night would still be remarkable for just how right it felt. The band’s songs may not appear on the radio as much as they once did — and again, what serious rock outfit’s music does these days? — but few Pearl Jam songs sound like anyone’s idea of a single, anyway, and the set list seemed driven more by gut instinct than an adherence to formula. As such, an infrequently performed song such as “Who You Are,” with its full-moon-drum-session rhythm, could fall naturally between the howling, protesting hit “Do the Evolution” and the newish, squarish “Swallowed Whole.” And “Corduroy,” an anti-fame statement of purpose from the band’s early, high-fame years, could sound as thrillingly unironic as ever.

Led, as always, by singer-guitarist Eddie Vedder, who is willing to wear not only his heart on his sleeve but yours, as well, Pearl Jam began the concert with “Go,” a rushing, punching attack from the band’s second album that ran right into the kindred “Mind Your Manners” and its Dead Kennedys-inspired, shout-along chorus. It was a jolt of an opening, and any fear that Vedder and his bandmates — guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboardist Boom Gaspar — had been slowed by middle age quickly dissolved.

Sure, Vedder had age jokes to share. “I’m told the last time we played Fort Lauderdale proper was 1996,” he said. Dramatic pause. “You weren’t born.” He followed this with a story about looking into a hotel-room mirror while brushing his teeth and seeing an old man looking back at him. Perhaps sensing he was about to get too poignant and self-pitying, Vedder smiled and considered that he may just have been hallucinating after getting high off his toothpaste’s flavor crystals. The old, intensely personal Vedder might not have been able to pull off such a riff onstage. The 51-year-old Vedder did so with ease.

But as Vedder has matured, so have his songs. Where anger, confusion and rebellion sparked “Deep,” “Corduroy” and “Why Go” in the '90s, these songs on Friday night sounded fuller and richer, as if the man singing them were expressing empathy for and offering guidance to the man who wrote them. If you think you have it rough now, Vedder seemed to be singing to his younger self, you’re not wrong. Life will never stop breaking your heart, but it will never stop piecing it back together, either.

This idea returned again and again, but never more powerfully than during “Black,” the emotionally devastating centerpiece of Pearl Jam’s first album. As Vedder sang the song’s killer final lines — “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life/I know you’ll be the star/In somebody else’s sky/But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be in mine?” — he delivered them not from the perspective of a wounded young romantic, but from the vantage point of the healed, someone who knows what it’s like to feel everything always and too much. Who knows what it means to let go. Who knows when it's time to move on. Who knows what it is to come home.

jcline@southflorida.com, Twitter.com/jakeflorida, Facebook.com/JakeCline

SET LISTS

Friday, April 8, BB&T Center, Sunrise

1. Go

2. Mind Your Manners

3. Corduroy

4. Given To Fly

5. Help, Help

6. Deep

7. Nothingman

8. Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

9. Severed Hand

10. Unthought Known

11. Sirens

12. Surrender

13. Even Flow

14. Amongst the Waves

15. I Am Mine

16. Swallowed Whole

17. Who You Are

18. Do the Evolution

19. Why Go

20. Yellow Moon

21. Footsteps

22. Last Kiss

23. Black

24. Comatose

25. Lightning Bolt

26. Porch

27. Light Years

28. Better Man

29. Alive

30. Baba O'Riley

31. I Am a Patriot

32. Indifference

 

Saturday, April 9, AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami

1. Corduroy

2. Do the Evolution

3. Mind Your Manners

4. Save You

5. Pilate

6. Dissident

7. W.M.A.

8. Even Flow

9. Infallible

10. Daughter/It's OK

11. Sad

12. Down

13. Tremor Christ

14. Wishlist

15. Jeremy

16. State of Love and Trust

17. Rearviewmirror

18. Good Woman

19. Just Breathe

20. Sleeping by Myself

21. Comfortably Numb

22. Sirens

23. Once

24. Given To Fly

25. Porch

26. Soldier of Love

27. Spin the Black Circle

28. Black

29. Alive

30. Rockin' in the Free World

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