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Alive … and well

Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam return to Spokane for the first time in 20 years. (Associated Press)
Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam return to Spokane for the first time in 20 years. (Associated Press)

Twenty-plus years in, icons of ’90s grunge movement still satisfy arena crowds

As the Seattle rock band Pearl Jam marches to the end of its latest U.S. tour, the reviews are in.

And the reviews say fans lucky enough to score tickets to Saturday’s sold-out show at the Spokane Arena can expect a rockin’ and raucous night.

Pearl Jam, which has established itself as one of the best live bands in the world, is touring in support of the new album “Lightning Bolt.” As Rolling Stone noted in its 3  1/2-star review, “Unlikely though it seems, the grunge survivors are now – Bruce Springsteen excepted – America’s foremost torchbearers of classic rock. Pearl Jam have become their heroes, but, like Springsteen, clearly do not want to become fat Elvis. So on their 10th LP, they overthink, overemote and overreach – fruitfully.”

Stephen Thomas Erlewine, at, has a similar view: “On ‘ Lightning Bolt,’ they’ve grown in to that classic rock mantle, accentuating the big riffs and bigger emotions, crafting songs without a worry as to whether they’re hip or not and, most importantly, enjoying the deep-rooted, nervy arena rock that is uniquely their own.”

Last time Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam were in Spokane, they were not arena rock icons. They were a hot band out of the hottest city in music. They sprung a last-minute show on fans in June 1993, at the 700-seat Met (now the Bing Crosby Theater). The scramble to get tickets – this was three years before Ticketmaster started selling tickets online – was described as a citywide frenzy as people rushed to the Opera House (now the INB Performing Arts Center) to get in line.

Twenty years later, Pearl Jam still inspires that kind of devotion. Tickets to the Spokane show – roughly 12,000 of them – were gone in hours, as were tickets to the tour’s final U.S. stop at Key Arena in Seattle.

Judging by the concert reviews appearing online, fans’ devotion will be repaid. In the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, pop music critic Randall Roberts raved about the band’s show last Saturday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, the first of a two-night stand.

“The band’s members worked like artisans: joint by joint, seam by seam – streamlined, utilitarian and perfectly engineered. They hit hard for a few songs, then cooled down with minor key diversions such as ‘Sirens,’ a slow-burning guitar ballad that highlighted Vedder’s manly voice,” Roberts wrote. “Just as abruptly, though, Pearl Jam pushed through wind-sprint tracks like the band had discovered punk. ‘Spin the Black Circle’ and the new ‘Lightning Bolt’ suggest that the Melvins aren’t the only surviving Seattle alumni still able to convincingly rock.”

On Nov. 20, Barbara VanDenburgh in the Arizona Republic wrote about the band’s stop in the Phoenix area. She called the rendition of “Even Flow” the night’s cathartic moment, “as the song spiraled into an unhinged jam session that saw guitarist Mike McCready performing his solo with his guitar held behind his head. It was a killer show-off move. But beyond being a neat party trick, it served as a reminder that Pearl Jam have likely performed this song so many times, they could all do it blindfolded with one hand tied behind their backs and still make it sound better than it ever has.”

And in Oklahoma City on Nov. 16, “With the entire arena illuminated,” George Lang wrote in the Oklahoman, “the audience just lost its collective mind as Pearl Jam scored a three-pointer with its first hit, ‘Alive,’ that roaring Who cover (‘Baba O’Riley’) and a closing performance of ‘Yellow Ledbetter,’ one of those coveted songs that faithful fans always hope will be played.”

Craig Rosen in the Hollywood Reporter perhaps sums it up best: “Pearl Jam is still very much alive and we’re all better for it.”