Hairs stood on end Friday, August 28, in Golden Gate Park when tens of thousands of Pearl Jam fans took over vocal duties on “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” singing “hearts and thoughts they fade, faaaaade away,” so loud it echoed throughout western San Francisco.
Recent touring has shredded Eddie Vedder’s vocal chords, so the ebullient, tanned crowd handled significant chunks of “Even Flow” and “Daughter,” creating just a few of the many postcard-perfect moments at the second annual Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival.
Almost 100 bands are drawing more than 100,000 people to the three-day music series, sprawled out across 20 city blocks inside the verdant, enormous city park. With Dave Matthews Band playing Saturday and Sunday’s M.I.A. and Tenacious D, Friday’s eight-hour proceedings occurred under near-idyllic, sunny, mid-70-degree weather with a touch of ocean humidity.
The day was dominated by anticipation for live show mammoths Pearl Jam, who have been touring material from their upcoming album Backspacer, though Built To Spill, the National, Silversun Pickups and Incubus fielded devout factions as well.
Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam emerged at 7:50 p.m. on the minute in front of a backdrop of stylized waves inspired by Japanese print artists like Utagawa Hiroshige. Wearing trademark brown flannel, jean shorts, sneakers and beard, Vedder laconically grumbled “Let’s get it on,” sending drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Jeff Ament into the overdriven rhythms of “Why Go.” Lead guitarist Mike McCready entered like a chainsaw massacre and asserted a dominance he would maintain all night. “Animal” drove the crowd into a frenzy unseen all day.
“Is everybody good out there? Everybody staying safe? I hope so because there’s a whoooole hell of a lot of you out there so keep track of each other, help each other up,” said Vedder. “And don’t eat the brown acid. The mushrooms are fine.”
It wasn’t the first time the San Francisco landmark event drew comparisons to Woodstock, which is celebrating its 40-year anniversary. In terms of logistics, Outside Lands ran like atomic clockwork. “Corduroy” roared forth as Vedder donned his guitar and sang, “can’t buy what I want because it’s free,” catapulting McCready into another minutes-long, virtuosic solo.
Though Pearl Jam proved tight to the microsecond, Vedder apologized for having a cold. “The tour kicked our fucking ass and I’m pissed off my throat is not what it is.” His hoarseness went unnoticed or forgiven by the die-hards and the merely drunk laid low by smuggled-in hard liquor and $7 Heineken chasers.
“Even Flow” sent crowd surfers skyward and McCready played the song’s solo behind his head, the entire spectacle magnified by twin, hi-definition stadium video monitors fed by at least six fixed and mounted cameras. Even the shortest fans felt like front row watchers, and McCready made it look easy.
“We’re about to take three weeks off,” said Vedder. “I don’t know what the fuck [Mike]’s going to do when he can’t do that.”
The two-hour set included two encores and featured new album Backspacer’s “Got Some” and “The Fixer,” Yield’s “Low Light,” plus “Black,” “Do the Evolution” and Ament on upright bass for “Daughter,” before Pearl Jam closed with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”