Eddie Vedder Solo Show at the United Palace Theatre

Eddie Vedder, solo

Legions of loyal fans swarmed New York’s Washington Heights for a spiritual experience: hearing Eddie Vedder sing acoustic solos in the historic United Palace Theatre. If you were lucky enough to get tickets to the sold-out show, you’re lucky enough. As he always did with his band, Eddie Vedder put on a stellar show. Although for his solo tour, the vibe was different: much more mellow, yet at the same time, more passionate.

The lofty ceilings let in light from above

The setting was perfect for such a performance: a relic from the days of vaudeville theater artfully restored to its original grandeur. Now, the building is owned by the Christ United Church. Inside, the ambience is a strange mash-up of sacred Byzantine spirit, and old-fashioned carnivale entertainment. The somewhat gothic feel suited the evening.

Eddie Vedder’s deep voice resonated through the theater, bringing his audience to awed silence at times as it rose to the ceiling and wrapped itself in and out of the lace patterns in the woodcuts. He was accompanied only by his guitars and a cigar box that he tapped with his foot, using it as a drum. The theater wasn’t huge, but the space was quite majestic, giving the illusion of size. Yet somehow, even in the balcony seats, it felt like an evening of hanging out in the living room, while a friend strums his guitar.

The stage set was more understated than sparse

When Vedder soulfully covered “Trouble” by Cat Stevens, you could almost feel desperation in the plea. During the first encore, Vedder announced that the next song was a bit of “an experiment” before treating his audience to an extended version of Pearl Jam’s “Arc”. Using an old reel-to-reel, he created a live loop of his own voice. As the first recording played, he sang a harmony that accompanied it, and recorded that, too. By the time he was done, there were about 10 rounds of his own voice harmonizing over one another.

Throughout the evening, Vedder switched between guitars, a mandolin, and a ukulele

Other songs were more bittersweet, such as “Broken Hearted,” which he played on a mandolin whose notes were as expressive as his voice. At different times during the show, Vedder switched instruments, each time picking the perfect guitar to express the feeling he wanted his song to convey. He also covered Tom Waits’ haunting love song, “Picture in a Frame,” which was one of the highlights of the night. Although he has sang this lyrical gem live before, it's not a regular on the set list. Eddie Vedder is one of the few artists whose voice comes close to capturing the inherent intimacy in so many of Tom Waits’ songs.

Sean Penn and Eddie Vedder worked together on Into the Wild

“Porch” was a crowd favorite that everyone joined in with. And although the audience was obviously filled with Pearl Jam fans, it was nice to see that everyone was just as eager to hear Vedder’s solo music. Much of it was already known from Into the Wild. The hit film was based on the book of the same name by John Krakauer. It tells the story of John McCandless, a college graduate who decides to travel across the American wilderness. The music from the film is as grand and austere as the Alaskan landscape in which McCandless's body was found. “Goodbye” is another song from a movie, the surfing masterpiece, A Broken Down Melody. You certainly don't have to be a surfer to appreciate this film. If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it for the amazing cinematography, and the rest of the incredible soundtrack.

When word of the solo tour first got out, fan forums went ballistic, predicting which other famous names would step up to accompany Vedder. Liam Finn, who also opened, accompanied him during an encore performance of “Society.” Other than that, no artists appeared. Some songs made you realize how wonderful a duet would be: “You’re True” invoked Jolie Holland, whose homegrown drawl would undoubtedly blend fantastically with Vedder’s in a future recording. But for this night, really, no other personalities were necessary. It wasn’t that kind of evening. It was smaller, quieter. Even when Vedder messed up the lyrics not once, but twice during “Guaranteed,” the audience laughed like old friends at his frustration. Who needs uncalled for star power when you’ve got Eddie Vedder’s huge voice and personality filling up a hall?

Personal stories made the evening feel intimate

The encores could have been the only disappointing part of the evening, depending on how you look at it. Eddie Vedder is well-known as an outspoken political activist, and that came through loud and clear. Even as he joked about leaving his politics at home, two men carried an “Obama ‘08” poster across the stage. The crowd erupted in applause, and Vedder followed their momentum with “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” “Society,” and “No More.” If you don’t like politics mixed in with your music, it may have felt like being lectured. Then, too, there were the insults to the crowd. At one point, as fans screamed out songs they wanted to hear, Vedder joked that he could hear every voice loud and clear, and they all said “I’m an idiot.” However, he quickly admitted the timing of the joke could have been better, as he was about to ask his audience to join in on a song. But most fans know Vedder, and know he holds his beliefs is too strong to keep quiet about them. They also know that he’s not about the screaming adulation of fans.

The night ended with his hit, “Big Hard Sun,” during which some band members came out to play with him. Oddly enough, all were wearing white lab coats. By this time, the old theatre was a hot, sweaty mess, and when the bright lights came on as they played, you really could have been under a torturous big, hard sun. After almost three hours, the audience left feeling uplifted, as one really should after an Eddie Vedder concert. Tonight’s show was a magical, amazing performance.

For the finale, Vedder gave the audience what they wanted, "Big Hard Sun"... in lab coats?

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