Saturday, July 08, 2006

Tom Petty and Pearl Jam - Worth the Money?

At first glance, the pairing of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with Pearl Jam for a stadium tour might induce some head scratching. Hell, it’ll probably induce a lot of head scratching, and for good reason. Pearl Jam was a grunge staple in the 90’s and a hard rock powerhouse for the last half decade, even if they did get off track with some of their more recent offerings. Tom Petty has been cranking out blues rock for 30 years now. You hear him more on your parents’ cassette decks than on any radio stations playing Pearl Jam. Yet, here they are on the road together.

With two very different bands on the same bill, there was a definite split in the types of people in the crowd. About half of the crowd was made up of 20-somethings that had plenty of extra cash sitting around, since tickets were on average about $90 before Ticketrapist fees, while the other half were people the age of the 20-somethings’ parents.

When Pearl Jam came on stage, there were still more than a few open seats throughout the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN (which were later filled when Tom Petty came on). You couldn’t tell, though, as the crowd leapt to their feet and screamed out at the top of their collective lungs. Stadium tours are much, much different than club tours in that it is possible for the crowd noise to actually become very noticeable and rival the sound of the band at times. In a club this would never happen, but it lends to the atmosphere of everyone there knowing the band and coming to see the band, whereas some club shows people are just there to be there. There’s camaraderie when you’re at a stadium tour, probably because you have to be a fan to be there in light of the cost of tickets.

Pearl Jam played for a little over an hour and 20 minutes, all the time keeping their set tight and sticking to playing music as opposed to wasting time with meaningless banter. Vedder and company were all in top shape when it came to their performance. Tight is the name of the game for the PJ boys which, I’m sure, stems from the massive amount of playing and touring they’ve done in the last decade.

The mix of songs was a pretty healthy does of their hits from all of their albums, although Vitalogy was the most underrepresented with Pearl Jam only playing one song from the effort – “Better Man”. The disc wasn’t exactly hit-laden, but neither were some of their later albums (Yield and No Code come to mind). Regardless, their early hits went over the best with the crowd.

“Even Flow”, “Alive”, and “Daughter” had some of the largest crowd responses and sing-a-longs. Not once did the band look like they weren’t enjoying playing these songs for what was probably the 8,000th time. The only problem with some of the older material is that it seems to have lost a little of the edge that it used to have. With Pearl Jam’s evolution as a band into a more rock oriented unit as opposed to their early grunge, this was to be expected.

Newer material, which to the crowd was pretty much anything post-Vitalogy, was not received quite as well. “Do the Evolution” sounded just as awkward live as it does on disc. The song has never felt like it belonged in the band’s catalog and it’s really a shame that it ended up receiving as much attention as it did when it went to radio. “Given to Fly”, however, was quite well received, almost as well as their older material.

At the end of it all the band traversed their entire catalog quite well and will surely please fans of any of their eras. If you’re a long time Pearl Jam fan and come to the show expecting a lot of bravado and some of the band’s early 90’s antics, you will walk away sorely disappointed. They’ve grown up, and thank goodness they have.

After an inordinately long setup time for Tom Petty of more than an hour, the lights finally dimmed before Petty and his merry band of Heartbreakers took to the stage. The place was now packed. With the crowd going ridiculously crazy, Petty kicked off his nearly two hours in length set.

In stark opposition to Pearl Jam’s somewhat humble set, Tom Petty ate up everything the crowd gave him and reveled in the attention. At times he would come off as a little arrogant in that upon completion of a song he would do the WWE wrester antics of waving for more and more applause. It would have been ok after one or two of his ultra-big hits, but for a period of a few songs he did it after each one, which bordered on just plain annoying.

Arrogance aside, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers broke out just about every hit song you could imagine. “Running Down a Dream” and “I Won’t Back Down” had two of the largest responses from the crowd. Oddly, one of Petty’s biggest hits from the 90’s, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, had a relatively tame response. It was odd because this was probably one of the more well known songs by Petty with the 20 something crowd that were seating about half the venue.

Petty did break out one new song from his new album. It was, without a doubt, the weakest song of the set. There was just not the same timeless vibe that the rest of his songs possessed. It seemed like they had run out of ideas when writing their latest album and were stuck just throwing together some techniques they’d never tried before. Maybe it’ll grow on people, but it was very weak live.

After an intensely long and drawn out jam session and a duet with Eddie Vedder, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers called it a night. It was a very solid show, if sometimes somewhat unnoteworthy. For $90 a ticket people might expect a little more, especially since I got the feeling that people were there only to see either one band or the other, not both. Then again, when you want to see bands that have reached this level of fame, it’s expected that it’ll cost at least an arm and maybe a leg too. Regardless, if you go, you’ll hear plenty of hits from both bands.

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