Pearl Jam's soulful lead singer usually performs in concert before thousands, so his decision to embark on a brief, solo summer tour provided fans with a rare opportunity to experience this legendary artist in intimate, small theater settings.
An avid surfer with extended connections to the Hawaiian Islands, Eddie Vedder included Maui's Castle Theater on his 2009, 11-city tour.
On Monday night, Vedder graced a sold-out crowd with an extraordinary, two-hour show that ranged from Pearl Jam nuggets, to a handful of songs from his "Into The Wild" soundtrack, along with a number of inspired covers.
Walking on stage to thunderous, standing applause, Vedder opened with Daniel Johnston's "Walking the Cow," and proceeded to regale his audience, balancing more reflective material with foot-stomping, rousing songs. Playing an array of stringed instruments, including acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, and ukulele (on "You're True"), this powerful, passionate performer imbued every song with a profound emotional intensity.
Known for his singing, Vedder displayed an impressive range as a guitar player, sometimes ferociously strumming his instrument, with Pete Townshend-style flourishes.
From the Pearl Jam catalogue he featured songs such as "Porch," "I Am Mine" and "Better Man"; while the "Into the Wild" set included "No Ceiling," "Rise" and "Guaranteed."
Among the many covers sprinkled throughout the show he interpreted Pink Floyd's "Brain Damage," James Taylor's "Millworker," Bruce Springsteen's "Open All Night," and Little Steven's superb "I Am a Patriot." Especially notable was a lovely version of the Beatles' "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" (recorded by Vedder on the "I Am Sam" soundtrack), which he introduced as a song "written by Yoko's husband."
An effective use of massive stage backdrops aided the performance. Surrounded by assorted equipment - a kickdrum, and a tape deck, plus some batwings enveloping a Golden Globe award (won for "Into the Wind") perched on an amp - the giant murals included a red-brick building city alleyway, a warehouse, a Bedouin tent and a seascape for the finale.
Obviously relishing performing in Hawaii, Vedder regaled his audience with an in-between-song banter revealing how he had composed, "a whole bunch of songs in the islands," praising the intelligence of all the folks who, "had figured out how to live here," reporting that he had recently recorded with Ron Wood on Maui, and drawing laughter describing a surprising encounter with a naked man in the bathroom at a resort on Lanai.
And he drew wide applause for his praise of President Barack Obama. "It's really something else to come to the Hawaiian Islands, the home state of our president," Vedder enthused. Referencing photos of the president body surfing on Oahu, he continued: "Are you kidding, somebody in office who knows about waves!"
Later in the show, Vedder brought out opening musician Liam Finn, followed by singer Eliza Jane Barnes to accompany him. This portion included a sublime rendition of "'Till the Rivers All Run Dry," by country singer Don Williams, taught to Vedder, he explained, by The Who's Townshend.
After playing a untitled new song Vedder launched into the stunning, a cappella "Arc" from Pearl Jam's "Riot Act" album.
This meditative chant that seems influenced by Pakistan's Q'wali tradition, has been said to be Vedder's tribute to the fans who were trampled to death at the Roskilde Festival in 2000. Using different microphones and multi-layered tape loops to create a choir of voices, this wordless song built to an intense crescendo that drew everyone to their feet.
The curtain closed and it seemed the show had ended, but then the house lights dimmed and the curtain rose to reveal Vedder joined by Finn on drums and Barnes on vocals tearing into "Hard Sun," a concert-closing encore that recalled Pearl Jam's incendiary rocking highs.
* Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.