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Pearl Jam makes live performance debut of new songs at first concert in 3 years

·4 min read

There was the moon, the ocean, Pearl Jam and 35,000 fans on the beach in Asbury Park, New Jersey.

The elements were aligned Saturday to close out the first night of the 2021 Sea Hear Now festival, a celebration of live music, art and surf culture.

As the headliner, Pearl Jam delivered their famous grunge rock sound, with a distinctive Jersey flavor.

It was a year-long wait. The group was originally scheduled to play the festival in 2020, but that was called off due to the coronavirus outbreak. Fans at Saturday's show had to either show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test.

On stage, the three years off from live performances didn't seem to affect the band. “Corduroy,” powered by Jeff Ament's bass and Mike McCready's guitar, was explosive, and “Even Flow” was fast-twitch sinewy. “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” a rocker waltz, wonderfully framed lead singer Eddie Vedder's distinctive baritone. It sounds like a canvas sail unfurling in a rich crosswind.

Pearl Jam perform on the Surf Stage at Sea Hear Now Festival in Asbury Park, NJ on September 18, 2021.
Pearl Jam perform on the Surf Stage at Sea Hear Now Festival in Asbury Park, NJ on September 18, 2021.

Hearing it next to the ocean was a unique experience.

Pearl Jam performed several songs from their latest album “Gigaton,” which seemed to downplay the big melodic sweep of the band's previous songs for a tighter rhythmic vibe.

Vedder paid tribute to the late comedian Norm Macdonald during the intro for “Wishlist.”

“I'm so upset,” Vedder said. “I wish I had talked to him more, texted him more.”

'We lost a comedy giant': Conan O'Brien, Bob Saget, Adam Sandler mourn Norm Macdonald

The band segued into the Rolling Stones' "Waiting on a Friend" in the middle of "Wishlist" as a nod to late drummer Charlie Watts.

Bruce Springsteen's “My City of Ruins,” written 20 years ago when the Asbury Park city was in the bottom of a long-downward spiral, was performed on Saturday with locals Alexander Simone, Joshua Rogers, Jason Rogers and Michelle Rushing on background vocals.

“I was looking for Asbury’s finest local singers, and then with two hours notice, we got them,” Vedder said. “They’re superheroes to me.”

Simone is the grandson of icon Nina Simone, and Vedder dedicated a verse of “My City of Ruins” to her.

Vedder also has been staying up to date on current events in the New Jersey area. He knew all about Springsteen's DWI arrest at the Gateway National Recreation Area in November, which became public in February. The drunken and reckless driving charges were dismissed.

Vedder was incredulous about the whole thing.

"How did he get pulled over? He didn't get pulled over, he wasn't moving," Vedder said. "He was sitting on a motorcycle, or near his motorcycle, in a park in New Jersey talking story with some new friends."

Vedder contends that Springsteen shouldn't have been arrested.

“You got to make an exception, please, at some point,” Vedder said. “That would be the exception I would think.”

More: Bruce Springsteen pleads guilty to alcohol consumption in closed area, DWI charge dropped

There was one more Jersey surprise in the night. Patti Smith collaborator Lenny Kaye, a native of North Brunswick, came out for the encore cover of Neil Young's “Rockin' in the Free World.” Smith and her band played earlier on Saturday.

“When I grow up I want to be like Patti Smith,” Vedder said.

Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Idol, Dirty Heads, Grouplove, Orville Peck, Ani DiFranco, Tank and the Bangas, Moon Taxi, Happy Fits, Liz Cooper, Strand of Oaks, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Remember Jones, Ron Artis II and the Truth, and American Trappist play on Sunday's day two of the fest.

Sea Hear Now debuted in 2018 in Asbury Park.

The fest is produced by C3 Presents, the team behind Lollapalooza, and locals Clinch and Tim Donnelly. Clinch is a Toms River native who has photographed the greats of music, from Springsteen to Tupac Shakur.

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Chris Jordan, a Jersey Shore native, covers entertainment and features for the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. Contact him at @chrisfhjordan;

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Pearl Jam at Sea Hear Now: 'Gigaton' songs, Norm Macdonald tribute

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