As the dust settled on Le Tour Yorkshire, Pearl Jam rode into town pedalling a mammoth rock tour de force worthy of winning any stage.
Eddie Vedder is a musical giant. His presence casts a shadow over even the most experienced musicians; his eyes have borne witness to some of rock’s greatest nights and characters; a voice so primal and raw it practically drips blood.
If he’d gotten up on stage and belted out the contents of a phone book the sell out Leeds crowd would still have lapped up every word.
In a modern age polished and auto tuned to the point of monotonous tedium, Vedder and Pearl Jam are a gateway to a generation almost lost. And they revel in it; delivering a career-spanning 36-song set that lasts just under three-and-a-half hours.
You’d have more luck predicting the weekend’s Lottery numbers than guessing a Pearl Jam setlist such is the depth of the well they draw from.
Opening with “Pendulum”, from last year’s “Lightning Bolt”, they blast through the early part of a set which features the beautiful “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” and a fierce “Once”, stunning highlights before the crowd are welcomed into the fold.
“It’s good to be in Leeds,” smiles Vedder, highlighting the fact that this is the band’s 29th time in England; their second time in Leeds.
In that time Pearl Jam have evolved from the 90s band credited for popularising grunge alongside Nirvana. Age has been a factor but while other greats have crumbled; lost to suicide, drug addiction or an inability to adapt, Pearl Jam have soldiered on with their commitment unwavering and their legacy intact.
Vedder is in buoyant mood, interacting with the crowd, swigging from bottle after bottle of wine. There’s no climbing onto gantries or drinking from fans’ shoes but his energy is palpable, contagious.
A sign thrown towards him from a female fan reads “My 30th Show. Please Play Fatal”. Apologising to the crowd for playing an extra song, he promises not to take it out of their time and plays the rarely aired track.
It’s worth remembering these are multi-million pound musicians but this is show devoid of ego. This is a show for fans of great music by fans of great music. “Even Flow”, “Do The Evolution” and “Rearviewmirror” shake the recently laid foundation of Leeds’ new First Direct Arena to its core. The first encore is more relaxed featuring “Man Of The Hour” and “All Or None”. The Who’s “Real Me” and “Porch” soon send temperatures soaring and set the tone for a euphoric final encore. You can almost see people’s hairs standing on end as Vedder growls “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life” during an epically haunting version of “Black”.
“Jeremy” and “Alive” resonate on such an emotional level, grown men throw their arms around each other and scream every word back. Spectacular live, Pearl Jam remain as relevant and as powerful today and they ever did. If Michael Eavis is ready to embrace metal at Glastonbury, it’s surely only a matter of time before “grunge” is given its moment in the sun.
“They’ve wanted to kick us out for 15 - 20 minutes but we’re pretending not to hear” laughs Vedder as the band rattle off “Baba O’Riley” and “All Along The Watchtower”, ending with “Indifference”. Fellow seasoned set closer “Yellow Ledbetter”, unfortunately given the night off.
With “just enough wine to toast everybody here”, Vedder scans the arena soaking up the hundreds of pairs of eyes transfixed on him. Even after nearly 25 years, nights like this seem just as special to him as they do to us.