By Carrie Hagen
Eddie Vedder likes his fans. So much so that at Philadelphia’s Tower Theater Saturday night, he wooed a sold-out crowd with lullabies and recollections of his final show at the Spectrum, an arena that closed on October 31, 2010, following 43 years of performances and a finale of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer tour.
“I remember something about Halloween and a wrecking ball,” he said. Vedder was alone onstage for most of the night, performing both original ballads and rock classics on the ukelele, the star of his latest solo project, Ukelele Songs.
Even though the ukelele is associated with tropical escapes and happy tunes, Vedder hasn’t dropped his angst-ridden lyrics. He commented on this irony after starting the show with a few new ballads, including titles “Can’t Keep,” “Sleeping by Myself,” and “Without You.”
“If there’s anybody out there who doesn’t relate to these songs, I’m happy for you. At the same time, be warned, because it will happen,” Vedder joked. “I’m using the happy little ukelele,” he continued, “so you don’t go out into the street and commit suicide.”
There was an instructive tone to the evening. Between numbers, Vedder spoke of loss and used the ukelele as a tool to talk about embracing life. He has played the instrument for years, and in a recent interview with NPR spoke of it as a unifying social force. Vedder brought its communal energy to the performance by welcoming Glen Hansard of opening act The Swell Season for a few numbers in the second half of the show, and later singing an island duet with Hansard’s musical partner and fellow Academy Award-winning song writer, Markita Irglova. At the end of the first encore, Vedder invited saxophone player Jake Clemons (nephew to Clarence Clemons) to accompany him and Hansard in a tribute to the longtime saxophonist for the E Street Band.
We here in Philly don’t like to get life advice from many people. Maybe it’s because we trusted him to say goodbye to a beloved venue, and maybe because he takes the time to acknowledge us when we applaud, but we listen to Eddie Vedder. No matter what he wants to play.
The tour passes through the Midwest, hitting Chicago, St. Louis and Minneapolis before heading to California and concluding in Seattle on July 16.