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Scott Kara: A great American rock band at Mt Smart

By Scott Kara

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It was around sunset when Pearl Jam strolled on stage. Front man Eddie Vedder clutched a beaten up song book and a bottle of wine, which he swigged from like a happy swashbuckling sailor throughout the night. Yet he never missed a note with that reedy and powerful voice of his.

As a time to start, just after 8pm was perfect, especially with the beautifully powerful Daughter as the opening song, which inspired an all-in crowd sing-a-long right from the beginning.

It was the first big gig of the summer with 32,000 people jammed into Mt Smart Stadium to see the band who arose from the grunge years of the early 90s with their classic debut album Ten. Since then they have released nine albums and sold more than 60 million records.

It's been 11 years since Pearl Jam played in New Zealand and they made up for it with a two hour plus set spanning their 20 year career.

There was the rumbling discord of Corduroy; fiery new song Got Some, where Vedder took off his anorak and started sweating; Ten's Even Flow had a spiralling and relentless grind until it took off into an extended wailing guitar jam; and Black was perfectly paced and poignant.

Meanwhile, crowd favourite Better Man started with an all-in a cappella - "It sounds like a blessing," hollered Vedder - before the band cranked into the song proper.

But this show, which started at 5.30pm with Liam Finn, wasn't just about Pearl Jam. As well as the other support act Ben Harper joining them on stage, a hometown highlight came when Neil and Liam Finn, and Vedder did a part rousing tribute, part pub sing-a-long version of Chris Knox's Not Given Lightly.

And earlier in the night Vedder duetted with Harper on a fittingly over the top version of Queen's Under Pressure - with the scissor-kicking Vedder sounding better than Bowie.

Sadly there was no Alive or Jeremy, two of Pearl Jam's earliest and best songs from 1991 debut Ten, but their absence probably had a lot to with the stadium lights being rudely switched on while they were still playing. Not deterred, they played on for a further 15 or so minutes in the brightness, including doing a chugging and heavy rendition of Neil Young's Rockin' In the Free World, before bidding farewell.

Pearl Jam are at that stage in their career where they can play for more than two hours without a dud song or laboured moment amongst it. Fans might call it the value for money stage.

The band have had some wobbly periods over the years but the sold-out crowd, the quality of the band as players, and their endless list of songs is testament to the band's longevity. Even if they don't have the danger and rawness they had in the early 90s they remain one of the great American rock bands.

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