When you pay a thousand bucks for a concert ticket, there better be a damn good reason. And, Wednesday night at Chicago’s House of Blues, there was one. The final show on Pearl Jam’s tour wasn’t on the original itinerary, but once Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and its surrounding areas, an encore was in order. With all proceeds — including merchandise sales — going toward Katrina relief, Pearl Jam headlined the relatively intimate venue, bringing Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation along for support. And the inspired pairing of frontman Eddie Vedder and Plant brought the worthy evening’s loosest, most raucous moments.
The price of admission included nearly two hours of Pearl Jam’s catalog, ranging from Ten’s “Evenflow” and “Porch” to more obscure tracks like “Man of the Hour” and “I Got Id.” It was a sermon- and filibuster-free night, devoid of cracks at the Commander in Chief and without a rendition of the band’s vitriolic “Bushleaguer.” Vedder’s first mention of Katrina came during the first encore, when he briefly acknowledged FEMA’s failures before adding, “Hopefully they’ll learn in the future.” That was as didactic as it got.
With a stellar set already behind them, Pearl Jam’s second encore made the ticket price seem like a bargain. The band began it with the Yield song “Given to Fly” — a track both the Seattle rockers and Led Zeppelin have acknowledged owes a debt to the Seventies veterans’ “Going to California.” Vedder went so far as to dedicate the song to Plant and, as it tapered off, the Strange Sensation supplanted Pearl Jam, with Plant, who’d performed a seven-song opening set, appearing at stage left to transform the song into the tune that inspired it. Vedder, bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist Mike McCready stood back and were regaled by the Tall Cool One.
Next, Pearl Jam jumped back in so that Vedder and Plant could trade verses on rock & roll standards “Little Sister” and the appropriate “Money (That’s What I Want).” Plant dusted off a song he’s never performed live (or just doesn’t remember performing live), the In Through the Out Door pop nugget “Fool in the Rain.” One thing’s for certain, neither he nor Vedder remembered the words, and flubbed them often. Afterwards, Plant smiled and conceded, “I never remember the lyrics to me own songs.” Warts and all, it was a classic moment, one that would only be upstaged by the show closer, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which featured Plant on — drum roll, please — guitar. McCready could be seen actually teaching Plant the chord changes as the supercharged anthem rolled on.