Pearl Jam’s first live show in more than three years was an eventful one on Saturday, Sept. 18 at the Sea.Hear.Now festival beachside in Asbury Park, N.J., as the group debuted six songs from its 2020 album “Gigaton” and welcomed new touring member Josh Klinghoffer into the fold.
Pearl Jam opened the 20-song set with three new songs in a row: “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” “Quick Escape” and “Seven O’Clock.” Klinghoffer’s presence was quickly felt here, as he contributed guitar and backing vocals throughout. The best of the rest was “Never Destination,” a spritely rocker that served as a great segue into the classic “Even Flow.” Drummer Matt Cameron’s “Take the Long Way” and the surging, Vedder-penned “Superblood Wolfmoon” were also played for the first time.
Thanks to the Jersey Shore setting and his longtime friendship with the Pearl Jam world, Bruce Springsteen was the subject of rumors that he’d make surprise appearance during the set. The man himself did not appear, but his music and Asbury Park legacy were saluted by Vedder with a cover of the Boss’ Asbury tribute “My City of Ruins,” featuring a four-piece choir mobilized just yesterday for the performance.
Sea.Hear.Now producer and noted rock photographer Danny Clinch guested with the band on harmonica during “Red Mosquito.” Clinch has worked closely with Pearl Jam and Springsteen over the years, and has long been a champion of Asbury Park’s music and culture. His local gallery, Transparent Clinch, hosted a festival pop-up featuring stripped-down performances and original artwork from festival acts.
In a set with so much new material, Pearl Jam didn’t skimp on the hits, with the late first set run of “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Given to Fly,” “State of Love and Trust,” “Better Man” and “Porch” summoning vintage rock ’n’ roll energy.
To close the show, Patti Smith guitarist Lenny Kaye joined Pearl Jam for Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
“We’re so glad you made it,” Vedder told the 30,000-strong audience, most of whom had purchased tickets to see the festival as originally planned to take place a year ago. “We’re happy we could make it and I think we’re all gonna make it together.”
As for Klinghoffer, he replaced guitarist John Frusciante in the Chili Peppers in 2009, but was himself replaced by Frusciante when the latter reclaimed his job in 2019. Since then, he’s moved into the Pearl Jam orbit by performing at guitarist Mike McCready’s Peak to Sky festival in Montana and contributing to frontman Eddie Vedder’s forthcoming solo album, “Earthling.”
Klinghoffer was scheduled to open Pearl Jam’s 2020 North American tour with his Pluralone project, and sources tell Variety the plan was for him to contribute during Pearl Jam’s sets as well, primarily to help flesh out songs from the then-new “Gigaton” album. Although no announcement was made at the time, Klinghoffer got as far as rehearsing with Pearl Jam just prior to the planned March 18 start of the trek, which was scrapped due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has yet to be rescheduled. He also made a brief on-camera appearance during Pearl Jam’s performance of “Dance of the Clairvoyants” for a June 2020 COVID benefit livestream.
As previously reported, Pearl Jam will be back in action the next two weekends at Vedder’s Ohana festival in Dana Point, Calif.