Thanks to the Internet, their music bounces around uncontrollably, landing in the two ears of whoever takes 10 seconds to make three clicks and mash 15 letters.
But on stage, they’re the gatekeepers of their songs, having the option to choose either the exact lyrics and riffs that have become inherent to their very name, or play deeper cuts while throwing in live spontaneity to hits forever stuck in the rigid game of radio-play roulette.
Going with the former could be a bore for a 20-plus-year band like Pearl Jam, constantly repeating tracks just as they are on the original albums. But maybe the rush of hearing an endless sea of lips echoing your every sound never turns humdrum.
Before Saturday’s reported sell-out crowd of 52,000—which for those at Music Midtown seemed like a lowball number—Eddie Vedder and company did entertain with exact replicas of their arsenal’s most recognizable, appearing to feed off the multitude’s energy just as they have since the early ‘90s. Both casual and passionate fans joined in for a chorus that tore through Piedmont Park and down the surrounding streets of Atlanta.
The loudest chanters were those crammed in feet away from the stage. Leaving and trying to reenter the solid mass of bodies proved futile, so claim of a square foot of grass had to be laid during the performance hours earlier by Ludacris—another of the 15 big-name acts at the two-day festival. Even then, the spots against the front-most security railing were reserved by those who arrived when the gates opened at noon.
Music Midtown-goers contrasted from that which is seen at your Bonnaroos or Hangout Fests. No angel wings. No tutus. No Hula-Hoops. Few glow sticks. Few pieces of crowd art, jutting high on sticks above everyone. Few drugs (from an observer’s standpoint, of course). It was an Atlanta crowd, dressed in the standard khaki shorts and polos that, if photographed and publicized, couldn’t be held against them by their business colleagues Monday morning.
As proven on Saturday, Vedder, now in his late 40s, has calmed his theatrics down. Though the crowd would gladly catch him, the band’s lead singer didn’t make an epic stage dive or scale scaffolding like he frequently did in the early days. He did, though, take time to talk politics—something most all artists steer away from to avoid the stigma of "stage preacher." It wasn’t any big speech about war or oil or emissions or taxes; instead, he spent less than 30 seconds to encourage all to exercise their right to vote.
The band played their whole two hours, keeping fans hyped through Alive, Jeremy, Better Man, World Wide Suicide and so on. But Vedder’s performance didn’t satisfy one critic frpm the University of Georgia’s paper, the Red & Black. The writer called the veteran rocker “uneven” and accused him of being too intoxicated to sing. Perhaps things looked differently from various areas of the park, but up front, the music god did nothing but please, evidenced by fans’ singing, cheering and hand-waving.
When it was over, the mass spilled into the streets, cars, MARTA trains, hotels and houses, leaving behind a blanket of beer cans, paper plates and cigarette butts for the grounds crew to gather under the midnight moon and beyond.
Atlanta will have to rock out in smaller area venues until Music Midtown returns next year. The festival came back in 2011 after a five-year hiatus with the Black Keys and Cold Play. Then, it was only one day, and since this year it was two, maybe next will be three.
If Pearl Jam was invited back to perform on one of them, no one but the UGA writer would object if they carried out the same exact performance, dishing out hit after hit, keeping their 40-something feet grounded to the stage, and giving the 9-to-5 Atlanta business folks a reason for one night to rock in their polos and khakis.
You can check out photos from Music Midtown on Midtown Patch.