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Review: Pearl Jam Hosts Another Reunion With Philadelphia

By Michael Cerio

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- "I think this is the 22nd time we've played in Philadelphia" said Eddie Vedder slyly from the stage at The Wells Fargo Center, Thursday night.

There have been many memorable sets along the way to Pearl Jam's appearance on this night in South Philly - as Vedder ticked off the milestones like closing down The Spectrum and launching the inaugural Made In America Festival - but it was a set on July 12th, 1991 that had Eddie reminiscing most.

The singer "shed a tear" when he heard about the closing of JC Dobbs on South Street last year, which hosted the first Philadelphia performance of Pearl Jam's 25 year career. A month before their debut Ten even hit shelves, it was there that the band started this intense connection with the City Of Brotherly Love that always threatens to overflow the room in which it's placed – be it a bar, arena, or parkway.

There are two things that are always striking at a Pearl Jam show, no matter how many of the 22 you've made your way into.

The first is the command and energy that radiates from the stage, every time. From the first snarl of the guitar on opener "Once" to the thumping drums of Matt Cameron on follow-up "Animal", the room quickly became purely electric Thursday. There was no wind up, just an extraordinary splash of sweat on stage and intensity. The fact that they came wearing selections from the same jeans and t-shirt collection as you makes it even more personal and impressive.

"They fit a lot of people in this place" Vedder joked as everyone slowed to collectively catch their breath. After telling his tale about JC Dobbs, they would downshift into "Low Light" from 1998's Yield.

Vedder is a presence and passion-soaked whether he's campfire strumming through songs like "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town" to the fans behind the stage, or climbing atop amps and monitors during "Given To Fly" – both of which happened. Even as they slow and quiet, Eddie always seems to have a grasp on the emotions of the audience. It is a skill that has a lot to do with enthusiasm and experience, but just as much to do with a quarter century of songs that have soundracked lives.

The other thing that's palpable at a Pearl Jam gathering such as this, is the overwhelming sense of community.

As the lines backed up into the parking lot to enter, the sea was outfitted in past tour shirts. They are wearable stamps on the passport of PJ enthusiasts who chatter about tonight's seats vs. 2013 and lawn antics of the Yield tour stop in Camden.

There are generations that index their musical lives by the shows and sermons of Bruce Springsteen. They brag about the deep cuts they've seen and the marathon sets. Further back, there are Bob Dylan purists that suffer through diminished returns because of a sweeping nostalgia and hopes of Basement Tapes rarities. I'm sure one day there will be a generation that has been in the #BeyHive since high school and hopes to see a scarcely performed I Am…Sasha Fierce song. But this, this is ours. Pearl Jam is ours.

Pearl Jam and the fans that follow are frequently underestimated. They feel reflective of each other in earnestness and sincerity. There's an ethic shared between performer and fan, thoughtful and fiery but always served with a smile or caring hand.

The surprise of setlists and 25 straight years of intense performances has created a strong legion that turns out not for concerts, but for reunions. Sure that's not the case for everyone in attendance, at least not yet. However when five people leave it all out on stage in the manner in which Vedder and company do, it's hard not to feel connected and come back for more.

A great example of this happened at the start of Pearl Jam's first of two encores Thursday night at The Wells Fargo Center. After sweating through his first set of stage attire, Vedder emerged wearing a Rocky t-shirt and sat down with an acoustic guitar.

While plenty have gotten engaged at Pearl Jam shows, this was Eddie's first experience with a couple getting married at a show. To Pat and Eden - a young couple of teachers in Suite 25 – Vedder sat down to play "the most romantic song I know". What followed was a tender rendition of Tom Waits "Picture In A Frame" as the couple hugged and cried on screen. It was one of a few family milestones celebrated throughout the night in a crowd that felt ever-connected.

As the lights came up during the last few songs in their second encore, Vedder drank wine and bounced around the stage – smiling at the group that has grown way too big and too close for the confines of that South St. bar.

Pearl Jam plays again Friday April 29th at The Wells Fargo Center.

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