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Pearl Jam plays long-overdue concert at Sacramento's Golden 1 Center

Serendipity was in the house at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento last Monday night. After all, Pearl Jam was in town promoting their brand new album, Dark Matter, recently released on the band's own Monkeywrench Records through major label Republic Records.

For those keeping score, the band hadn't played the city in a quarter century. Locals may remember the band had a previously scheduled show in 2022 at the same venue but bassist Jeff Ament came down with COVID forcing the band to outright cancel.

Fans who are members of Pearl Jam's "Ten Club" were granted first access to tickets and were out en masse at the concert. With a queue for the band's merchandise -- set up in a trailer outside the venue -- that stretched around the block and then some, there was no shortage of eager fans waiting to get their hands on branded items and shirts that were surprisingly affordable at just $40.

Pearl Jam performs at the Golden 1 Center
Pearl Jam performs at the Golden 1 Center. Conner Schuh

Unlike other live acts who spend time building enormous, overblown productions, Pearl Jam have done the polar opposite and constantly challenge its listeners to support myriad causes including -- but not limited to -- abortion access, climate change and homelessness. They have also raised awareness about debilitating diseases like Crohn's, ulcerative colitis, and epidermolysis bullosa. To date, the band raised more than $50 million for their charity with a portion of ticket sales (in this case, only $5) to their Vitalogy Foundation.

Thankfully, the five guys in Pearl Jam – original members Eddie Vedder on vocals and guitar, bassist Jeff Ament, rhythm guitarist  Stone Gossard, lead guitarist Mike McCready, and ex-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron – had a masterfully-planned set list up their collective sleeves that would see them playing much more than a handful of fan favorites along with selections from their latest album.

Pearl Jam performs at the Golden 1 Center
Pearl Jam performs at the Golden 1 Center. Conner Schuh

Rather than opening with a high energy number, the band kicked off the night utilizing a sleek black and white backdrop as they eased into the somber "Pendulum" from 2013's Lightning Bolt, following it up with "I'm Open" from No Code. It would only take one more song -- the awkwardly-named yet compelling "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" from their second record Vs. -- to fully connect with nearly everyone in the capacity arena.

Not unlike a Fugazi show back in the day, singer Eddie Vedder employed his audience as backup singers throughout the night while the lighting and video crew kept their backdrops to a bare minimum throughout the set. During "Faithfull" from Yield, the audience sang their hearts out as the band made good on their promise to return to Sacramento.

But what separates the Seattle band from the horribly-named "grunge" scene and the myriad bands who were signed because of their zip code is their unwavering attention to the song and its thoughtful lyrical content over everything else.

For the uninitiated, the band always play a different set each night, which has inevitably brought even more new fans into the fold who often attend multiple shows during a tour.

And while Vedder at times stole the spotlight with his somber stories from the distant past, his mention of the band's first time playing Sacramento hit home with a lot of locals. For those not in the know, Pearl Jam first played locally at the now-defunct Cattle Club back in February of 1991 under the moniker Mookie Blaylock -- an ex-pro basketball player -- which was the band's original name. The show was booked by longtime independent local promoter Brian McKenna, who was then working with Jerry Perry (a local music scene hero in his own right) when they were partners in their company New View Music Productions.  

Cattle Club flyer for Mookie Blaylock show
Cattle Club flyer for Mookie Blaylock show New View Music Productions

If there ever was a proper homecoming, the night's program doubly insured fans this would be a night to remember. And while it was only the fourth show on their Dark Matter U.S. trek, the band played like it was their grand finale of a farewell tour. With standout tracks such as the title track from the new record and "Corduroy" from Vitalogy filling the void, it was hard for longtime fans to ever take a seat during the show.

Other highlights also included "Garden," "Even Flow," "Jeremy," "Black," Alive" -- all from from the Diamond-certified Ten debut from 1991 -- as well as a gorgeous cover of Tom Waits' "Picture in a Frame," which served as a dedication to a couple the band had known for years.

Left off countless touring bands' itineraries, Sacramento proved to the band this was and is much more than a secondary market with its passionate response. And the band responded in kind. With a set list that included an 18-songs main set followed by a hefty encore that saw the band tear through seven more tunes, Pearl Jam's long overdue concert delivered in spades to Sacramento area fans what they deserved after an unnervingly long wait.

Rest assured, the band will remember it too.

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