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Pearl Jam in Dublin review: A feelgood concert with heavy music and heavy themes

Eddie Vedder praises ‘very positive’ demonstration against suspended sentence for solider who assaulted woman in Limerick

Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder on stage at Marlay Park, Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson


Marlay Park, Dublin

Grunge was the soundtrack to 1990s angst, but 30 years later, the scene’s leading lights, Pearl Jam, have mellowed into dad rockers fuelled by humour, optimism and fashion-forward hats. It’s more than a decade since they last played Ireland – though frontman Eddie Vedder has performed several solo shows in the interim – and, by way of making up for the absence, their beefy 140-minute set at Marlay Park is loaded with favourites.

They take it to 11 by dipping into debut album Ten for epic opener Release. Powered by guitarist Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament – Ament’s headgear is epic, too – the song is a maximalist slab of vintage rock, topped off with charismatic vocals by teddy-bear-like singer, Vedder.

Pearl Jam weren’t just the biggest brand in grunge after Nirvana. Rejecting the greed and hypocrisy of the boomer generation that had preceded them, they also tried to stand for something. They famously boycotted Ticketmaster in 1994 – having had a premonition of the monster it would become – and, in the decades since, have been consistently vocal about social justice.

That they remain outspoken is confirmed when, introducing Better Man, from 1994′s Vitalogy, Vedder talks about the epidemic of violence against women. He refers to a demonstration close to his St Stephen’s Green hotel against the suspended sentence handed down to Defence Forces member Cathal Crotty after the soldier pleaded guilty to punching a woman unconscious in Limerick.

Eddie Vedder praised the ‘very positive’ demonstration against the suspended sentence for the solider who assaulted Natasha O’Brien. Video: Ed Power

“There was a well organised but powerful loud march going on,” Vedder says. “Apparently there have been some issues – it’s been brought to the forefront and it’s a very positive thing – about women’s rights, women’s safety. Some equality would be nice too. You know there were lots of good men walking in the march, too. You know, we got to ask the judges, too – these judges, you ask them to protect our sisters, our daughters, our mothers, our wives. It might be a good idea to have a few more female judges as well, when you think about it.”

The band is touring their agreeable recent album, Dark Matter, and sprinkle in several new tracks. Roiling with middle-aged befuddlement, songs such as Scared of Fear and React, Respond land like the musings of dads watching the news and despairing of the state of the world – having once raged against injustice, now Pearl Jam are thinking about their kids and shaking their heads in bafflement.

But for all its heavy themes and heavy music, this is first and foremost a feelgood concert. They open a portal to the 1990s, ripping through early hits such as Even Flow, Daughter and Jeremy – sensitive dude anthems that sweep the audience back to the era when soul-matches and tie-dye T-shirts were de rigueur and alternative rock ruled the airwaves.

Vedder is a loquacious band leader who loves a good anecdote. Revealing that he met actor Ed Burns on the flight to Ireland, he reads a poem he wrote to Dublin on a napkin from his hotel. He also dedicates a number to teenager Amelia Ferguson, from Firhouse in Dublin, who passed away recently while attending a Gaeltacht summer course. And he reminisces about Pearl Jam’s first Irish concert – playing with Neil Young at Slane in 1993.

Eddie Vedder at Marlay Park. Photograph: Alan Betson

“Shane MacGowan was breaking into our dressingroom to steal our beer,” he recalls. “And then we ran out, so I broke into Van Morrison’s dressingroom to give Shane some more beer ... I was thinking about Shane and thinking about Sinéad.”

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam: ‘Music has helped me in survival, in mental health, in dealing with aggression’Opens in new window ]

This is by way of introducing a tribute to MacGowan and Sinéad O’Connor – a take on the Warren Zevon ballad Keep Me In Your Heart that lights up the venue as darkness settles over south Dublin. There’s another cover at the end as Pearl Jam plunge into Rockin’ In The Free World – Young’s gnarly shriek into the void, which Vedder and the gang turn on its head and spin into a tale of hope and defiance. It is a fitting conclusion to a show that isn’t afraid to get deep but is ultimately a celebration of longevity, community and the belief in rock ‘n’ roll as a force for good.

Pearl Jam fans enjoying the show at Marlay Park on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson
Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics