Eddie Vedder is a golden god to that sector of the rock-audience demographic that loves sports as much as it loves music.
On Thursday night, the first of a two-night sold-out solo stand at the Tower Theater, Vedder regaled the crowd with tales of soul-brother handshakes with Dr. J and bar-hopping during the NBA Finals with Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson (wherein a beautiful woman walks up to Jack and asks if he wants to dance, and Jack responds that she's chosen the wrong verb to describe what he wants to do with her), and made up a song on the spot that urged the Phillies to "do it again."
The crowd seemed just as thrilled with these moments of sports solidarity as they did with the songs he played. And he played plenty, drawing largely on his soundtrack work and well-chosen covers, along with a few Pearl Jam nuggets, in the course of a powerful two-hour set.
He performed seated before a series of changing theatrical backdrops - a tenement-lined street, a movie-studio backlot, a circus big top - amid a tableau of guitars and artsy bric-a-brac, all of which created the impression we were hanging out in Vedder's attic, drinking beers while the dude wailed.
He strummed the guitar - electric and acoustic, and switched to mandolin for "Rise" (from the Into the Wild soundtrack, and dedicated to Dr. J) - as fiercely as he sang, and that smoky, clenched-jaw baritone remains a potent instrument.
He leavened his own material (a rip-snorting "Lukin," a drifty "Guaranteed," and a showstopping "Last Kiss," which, though it was written by Wayne Cochran back in 1962, is kind of owned by Pearl Jam) with stirring reinterpretations of other people's songs. He killed on "Atlantic City" and "The Kids Are Alright," dedicated "Forever Young" to his daughter who turned 5 the day of the show, and turned "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" into a soccer chant.
Perhaps the most compelling, though, was the song he made up on the spot late in the first encore by looping his own voice, layering reverb-drenched wails and swooning bleats with a gorgeous, hummed melody that wouldn't sound out of place on a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album. Vedder closed with an exultant reading of Indio's "Hard Sun," while a hard rain fell outside.