Pearl Jam Plays First Show Since 2018 at Sea.Hear.Now; Debuts Six Songs Off Gigaton

 "A Festival Highlight"

Words by Marc Komito

Photos by Diane DiMemmo

September 22, 2021


Years of anticipation ticked by at a snail’s pace before two hours passed in the blink of an eye, 35,000+ letting out first a collective roar and then a satisfied sigh, their spiritual cups refilled in the way that only Pearl Jam can. These songs, this band, means so much to so many, and this performance was everything, imperfectly perfect in the most endearing and human of ways.

Pearl Jam enjoyed a triumphant return to the stage in front of 35,000+ fans on Saturday Night in Asbury Park, playing their first show since 9/4/18 at Fenway Park in Boston, MA. Originally scheduled for 2021, this long awaited festival set was originally supposed to be at the tail end of a six-month tour with dates spanning the United States and Europe. Instead, due to COVID, it broke a 1,110 day dry spell between live performances.

Danny Clinch – willed Sea.Hear.Now into existence four years ago just to provide a successful track record and platform for Saturday’s Pearl Jam set.

In March of 2020, Pearl Jam released Gigaton, their eleventh studio album and first since Lightning Bolt in 2013. Though Gigaton was originally slated for release in Dolby Atmos in nationwide movie theaters as well as a live album release party at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY, the pandemic wiped all those plans from the 2021 spring calendar in addition to the postponement of seventeen planned US shows and an equal number in Europe later that summer. As luck (both bad and good) would have it for those in attendance Saturday, Sea.Hear.Now turned out to be the de facto Gigaton release party; Pearl Jam debuting six tracks from their most recent effort, a trio of which headed the setlist.


Taking the stage to thunderous applause and opening with “Dance of the Clairvoyants”, it became immediately evident that Pearl Jam had an album’s worth of new songs that they were eager to share with the most faithful and diehard fan base on the planet. Counting myself among those and admitting that I might have scripted a different opener for the first Pearl Jam show in three years, I am an open canvas that is always ready to receive the full intention of Pearl Jam’s art without the added layer of my unwarranted brushstrokes or input. Music moves me, not vice versa, and this highly energetic debut offering was a stroke of brilliance.

The second consecutive debut track to open the show was “Quick Escape”, the full band now back on their regular instruments as Mike McCready’s solo was everything the Gigaton cut promised and more. “Seven O’Clock” rounded out the trio of show-opening debuts before Eddie Vedder settled in and waxed poetic about the state of the world these past few years, concluding with, “Safety first. We care about you so f*cking much, and we’re so happy to be here, but we’re also a little nervous because we haven’t played a show in three f*cking years.”

Everything has chains...absolutely nothing's changed.


Never have these words felt more appropriate as the familiar notes of “Corduroy” rang out; the PJ faithful going as wild as dancing in soft sand could possibly allow. This being the first Corduroy since the last Corduroy, and clearly the most recognizable tune of the night thus far, this was the first of many times my notes read, “Does it get any better than this?” Eddie Vedder next introduced the first of the evening’s guests who it turns out wasn’t actually a guest at all but new touring member of the band Josh Klinghoffer–née of the Red Hot Chili Peppers during John Frusciante’s absence from the band–called upon to provide guitar, vocal, and piano fills on several Gigaton tracks. “Present Tense” followed, lone guitar tracks accompanying Vedder’s vocals while Matt Cameron kept time before the full band joined along for the song’s powerful bridge.

Vedder, chatty as ever, took time to recognize some of those lost over the last few years, dedicated “Wishlist” to both Charlie Watts and Norm MacDonald. The song's lyrics were altered to feature numerous shoutouts to New Jersey along with the first of several mentions of Bruce Springsteen before the song was interrupted while Eddie took a moment to check on a fan situation up front. Satisfied that all was well, the song had a bumpy restart (no forgiveness necessary since being a good human requires no apology) before the song found its way again and ultimately detoured through the Rolling Stones “Waiting On A Friend”.

Now approaching the show’s halfway point, Vedder took a few moments to appreciate Danny Clinch, lovingly referring to his longtime friend as the aforementioned “Prince of Asbury Park” before publicly lauding him for conceiving the mammoth festival that was ostensibly just a ruse to bring Pearl Jam to Asbury Park in the first place. Then, for the second time in consecutive shows – albeit three-plus years since 9/4/2018 – Mr. Clinch joined Pearl Jam on stage to play harmonica on a highly memorable version of “Red Mosquito”.

Taking a breather to say, “I hope I can be Patti Smith when I grow up” before story time in which a dismayed Vedder admonished the New Jersey cops who arrested Bruce Springsteen for DWI, “I mean if ever there were a time to make an exception.” Vedder then played the opening notes of “Better Man”. At this point, feet in the sand and arms around my loved ones, the full emotional weight of this long awaited performance came to bear and it was game, set, and match. A powerful cover of Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power” was played for the first time since 2016’s Global Citizen Festival, neatly tying this segment together with the Pearl Jam frontman’s earlier comments and Smith’s performance earlier today on this very stretch of sand. A downright raucous and hauntingly relevant “Porch” closed the set proper, Vedder taking two steps up the stage left scaffolding before stopping to look out at the audience and wave, those first steps involuntarily conjuring momentary images of the stage dives of yesteryear.


All in all, Pearl Jam would play six never before heard tracks off Gigaton, along with some of their more recognizable tunes like “Even Flow”, “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, “Given to Fly”, “Daughter”, and “State Of Love And Trust”.

Rumors aplenty, some of which were even confirmed (!), parried about all day and for the prior weeks about The Boss, but alas Mr. Springsteen would only make his presence felt in the footnotes. Vedder, joined on stage by a hastily assembled local choir of four, paid tribute to both his dear friend and the city of Asbury Park with a first ever live performance of Springsteen’s “My City Of Ruins.” Ironically, Springsteen wrote this song in 2000 to address the years-long deterioration that his beloved city on the Atlantic had endured over the prior two decades, and to stand here and listen to Pearl Jam play this song on this beach as Asbury Park has spent the last decade in a cultural renaissance spurred by music and food and the arts, well, that’s exactly the emotional and spiritual change that performance art hopes to affect. Mission accomplished, dear friends.

“Alive” is one of those songs that is played with disturbing regularity until something happens to change that fact, the tragedy at Roskilde and COVID both coming readily to mind. That being said, having been three years removed from its last live performance, having the opportunity to hear this song blaring from a PA with tens of thousands united in all their glory was positively life affirming. One more song and one more guest would put a bow on this emotionally charged evening as Pearl Jam welcomed Lenny Kaye of Patti Smith’s band to play guitar and sing harmonies along with Klinghoffer and the rest of the Pearl Jam proper for a typically rowdy rendition of Uncle Neil’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”.

Kudos to the folks at C3 Presents for pulling off yet another outstanding event, even if this three-year festival called Sea.Hear.Now was really just an elaborate disguise for a Pearl Jam concert on the beach. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think that C3 even controlled the weather and the waves, and my hat is tipped to them for literally thinking of every detail. Can’t wait for next year!

Stay tuned for Additional festival coverage coming soon!

Photo Gallery by Diane DiMemmo

*Due to space restrictions, photos of other band members were not attainable.*

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Marc Komito is a high school math teacher and summer camp counselor with a passion for live music. The married father of 2 has since evolved from writing setlists and show notes on the back of Dupree’s Diamond Deadhead News and now loves to recount his live music escapades for others. Marc is a lifelong NJ resident who can be found at live offerings all over the New York Metropolitan area, though the Jersey Shore, and Asbury Park in particular, are his preferred stomping grounds.

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