Armed like many others with little more than a poster tube in hand on a sunny St Kilda afternoon, it was time to join the contingent slowly growing and expanding outside of the Palais Theatre. No cameras (photos not allowed), no tickets (to be collected from the venue). This was all a little atypical for my gig attending habits but perfectly acceptable for the first of three sold out shows in Melbourne on Eddie Vedder’s solo tour, and the first of two I would be attending.
Having entered the fan club ballot for Sunday evening’s tickets, anticipation loomed as to which seats would be mine. The apprehension only built with every observed envelope opening from those lining up in front of me. With that special little yellow envelope in hand it was my turn…revealing seats six rows from the front of stage – hells yeah! Call it chance, luck, fate, higher powers, whatever you like but there was no wiping the grin off my face that night.
Purchasing merch was an event in itself, lines wrapping around haphazardly roped lanes and up the stairs, only to be matched in the upstairs lobby by an equally curved line at the second stand. Time was ticking away but with successful purchases in hand, we finally got inside to see Glen Hansard. He is an absolutely stunning performer, both in delivering powerful and evocative tunes but also in entertaining and humouring the crowd.
Technical challenges resulted in abandoning the PA system and moving to the very front of the stage, guitar in hand, to make best use of the beautiful acoustics in the theatre. An enthralling performance of ‘Say It To Me Now’ came to fruition, more than deserving of the standing ovation received.
And the crowd was on its feet again in anticipation of witnessing prodigious talent as the sound of Toumeline filled the air and Eddie Vedder walked on stage. Surrounded by guitars, ukuleles and that trusty trademark suitcase there were no hints as to what would unfold. Only time would tell.
The first of several covers paid homage to musical and songwriting brilliance with Pete Townsend’s ‘I’m One’ and the set continued, reading like a personal wishlist of requests. The introduction to the ukulele for the night with ‘Can’t Keep’ and the ukulele love lingered for a few songs, including ‘Soon Forget’.
Humour was rampant, including several references to the Bruce Springsteen show the night beforehand and the lingering ill effects of a good night.
The arrival of the mandolin on stage could only mean one thing – ‘Rise’. Sure, it may not be as fun to play as a ukulele as we were duly informed, but that means little in the context of knowing you’re about to hear one of your favourite songs. It served up the spine tingling performance always expected and granted on both evenings.
No one in the room was forgotten that night, as randomly a mirror was lifted, aiming to reflect a few different places in the room but none more prominent than the seats right at the back…while Eddie reminisced of having seats like those.
Empathy brought everyone together, as did the epic sing-alongs. None more so than the mandatory contributions to ‘Elderly Woman’….complete with the literal scream of ‘Hello’, and the mood taking a dramatic swing from the intensity of a touching ‘Man of the Hour’ to the angst of ‘Porch’
Talking about expecting the unexpected is one thing, but actually experiencing something that could not have been contemplated is a completely different tale. Set lists from previous nights revealed unsurprisingly that Eddie and Glen would perform together at some stage during the evening. This evening was no exception, with voices blending perfectly for ‘Sleepless Nights’.
The true magic however, was delivered with one of Glen’s own, ‘Falling Slowly’. Not the first time I’d heard it, but certainly the first time it was gut-wrenchingly bittersweet and breathtaking. Seeing Amanda Palmer at an impromptu gig at White Night Melbourne served to reveal the unique bond shared between these two, and on reflection the only plausible explanation for what happened on stage for that few minutes. It took the music to a whole other place.
Thankfully ‘Arc’ runs as a perfect loop…once created on stage, there was ample time for thank you’s, cheers, ovations and booming claps and stomps for more. And more we got, with ‘Immortality’ and the never-ending joy of ‘Hard Sun’ with Glen Hansard.
And then there was night two…again? Yes, again. Because just like a Pearl Jam show, no two are ever the same. Fulfilling a promise I made to do this following the 2011 solo tour, there I was…and I’m glad I did (prepared again with that poster tube….)
Those familiar vocals covering Cat Stevens’ ‘Trouble’ had yet another audience transfixed and in awe, awaiting whatever was to come next.
Casually informing the punters at the back of the intended switch to a ukulele rather than being concerned with any induced visual illusions, again with ‘Can’t Keep’ but changing things up considerably with the depressive tone of ‘Broken Heart’ and the flip side with ‘You’re True’.
In between song banter bought about tales of long ago, a different time and place, with a book of knots…specifically recalling mastering the noose. A dark and sick sense of humour that almost had me in knots, but given no one around me reacted, it was probably best I kept quiet.
The unmistakable highlight of night two was ‘Better Man’ – a song that I may have heard a few times over the years but never like this. It’s not even easy to explain what happened, but imagine taking a song that you know for every word and note, every verse, chorus and all that sits between. Then have one of its creators flip the song on its head with a completely different arrangement. This was mind blowing stuff, a punch to the stomach leaving you absolutely flabbergasted while everything around you seems to stand still while the sounds unfold and come to fruition.
We even got a brief lesson in the simplicity of the chorus to ‘Lukin’…a quick run through of the lyrics before an open invitation to join in.
Glen abandoned the PA on the first night, but this evening it was time for Glen and Eddie to venture away from the mics, Eddie armed with a ukulele for ‘Sleepless Nights’. Wow pretty much sums up what that delivered…and quite frankly I’d have been content with that continuing for the rest of the evening. At the least the duets continued with spellbinding performances of ‘Society’ and again, ‘Falling Slowly’.
A tweet earlier in the day provided a sizeable clue to a special appearance from Amanda Palmer, for a duet of her own ‘Ukulele Anthem’. Together they delivered nothing but joy and smiles with an abundance of ukulele love. I’m almost certain that the majority of those in attendance contemplated picking up a ukulele as a result, even if it was a thought for a mere fleeting moment.
Each night ended with ‘Hard Sun’, with Glen back on stage (as well as Amanda on night two) for the song that had everyone on their feet, with endless repetitions of a chorus that could have gone on forever.
The result? Cheers, standing ovations, mind blowing music, captivating performances, spine shivers, breathtaking moments, laughter, and perhaps even a few tears amongst all the singing while observing all the stunned faces leaving each night but that’s what you get when you see Eddie Vedder live.