By Alex Rice
On July 11, 2014, my family and I landed at London Heathrow on an early morning flight from Hamburg. We unpacked our bags at the hotel and I immediately split for Milton Keynes, an otherwise unassuming exurb 50 miles to the north that’s hosted some of England’s most legendary rock shows over the past four decades.
It’s home to the National Bowl, where Pearl Jam closed out the European leg of the Lightning Bolt Tour with a thrilling three-hour marathon for 65,000 members of their British faithful(l).
Before openers Off! took the stage, Eddie Vedder came out to coax punters to the front with a rousing solo rendition of “Porch" that got the festivities started. Off! played to the largest crowd of their career that day, while Mike McCready appeared with openers Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, after visiting the merch stand to buy a BRMC shirt.
Pearl Jam gigs typically reach several rowdy apexes, but there was plenty of time for that. PJ kicked off their set with two slow-burners - Lightning Bolt’s “Pendulum” and the Ten-era B-side “Wash” - before exploding into a pair of firecrackers - Vs. opener “Go” and “Brain of J” from Yield.
Above: Bananas are essential to endure a day in the English sun.
Below: So is wine.
McCready shone on fiery takes of “Corduroy” and “Rearviewmirror," while Stone Gossard broke out the acoustic guitar for an elegant “Nothingman” early in the summer evening. Vedder ventured into the crowd for a nine-minute “Better Man.”
“Earlier, it could’ve been Seattle,” Vedder joked after a weather-appropriate “Hail, Hail.” “Now, this is like the nicest day in Seattle in a hundred years.” The combination of the singer’s signature red wine and a beautiful English evening put him in a contemplative mood, as he told a humorous story about coming to London for the first time in 1991.
The setlist was similarly reflective. After the first-ever British performance of Binaural deep cut “Nothing As It Seems,” the first encore included a Mother Love Bone tribute suite of “Chloe Dancer” and “Crown of Thorns” (Gossard could be seen wiping away tears during the latter). The traditional “Rockin’ in the Free World” finale was accompanied by Off!’s Keith Morris, who chanted a familiar name as the headliners exited stage left.