ALBANY — Eddie Vedder started his solo tour in Albany Monday night — his first of two sold-out shows at The Palace. Calm and relaxed, he rambled through stories, stopped singing in mid-tune, and offered excuses throughout the show, though he didn’t need to make any.
Vedder’s voice commanded the same authority it does when Pearl Jam is behind him. His tone and power captured the packed Palace whether he shouted or whispered. The audience was eager to explode, and Vedder spent some effort keeping the lid on.
“Everyone just get comfortable,” he said, trying to lower the energy and set the vibe for his acoustic tunes — this from a man known to body surf the audience. The lid blew during some of his more intense tunes, like “Sometimes,” “I’m Open,” and “Dead Man Walkin.”
He continuously forgot lyrics during “Guranteed,” stopping to tell us how all his preparing for the tour has made it hard for him. “This is the longest version I’ve ever played of this song.” The screaming went up and down quickly through these parts, stopping abruptly as soon as he strummed again. Few performers have the ability to turn silent on a dime a packed and partying Palace.
He covered Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” his deep voice keeping the verses low.
He surprised even his more loyal fans with Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” the prettiest tune of the night. He followed with the Beatle’s “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” everybody joining him for the chorus. He blew a few simple harmonica chords to complete the picture. “Pretty good singing for the first night,” he said, not sure if he was congratulating himself or the audience.
Vedder said it was his third day in Albany, and he was enjoying some paddling on the Hudson River. He told a lengthy story that he swore he wouldn’t tell again on tour. But he seemed to be feeling out the audience, getting a pulse for the upcoming shows.
He did little with the guitar beyond accompanying his voice, staying away from leads or guitar tricks. He kept the songs fairly straight, relying on his throat and intensity to carry the night. He turned it over to the audience a few times, particularly in “Fade Away,” after he set the tone. He ad-libbed a song, trying to rhyme “Albany,” coming up with “You look so tall to me,” squeezing in “Utica” too.
Vedder is one of those figures that has become more than a rock star, revered in a number of circles beyond music. His show Monday night was far from polished — the tweaking of equipment and sound was constant — but that was the best part.
A crazy New Zealender named Liam Finn is opening for Vedder throughout the small tour. Monday night Finn and a partner on stage blasted electronic music, often looped, screamed words and nonsensical syllables into the mic, and soloed wildly on electric guitar, along with playing other numerous gizmos. Finn typically sat at a drumset halfway through a song and played mighty beats with mad-fast, high-slamming strokes. At any time they sounded like a mash of noise that turned many off. But if you paid attention through the song, they were brilliant in a loud, juvenile, avante garde way,
Finn’s flailing body adding to the drama. Every song entertained from a different angle throughout the 45-minute set. Surely he’ll strike a few chords with Vedder’s audience as the tour continues. He seemed off to a pretty good start Monday night.