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Pearl Jam and Robert Plant at the House of Blues (review)


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Chicago Sun-Times (IL) - October 7, 2005


Pearl Jam and Robert Plant at the House of Blues

Judging only by the crowd assembled at the House of Blues, one wouldn't have guessed that patrons paid $1,000 each for tickets. These were real fans, and they drank beer and sang along just like they do at $10 shows.

One glance at the stage, though, said this wasn't just any show. It's not every day that a bona fide rock legend jams with a best-selling arena act in a club so cozy you could count the ringlets on Robert Plant's head. But that's exactly what happened at Wednesday night's pricy benefit show for hurricane relief: Plant, the former Led Zeppelin front man, joined forces with Pearl Jam in a remarkable display of star power.

In fact, though the pairing was rumored for weeks and hotly anticipated all night long, it seemed increasingly unlikely the two would collaborate as the show wore on.

Plant opened with six songs and an encore -- but no sign of Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam played for 80 minutes -- with no sign of Plant. Then the band did a first encore: Four more songs -- still no Plant.

Emerging for a second encore, though, Vedder wore a boyish grin and dedicated the next song to Plant "because he wrote it." That was a sly joke; the song was Pearl Jam's "Given to Fly," which bears more than a passing resemblance to Led Zeppelin 's "Going to California."

And so the stage was set. "Given to Fly" faded, Plant and his guitarists came out of the shadows, and the crowd roared. With Vedder and his bandmates sitting on the stage like awestruck kids, Plant launched into "Going to California."

It was an acknowledgment of a debt from one generation to its predecessor, and the blessing of the elder in return.

Most of all, though, it was crackling, kinetic rock 'n' roll, and it launched a run of songs notable not just for the personnel that played them -- Plant, his band the Strange Sensation and the members of Pearl Jam in various combinations -- but for the twin senses of fire and fun they displayed.

The romp included a pair of chestnuts plucked from the roots of rock in "Little Sister" and "Money (That's What I Want)," two Zeppelin classics ("Fool in the Rain" and "Thank You"), and finally a jubilant joint version of Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World" -- in which Vedder tweaked the lyrics to apply to New Orleans and Plant played Vedder's guitar.

All of that was just the capstone of a long and memorable show in what Vedder called "the City of Big Donors."

The chance to see a muscular arena act like Pearl Jam in such uncommonly close quarters proved thrilling, both when the band charged forward (pushing the anthemic likes of "Evenflow" straight to the rafters) and when it leaned back (showcasing the subtleties of "Elderly Woman" and revealing the melodic heart of "Corduroy" and "Better Man").

Plant's set, meanwhile, drew intriguing parallels between the grease and sweat of the blues that enthralled him as a teenager and the chatter and twang of the West African musical forms he has more recently explored.

Most importantly, though, the gig served a greater cause: House of Blues officials expect the event to raise more than $1 million for the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and the Jazz Foundation of America. "Sometimes," Vedder concluded, "positives can come from negatives."

Anders Smith Lindall is a Chicago freelance writer.

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