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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Eddie Vedder @ The Riverside Theater

Aug. 19, 2008

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   The tension was there from the beginning. Rowdy and soused, the crowd cheered for a rock show. What they got instead was Eddie Vedder alone on a stool, wearing a leisurely pair of white pants, singing Cat Stevens.

  In misguided displays of affection, the audience did all they could to drown out the man on stage, unleashing a torrent of screams and catcalls. All the offenders were in fine form: the requisite "Freebird!" guy; the shrill "We love you, Eddie!" girls; the guttural "Milwaukee!" dude.

  "Let it out," Vedder told the crowd during an early round of hoots and hollers, "because I'm not going to be putting up with that shit for long." If only he'd had more say in the matter.

  Vedder, who long ago resigned himself to Pearl Jam's meat-and-potatoes fan base, is used to defusing wired crowds at his solo shows, but admitted that this one got under his skin. He tried rationalizing with his fans-turned-hecklers ("I have a problem not just with authority, but with people who scream orders at me," he explained), berating them ("You've never sat in velvet seats before, have you?" he belittled one pack of jackals) and chastising them ("Shut the fuck up," he finally snapped).

  He found some success bargaining with them, burning off their excess energy with a sing-along of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," one of the few Pearl Jam numbers in the set. Covers also tamed the crowd somewhat, so he kept them coming, crooning barrel-chested takes on Tom Petty, James Taylor and Bob Dylan, and balancing his John Lennon pick ("Hide Your Love Away") with a Paul McCartney counterpart ("Blackbird").

  The crowd's silence never lasted long, though, and by the time security cracked down, dragging one elephantine drunkard out of the theater (a feat that required six bouncers to pin him to the ground first), Vedder had given up. He fell from his stool onto the stage floor, where he feigned death for a few peaceful moments. Though he spun the gesture for humor, his irritation was all too apparent. At every step, Milwaukee undermined Vedder's attempts to fashion himself as a laid-back troubadour, turning him instead into a pissed-off father threatening to turn the car around.