It’s a bright Sunday evening in the people’s republic and as we arrive we’re greeted with the announcement that Glen Hansard will arrive to the stage in 10 minutes. It falls on deaf ears for the most part, the sold out audience happy enough to loiter around the bar. It suits us, sauntering comfortably to front and centre of the stage just as the The Frames frontman arrives.
Hansard borrows his opener from Irish group Interference, playing ‘American Townland’ before moving straight into a rousing performance of ‘Revelate’. He’s in top form tonight as he belts out the most powerful rendition of ‘When Your Mind’s Made Up’ that we’ve heard. The crowd are persuaded as more usher themselves in and the tent begins to get more raucous. Still, there’s a charm to Glen that few can muster onstage – we’ve seen artists get very sour when the crowd isn’t paying enough attention. He simply stops and states, “Lads, I can’t hear the people who are listening, but I can certainly hear the one’s who aren’t. Come with me on this, it’s going to be worth it. I promise.” He’s not wrong. The set ends with a belter, ‘Way Back In The Way Back When’.
A short interlude before Eddie Vedder arrives is ended by a young woman who delivers the message that the use of mobile phones is rude and puts the artist off, mumbles something about Trump and asks us ‘not to be a c*nt’. A bit saucy, but fair enough.
Vedder wastes no time in introducing Pearl Jam into the set, opening with ‘Betterman’. His first spoken exchange with the audience is an apology. It’s been 21 years since his last visit to the Leeside, kicking off Pearl Jam’s No Code tour. Assuring us it won’t be as long next time, he moves into ‘Sometimes’ from the aforementioned album. The night is an eclectic mix of old and new Pearl Jam material, Riot Act and No Code feature early but Vedder dips into almost every album throughout the evening.
It’s a testament to the songwriting and power of the front man that the songs can be stripped back and played acoustically without the accompaniment of McCready and Gossard. That being said, the addition of the Red Limo String Quartet is fantastic and some songs are completely changed from their recorded versions. Early in the set Hansard takes the stage with a cake in hand, to sing Happy Birthday for Vedder’s daughter who’s turning 13 the same night; Cork obliges and serenades her via Facetime.
As the night continues the performances only become stronger, and despite his absence, Eddie has done his research on the musicians who have graced the Marquee Festival and has prepared his set around them. Bruce Springsteens’ ‘Open All Night’ and a nod to Roger Waters’ appearance by playing ‘Comfortably Numb’ are particular highlights alongside a brief U2 cover, The Clash and R.E.M.
Now arriving at the twentieth song, the Seattle native shows no signs of stopping as he moves between Pearl Jam and material from his own Ukulele Songs. The audience come into their own as the introductory notes of ‘Porch’ ring out; with another dozen songs left, Vedder has kept the ‘crowd participation’ for the last hour – and it’s not a bad ploy considering we’re good and liquored up, ready to join in.
Of all the songs we’ve bore witness to live, ‘Black’ has to be one of the most special. It transforms the night from an amazing gig, into one that will become part of festival folklore. The strings, the song, the reality that the actual Eddie Vedder is standing in front of us for the first time in 21 years, simply put, it’s perfection.
As the crowd sings that falsetto reprise, Vedder leaves the stage for a brief moment, only to return with Glen and the Red Limo Quartet for an encore like no other. Oscar winner ‘Falling Slowly’ rings out in the tent, the strings often absent in Hansard’s solo performances are a welcome addition, as is the accompaniment of Vedder. ‘Rocking in the Free World’ is a staple of any Pearl Jam concert and this set is no different but perhaps the most awe-inspiring of all is the final two songs.
Hansard and Vedder join together for ‘The Auld Triangle’, adding their own verses as they go and bringing the entire tent to their feet as they do. The final track, ‘Hard Sun’ is taken from Eddie’s Into the Wild score and by the time both men are finished it’s an amazing feat that any guitar on stage has a string left. Not many artists play two and half hour sets, fewer still do it while captivating an audience of 4,000 strong with just an acoustic guitar. Hopefully Eddie holds true to his promise and returns to Cork soon, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is in need of a grand opening act.