Has anybody ever successfully covered a Tom Petty song? It’s a serious question. Despite the sturdiness of his material, it’s hard to name an inspired rendition — even after an inundation of “Wildflowers” covers after Petty’s too-young death. That said, Eddie Vedder — a close friend of Petty’s — came closer than ever on February 3rd at NYC’s gilded Beacon Theater.
But he didn’t reach for low-hanging fruit, like “Don’t Do Me Like That” or “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Instead, the Pearl Jam bandleader — backed by his new band the Earthlings — covered “Room at the Top,” the opener from Petty’s for-real-ones-only 1999 album with the Heartbreakers, Echo.
This relatively deep cut seems to sum up Vedder’s place in the rock landscape, both in its context and content. Echo was Petty’s “divorce” and “heroin” record — and while neither is applicable to Vedder at the moment, the deaths of his half-brother, Chris Mueller, and close friend, Chris Cornell, came in a one-two punch and knocked him off his axis.
Unlike grunge colleagues Cornell, Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, and Andrew Wood, though, Vedder made it, intact and happy — and Thursday’s gig was a heartening reminder of that. (Vedder and his Earthlings played a private show at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester on February 1st; this concert served as the official tour kickoff.)
Not only is Pearl Jam going strong after more than 30 years, with the underrated Gigaton in the immediate rearview. Vedder remains creatively vibrant in his own right, with Earthling, his first solo album since 2011’s Ukulele Songs (out February 11th). Plus, with Omicron on the retreat, he gets to kick out the jams with two of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.