What a joker
Eddie Vedder - Live At HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London

Suffering from a mild fever at an Eddie Vedder concert at the Hammersmith Apollo can be slightly – and there’s only this one word for it – surreal. The vintage venue is swathed in red, the same shade as the lamp that played a pivotal role in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. But it’s not this shared quality with the phantasmagoric film that leads to a lucid-dream-like state. Nor is it the lulling quality of the acoustic sound that’s on stage.

It is, if anything, the roundabout nature of Vedder’s humour that nudges fantasy into the fringes of perception, while pushing reality closer to an edge.

He comes on stage wearing jeans and a grey t-shirt after Glen Hansard finishes a flawlessly-sung supporting set. And the first thing Vedder does is pull the sheets off various props and instruments that are lying covered on stage. But before you can say, “What a nice guy he is to set things up for himself,” he disappears into the wings and a man wearing a white laboratory coat enters to put the littered items in place.

This man has the same build and flowing, silver hair as the Pearl Jam front man. And both of them share space on stage in-between songs throughout the gig, although it seems that the lookalike’s only job is to tinker with things that are already in place. Gradually, you start questioning his role, especially when it’s time for an encore and he is still mucking about on stage. Then, you find yourself asking your friend, “Wait, this guy does look a LOT like Eddie Vedder, doesn’t he?” And it is at this point that Hansard and Vedder re-enter the stage from either side for one last jam, both wearing a white lab coat now, which is a sartorial change designed only to mess with our heads.

And a laugh rises and then quickly falls in the audience, like it happens when you don’t quite understand a joke but find it funny all the same.

But he’s been warming us into this elaborate piece of comedy from the beginning, since his jokes took a winding route from the word go. “Have you ever played that camping game where there’s a guy sleeping on the floor, and two guys are standing on either side of him holding a pillow, and there’s one guy with a flashlight behind his head?” he asks a slightly-bewildered audience. “No?” he questions rhetorically. “Well, I have. And the point is to wake him up in shock by beating him with pillows and throwing the flashlight in his face.” ‘Um, so?’ you silently ask yourself. “So, if anyone wants to use flash photography, could you please do it now? Because it can get quite irritating if it’s right in your face.”

The most straightforward joke he cracks all night is probably, “I can see a lot of flags around, which makes me feel like I’m playing at the Olympics… except that the seats are full.”

But, otherwise, his humour is on the lines of a little girl running cutely on to the stage and handing him a ukulele, and a little while later, another little girl doing exactly the same in an even cuter way, and Vedder saying, “I swear, I’ll start killing if I see a child again,” when they were actually his own daughters that were bringing him the instruments to play.

Then there’s the part where he talks about his narcotic experiences (and it doesn’t take an Albert Hofmann to guess the substance he’s getting at). It had made him question the purpose of life at times, he says. For instance, he had once been sitting under a coconut tree on a beach with a friend. Both of them had been so parched that they started praying for a drink, and as if by magic, a coconut landed right at their feet. And so it went; every time they prayed for one, right on cue, a coconut fell. “We felt that it was the purpose of the coconuts to quench our thirst,” he says, before adding in an existential vein, “But for all we knew, it might have been the purpose of the coconuts to fall on our heads.”

Clearly, keeping up with this Eddie-Vedder brand of comedy doesn’t help a fevered brain.

But, at least the music is easy on the mind. Many of the songs are sing-along Pearl Jam classics, such as ‘Dead man’ and ‘Better man’. Or, they’re covers, such as Pink Floyd’s ‘Brain Damage’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Open all Night’ and the Beatles’ ‘You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away’. Some tracks from ‘Into the Wild’ – a movie that Vedder wrote the music for – and from ‘Once’, which won Hansard an Oscar, also find their way.

And while the friend says there is a point when she hears a solitary false note, we can’t make the same claim. Although it can be that – having had to pop a paracetamol to keep a rising temperature at bay from the surrealism of the evening – we are not completely in the game.

Words by Shunashir Sen
Photo by Steve Gerrard

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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