Eddie Vedder, Evil J and Saint Cecilia, QPAC, Brisbane (10/03/2011)

Despite Eddie Vedder’s opening show of his Australian tour being riddled with forgotten lyrics and equipment failure, Brisbane fans left QPAC feeling truly touched by a legend with one of the most outstanding voices in rock music today.

Evil J and Saint Cecilia’s embodied psychedelia, folk, pop and country and blended it all into a harmonious appetiser to Vedder’s set. The ladies showcased songs off their new album with nothing but a drum machine, a bass guitar and an electric guitar buzzing with distortion. One of their songs was reminiscent of Band of Horses’ Time on Earth, with the two girls combining their voices into a fluid soaring melody. Their potential for a successful country/pop fusion duet gives hope of a fresh and interesting new band for the Australian music scene.

After a recorded intro of Tuolumne off his Into the Wild soundtrack, Vedder emerged onto a stage populated by an old eight-track recorder, a simple city backdrop and several acoustic guitars, ukuleles and mandolins. Dressed in jeans and looking at ease, Vedder picked up his Fender Stratocaster and softly moved into a Daniel Johnston cover, Walk the Cow. It wasn’t the first cover that evening, nor the best but it perfectly set the mood for the night by cementing in the minds’ of the audience how Vedder was truly in his element; his every vocal nuance realised and every stroke of his guitar purposeful.

Shortly into his second song Trouble (by Cat Stevens) Vedder forgot his lyrics, swears and stops playing, What could have been the death knell for any acoustic show (and to happen so early on) proved to galvanise the audience’s intimate connection to the artist as he dryly told them in his thick mid-western American accent, “Sometimes when you really feel a song, that’s when you really fuck em’ up.”

Vedder went on to showcase a new song he wrote only days before, which according to backstage notes is called Sleep By Myself and was played on ukulele. Vedder sung of a man who lost someone stupidly and will be alone through the night. The new song slides in comfortably next to older songs like Driftin and Man of the Hour – truly a testament to the man’s songwriting ability which has not diminished over the years.

Among the show’s highlights were an delicate rendition of Better Man perfectly sung and plucked on a suitably dream-like acoustic guitar, a near perfect cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done (played after Vedder solemnly spoke of the death of Alice in Chain’s bassist Mike Starr) and an utterly sublime Valentines Day dedication to Vedder’s friend and wife in the form of Just Breathe. Vedder momentarily channeled The Boss for rollicking Springsteen number State Trooper, and brought back vocalist Eliza Barnes for John Doe’s The Golden State. Each of his covers felt like his own songs, capitalising on his intimate vocals and understated guitar playing to maximum effect. Final track Hard Sun fell flat when Vedder’s Strat stopped working and had to be replaced mid-song, but it didn’t matter because the finale had already made a spectacle of itself – flying in the face of an evening of soulful acoustic numbers that begged no exhibition.

Speaking of Mike Starr, Eddie told the audience, “It’s too bad when sobriety isn’t enough to keep you alive.” It was the first time the poetry of his music could be seen in what he said, because in between the ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ he’s a modern day Springsteen – he’s just a bit rougher around the edges.