Pearl Jam at the Isle of Wight Festival

Driftwood Festival organiser Paul Cobb  Picture: Malcolm Wells (142242-6774C)

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Cards on the table: Pearl Jam are my favourite band and I had been looking forward to this since they were announced as headliners.

And whilst I did indeed enjoy them immensely, I’m not sure if they played quite the right set for the more casual observer that a successful festival headliner needs.

It’s a high tempo set that draws mostly on the band’s more upbeat numbers, with punkier The Fixer and Supersonic from last album Backspacer going down well.

Its not until near the end of the main set that Ten classic Even Flow provokes the first mass sing-along, with guitarist Mike McCready going for it with a behind-the-head solo. They follow that with Why Go, also from Ten, and then leave the stage after just an hour.

But there’s one thing seasoned Pearl Jam watchers know - they do love an encore, and the two encore sections that follow do fill another 45 minutes.

Its during these encores that the band seems to shift up a gear. Frontman Eddie Vedder tells us how Clash frontman Joe Strummer ‘would have loved this’ before playing a cover of Arms Aloft by Strummer’s less well known Mescaleros.

The tender ballad Just Breathe is dedicated to country singer Willie Nelson, who’s own version of the song has proved to be a surprise hit state-side.

The rain has well set in by now and the crowd does seem to have thinned a little, but anyone who did leave missed the set’s climax - and highlight.

It’s the penultimate song most people are here for, labelled grunge’s own Freebird in some quarters, it’s Alive. For a song the band seemed to view as an albatross for a while, they deliver an impassioned version with Vedder coming down to the front of the crowd to press the flesh of the faithful.

They finish with Yellow Ledbetter, a long term fan favourite, and McCready gets another chance to show off, taking centre stage for another blistering solo. And was that a hint of Hendrix’s Little Wing in there too? A nice nod to the festival’s history.

There’s no doubting the Seattle band’s passion and intensity - indeed their earnestness has had them mocked before now - but a few more of the better known songs from their catalogue would have probably been appreciated by the non-obsessives.

Still, I loved them and won’t forget seeing my favourite band play ‘down the road’ for a long time.