Caught the last of Pearl Jam’s four L.A. shows yesterday, and, in the wake of the two and a half gigs I witnessed during their stand at the Gibson, I wish to heartily endorse this tour for any of you who may still be on the fence. (This is an admittedly unlikely scenario.) The band is tight, energized, and finding freedom in a set list full of set pieces: We now know to expect a visit from the string section after the first encore break, but their contributions on “Just Breathe,” “The End,” and the bow-shredding fury of “Lukin” are most welcome; we know Ben Harper will emerge shortly thereafter for “Red Mosquito,” and his lap-slide will buzz perfectly throughout the song’s swing. We know “Fixer” and the other Backspacer tracks will mesh with older material like they’ve been there for years, and “Alive” and/or “Yellow Ledbetter” will probably take us home. But amidst the expected, there’s always a flash of giddy surprise, and for those of us who’ve attended entirely too many Pearl Jam shows over the years, it’s those flashes that keep us coming back.

The guys seemed a bit antic last night — during “Porch,” Eddie Vedder bummed a drink off some dude in the front row, then climbed into the crowd on a security guard’s shoulders; Mike McCready and Jeff Ament played tag during “Spin the Back Circle”; I think Matt Cameron was using light-up drum sticks on “Why Go” — and they also delivered three absolute gems that I shall file away with the other PJ concert highlights I revisit from time to time, thanks to the band’s comprehensive bootlegging policies. First, a slow-building, hypnotic “Present Tense,” preserved here in all its YouTube glory:

The other standouts were an atomic-sized “Love Reign o’er Me” and “Crown of Thorns,” the old Mother Love Bone single made that much more resonant thanks to Tuesday’s brief Temple of the Dog reunion. By the time Jerry Cantrell showed up again on MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” it felt damn near anti-climactic.

What about you, Mixers? I know we’ve got some PJ loyalists out there — what are your highlights from this band’s tremendous live oeuvre, either on this tour or tours past? I’m pretty sure my all-time favorite moments have happened at the Gorge, and I’m pretty sure they’re hard to top… but maybe you can convince me otherwise in the comments!

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