#6: Yellow Ledbetter’s Role in the Set

Some bands stick to similar sets from night to night, and others are known for being deeply improvisational. Pearl Jam has a reputation for having a wide range of songs to choose from, yet they seem to really like ending their concerts with a song called Yellow Ledbetter.

It’s a good song, but it’s transformed away from being a song and instead into a signal to the crowd. “Hey,” it says. “This is definitely the last one. You might as well head out to your car to try and beat the traffic.” So I ran the numbers to see how true this really is.

This graph surprised me a little. It was played a ton in 2011, but it’s only played around 50% of shows on average. If you include the first few years when it was new, the overall number is closer to 35%.

Here’s a graph showing how often Pearl Jam plays another song after playing Yellow Ledbetter. Early on, they hadn’t yet settled on it as a show closer. But once they did, they largely stuck with it.

Years like 2006, 2009, and the just-completed 2016 tours are fun because they stand out. Imagine being in the crowd, hearing the “it’s over!” signal, then getting another bonus song or two. It keeps you on your toes! But even when it does happen, it’s pretty rare.

That’s what the data tells us. Yellow Ledbetter is being played marginally less, and is moving out of its main role marginally more. It’s still a fan favorite and the band seems likely to continue ending their show with it. Which is fine by me. It’s still a fine song whether you hear it from the concert venue itself or from the parking lot outside.