Place: Portland, OR*
Band: Pearl Jam
Nickname: Eddie Vedder & The Rocketeers
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on a three city tour with Pearl Jam. And by with Pearl Jam I mean that I showed up in the same cities and venues that they were at and paid money to spend a few intimate hours with the band and 10’s of thousands of other people. It was a unique experience, to say the least, that I will always remember until I soon forget.
The genesis of this trip came from a buddy of mine who had to talk me into joining him on this leg of his own Pearl Jam journey, and I ‘m glad he did! What follows then is the first part of a three-part series about our journey as we were (metaphorically) thumbing our way through Portland, OR, Spokane, WA and Calgary, AB to see Pearl Jam…
The first show was in my backyard in Portland, OR and, therefore, I have no interesting travel notes to add other than the fact that I’m pretty sure it was the first time any of us had ever gone to a Pearl Jam concert in a minivan. At the time this didn’t strike me as sign that Pearl Jam fans may be getting old but later, due to the behaviors we witnessed in the GA section (formerly known as the pit), it would dawn on me that we are, in fact, getting old.
While still feeling young entering the Moda Center, my wife and I made our way to the GA (General Admission) area (after a number of bathroom breaks to ensure that we wouldn’t miss any of the concert due to our aging bladders) and found ourselves about 15 feet from the rail in front of the stage. Having never watched a show that close to the stage I was quite excited about the possibility of having a great story to tell my kids about how I lost my hearing. However, it was not to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was very loud but I believe the medicinal effects of the second-hand vapors that pervaded the stadium prevented any permanent hearing damage that might have otherwise occurred. With the opening act (Mudhoney) set to begin my wife and I quickly took one more bathroom break…just to be on the safe side. With Mudhoney in full swing I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the fact that I had never heard any of their songs before. It’s not that they were bad necessarily (he music was good – not sure I can say the same for the vocals) but it wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Through some exhaustive research I discovered that Mudhoney was something akin to the godfathers of Seattle grunge music so I’ll give them props for that and I would also like to give their lead singer something to prop himself up on as it appeared that we was going to topple over at any minute. As Mudhoney wrapped up my wife and I debated going to the bathroom again (just to be safe) but decided against it because neither of us could hear what the other was saying and our feet, after nearly a half hour of standing, were already to sore to walk. So as we stood there trying to read each others lips when one of us was speaking we couldn’t help but feel the thrill of Pearl Jam coming up next…or maybe we were just feeling a little twinge in our bladders.
As Pearl Jam appeared on the stage and began playing Pendulum from their new album Lightning Bolt, the crowd became euphoric; a state in which they remained for nearly the next three hours. Pendulum soon gave way to other songs, both old and new, that I either new and sang along too or didn’t know and sang a song that I would have rather heard. Either way I enjoyed it all, including Eddie Vedder’s monologues which were quite coherent. I had seen Pearl Jam twice prior to this show (placing them in a bizarre three-way tie with Weird Al Yankovic and Disturbed) but never so close to the stage which offered a unique vantage. Not only was I able to see Stone Gossard on the guitar, Eddie passing around his bottle of wine to fans a few feet in front of us and Mike McCready shredding a solo but I also witnessed a dramatic change in GA from the days of yore.
There was a time, I’m told, when the GA area was called the pit and it was a place where folks would thrash about and stage dive. Things have certainly changed. Instead of moshing, people were instead narking. Anybody who tried to push their way closer to the stage were unanimously rejected either by the fans themselves (in an impressively polite way I might add) or, if the offender didn’t get the hint, the offender was removed by security after being pointed out by the offended. Much of these changes came from the band itself from what I understand and I for one applaud them for it (if for no other reason than moshing might have spurred my aged bladder to do its own thing despite the 24 bathroom trips I had taken).
Besides providing a safe fun atmosphere for their fans, Pearl Jam put on an unrivaled show that night in Portland. The impressive lighting, the energy of the crowd and the downright jocularity of Eddie Vedder instantly made this the best Pearl Jam show I had been to. The icing on the cake was having Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney & Portlandia), Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Scott McCaughy (R.E.M.), Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) come on stage to help play Neil Young’s classic, Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World with the band.
My only critique of the concert would be that Eddie Vedder, when switching from wine to beer, drank a Corona. Maybe, it’s just the beer snob in me but why drink Corona in a city where there are literally 2,156,988 breweries? I attempted to get his attention at the end of the concert so that I could express my concern over his choice of beer but he began throwing tambourines into the crowd as a distraction and quickly exited the stage. Perhaps he realized his mistake.
As we made our way out of the arena, I couldn’t help but feel a little more alive and thankful that I was able to experience the show with my wife whom I don’t get to spend a lot of her-and-I time with. It was also nice to have our pal there despite the fact that his ticket was elsewhere (a trend we would continue for the next two shows).
Climbing back into the minivan and making our way home I was happy to be with good company and excited for the journey to continue in just a few short hours…
*A full setlist and a more concise retelling of this concert can be found within the official Pearl Jam Ten Club forum, Given to Fly.