The stage has been ready for 10 minutes now. The crowd stands in quiet anticipation. Everyone is watching the stage for the slightest indication that the show is about to begin. The stadium lights go down, everyone rushes the stage, crushing everyone in the process so that even moving your arms becomes difficult. The quiet anticipation has now given way to loud roars, whistles, and young females yelling "Eddieee", "Eddieee". THEN... then the moment 42,000 people have been waiting for since July 4 occurs -- Pearl Jam takes the stage and starts with a rocking "Animal" that gets the whole audience moshing and moving. For die-hard Pearl Jam fanatics like myself and my friends, this is what we drove 20 hours non-stop for -- to see and hear Pearl Jam live in concert.
As I mentioned above, last weekend's New Orleans concert was a re-scheduled concert from July 4 because of Pearl Jam's ongoing dispute with Ticketmaster and their excessive service charges and monopoly of the music industry. In any event, no one now cares right now about when the concert was supposed to take place. Everyone is just grateful that after standing in line outside the stadium for nearly 2 hours, and then sitting on the stadium floor for another 2 hours in a torrential downpour, that we managed to get on to the floor and be as close to the stage as possible and that Pearl Jam is onstage rockin' away.
The opening band for Pearl Jam was The Ramones, who are in the midst of their last tour ever (rumor has them playing at Lulu's in October/November). I have never seen them live but they are hilarious to watch! Their songs last on average 3 minutes, they don't break between songs, and after you've heard a couple of them, you don't know when one song ends and one begins! Their 45 minute set to me seemed like one long 45 minute song. However, they did have a couple of highlights. Hearing The Ramones sing "Spider Man" (you know the theme song from the cartoon everyone grew up watching!) to a hard punk rhythm was just too funny! However, the song preceding "Spider Man", "Sedated" was great! They had the whole crowd rockin' and two slam circles were created! The people who weren't moshing were body surfing (with 42,000 general admission tickets, hardly anyone was in the stands!). The Ramones finished their set with "Pet Cemetary" and Joey Ramone alluding that the cemetary was below the field or something dumb like that. This is his usual introduction but this time he mentioned something about Anne Rice (An Interview With A Vampire, etc.) who lives in New Orleans. What was really cool was seeing Eddie and Mike on the side of the stage dancing, with Mike taking pictures as well, and Beth (Eddie's wife) sitting off to the side. With the Ramones out of the way, and having now sufficiently warmed up after the thunder storm, people began taking positions on the floor near the stage and were waiting in quiet anticipation.
The stage was very lightly decorated for Pearl Jam. They simply had a large "curtain" type of fabric that was hung behind Jack Irons. They also had two very large candle-holders, one on each side of Jack, that were lit. This created a very intimate environment, which is hard to do in front of 42,000 fans in a football stadium! After Pearl Jam started with "Animal", they heated things up even more with "Go", "Last Exit", "Tremor Christ", and "Even Flow". The only hitch occurred when the band started "Tremor Christ" and about half way through the song Eddie Vedder tells the band to stop because someone went down in the pit, "We've got one down and we're not continuing till you guys get her out, yeah, right there, her, thanks", then continues the song right from where they stopped! After "Even Flow" they went into an incredible version of "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town" which is one of my favorite songs (in fact, I use it on answering machine)! Occasionally, Eddie would say things to the crowd like "I tell you, these guys in the front are tough son of a bitches..." and "This song's about getting your ass kicked, I would know about it. It's called Whipping".
However, he did not say anything before "Not For You" as he did in Milwaukee on July 8 (another show we drove down to see). In Milwaukee, he had said that there was a lot of press about how Pearl Jam was alienating their fans by refusing to do interviews and make videos and that none of what the press was saying was true. "Not For You" was directed towards the MTV/MuchMusic types and people who bootleg their concerts and then try to profit from it by selling copies for $30 (it was this last point that led Pearl Jam to announce in Phoenix last week that it was perfectly acceptable to the band for their fans to bring audio recorders and cameras to all their shows from now on, which I'm sure pleased the suits at Sony/Epic -- so I did).
In any event, they were having a great time playing, "Best Fourth of July we've ever had", and their fight against Ticketmaster, by now, is well-publicized (although I think REM needs a reminder with their $55 tickets). Pearl Jam then went on to play "Deep", "Jeremy", "Corduroy", "Dissident", and "Rats" a song they rarely play live anymore before stopping for "Daughter" when Eddie made the following comments: "Yeah, I don't wanna grow up either... I wouldn't mind growing up if it was the kids making the rules... something about growing up...when you're little, everyone's little and you're all the same... when you grow up and things start changing... some people are taller, some people are more handsome, some people are richer... and then all those that don't have what someone else's got -- they try to f*ck those other people by doing something like controlling you, abusing you mentally, employing 'em and treating them like shit. Grown-ups are weird. So it's up to you to remember all the ideas you have, as an idealistic kid... turn them down, hang on to them, and live life." -- which is pure Eddie Vedder.
As "Daughter" was starting to wind down, Eddie goes into "I Believe in Miracles" by The Ramones and then into "Mom and Dad" by the Talking Heads (who were also at the show). That was really cool since they have been known to usually go into Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" or Don McLean's "Miss American Pie" or The Monkee's "Steppin' Stone" (as they did in Milwaukee). After "Alive" and "Jeremy", which of course had the whole crowd singing along, they went into at least a 15 minute version of "Rearview Mirror" which just took the wind out of both the band and the audience! They slowed things down by going into a great version of "Immortality" and then an impromptu jam, with Mike singing (now I know why Mike rarely sings), when Eddie broke a guitar string! Once that was taken care of, they launched into an intense rendition of "Blood" which saw Mike smash his guitar into his amp, destroying both the amp and the guitar in the process, while Eddie was smashing the microphone stand into the stage floor trying to create a big hole!
The first encore had them playing "Better Man" (with producer Brendan O'Brien on keyboards) and "Sonic Reducer" -- a classic mid-70's punk 'masterpiece' by the Dead Boys -- with Joey Ramone and Eddie exchanging lead vocals; "And just a reminder that the best band I've ever been able to introduce, played tonight... we're gonna welcome back the irrefutable heavy-weight champion of punk rock 'n' roll -- Joey Ramone of the Ramones... and this song's Sonic Reducer". Which just rocked! If you've never heard "Sonic Reducer" I suggest you find a boot (like Hotpoint) that has it because Pearl Jam's cover of it is simply incredible! The third song of the first encore was Neil Young's "Keep On Rocking in the Free World" which, again, was just incredible! The last song they played, with the house lights on, was the only song of the second encore, was "Yellow Ledbetter" which is far, far, far better heard live than on CD! However, before playing, Eddie made these last few comments which just seemed to tie everything together so perfectly, "This could be the last show we might play for another 20 years, like the Ramones... but I don't think we're gonna forget tonight. Thank you again, and I mean it, I'm not just saying that. I'm sure you guys go through a lot of shit being a fan of our band with all the tickets and everything else. Thanks for sticking in there with us. It's just... thanks. We're gonna play one more for you now and you guys go home safe. We'll see you next time, alright? Thanks again everybody" and with that they played "Yellow Ledbetter", with an incredible solo effort by Mike at the end that saw all the members of the band just looking at Mike and groovin'; and with that they walked off the stage.
The only disappointment about the show is that they never played "Black" or "Indifference" (by far my 2 favorite songs) or even "Porch". But when you've got a music catalogue as deep and as rich as Pearl Jam's, there is no way you can play for nearly 3 hours and satisfy everyone -- you just take what you can get. One final note that I'd like to mention is that if you are ever fortunate enough to make a roadtrip to the US to see Pearl Jam, never tell the border guys you are going to see Pearl Jam -- you'll get hassled like you wouldn't believe. We said that on our way to Milwaukee and payed the price. This time we simply said that we are senior students at the University of Waterloo and are going to Michigan to check out some grad schools. Surpisingly, we had no problems crossing. (Rumor has Pearl Jam touring the East Coast in the New Year after their new album comes out in December/January.)