Sitting down to write this, coming up with how to begin was harder than anything I’ve written in a long time. I’ve seen many musicians in the last five years, but I haven’t seen many legendary bands. I’ve seen one legendary band. And not just any legendary band, but our legendary band. Pearl Jam.
Growing up, I had a lot of musical influences, but the strongest came from my mom’s little brother. He is the musical encyclopedia to me, and he was just around my age when grunge happened, so grunge is a part of his soul, thus, part of my soul. So seeing Pearl Jam’s Seattle show – the last date of their latest tour – was extra special for me. There in section 114, three rows behind me was my uncle, taking all 3 hours of music in with me.
Yes, you did read that right – three hours, give or take 15 minutes or so. Eddie, Stone, Mike, Jeff, and Matt started the show just after 8:45 and finished just after midnight. And in those three phenomenal hours, they played 37 songs, spanning from the beginning of their 20+ year career to their newest album Lightning Bolt. And sprinkled among the night were covers of fellow Seattleites Mother Love Bone, as well as a touching tribute to Lou Reed with Velvet Underground’s “After Hours.”
For fear of getting too sappy, I’ll now tell you that Eddie Vedder downed almost a dozen bottles of wine that night, even pouring some for the crowd up against the barrier. He toasted the bottles to several local establishments – including KEXP, Easy Street Records, The Stranger – as well as the one-year anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage and marijuana. So needless to say, Eddie got hammered. But I’m sure he worked up enough of a sweat to burn off half the booze he consumed, because I’m pretty positive that he didn’t sit still for the first hour and a half. He still has all the energy and charisma of his younger days, so it’s obvious what keeps him young. But Eddie wasn’t the only one working up a sweat – Jeff Ament was jumping around almost just as much as Eddie, and Mike McCready ran laps around the stage at one point. I think I counted seven laps.
Speaking of Mike, I think he’s some sort of superhuman, because during an epic extended version of “Even Flow,” he played the hell out of his guitar behind his back. It was nothing short of magic.
One of my favorite moments of the night came during one of Eddie’s stories (he’s a great storyteller, by the way). He spoke of a young girl and her father going out on the water during a huge storm in Hawaii, and the daughter hearing voices shouting out for help amongst the waves. Eddie said that these people would have most likely drowned had it not been for this girl insisting that her father take her out on the water. Then my heart just about jumped when Eddie said, “I know all of this, because I was one of those three people she heard.” I might have shed a tear when he brought that girl out on stage, whom he hadn’t seen in the 11 years since she saved his life – she is now 18. How cool is that? She gets to live her life as the girl who saved Eddie Vedder’s life. Appropriately, Eddie dedicated “Future Days” to that lucky girl.
That was just one diamond out of a night of gems, and it was almost like we all got to know Eddie from the way he spoke to the crowd. There’s nothing greater than seeing a great band play to a hometown crowd, especially when they sell out of the biggest arena in the city to some of the most devoted fans in music history. At one point, Eddie brought up the power of that fan base, igniting some friendly competition with Macklemore’s fans for The Stranger’s Holiday Charity Challenge (you can put a link to that here if you want, Dag: ). “This Macklemore kid, he sold out the KeyArena twice [someone shouts from the crowd three times] Three times? Fuck him! He’s written some of the best lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, fuck him! I met him once and he’s a really nice guy. Fuck him!” All out of friendly competition for charity, though.
The main set was 21 songs, about an hour and a half. For me, that’s already a good lengthy set. Nope, this was just the beginning. A short intermission, and then came the first encore, chokc-full of the heart-stoppers and covers. Probably the most pleasantly surprising was the duo of Mother Love Bone’s “Chloe Dancer” and “Crown of Thorns” as well as several more songs off 1992’s Singles soundtrack (a.k.a. the best film soundtrack ever composed).
At this point, it was a little after 11 p.m., and officially the longest set of music from one band that I’d ever seen. However, it still wasn’t over yet.
The second encore started with the most perfect song to be played in the KeyArena – the quick and energetic “Supersonic.” Then Eddie downed more wine, and swung around on some of the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling during a rousing version of “Got Some.” Jeff and Stone even had to dodge some of those light fixtures, and it was a miracle that none of them collided during the giant glowing tether ball game.
They closed out the night with all the gusto they had left. Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney, who had opened the show three hours before, joined them on stage, as well as Kim Thayil of Soundgarden for Motor City 5’s “Kick Out the Jams,” a raucous punk song that turned into an all-out jam session. Then after Mark Arm kept hinting and asking, “Does anyone on stage know ‘Eruption?'” Mike McCready jumped right into the Eddie Van Halen shredding solo he knows so well and it led right into the B-side that turned into a hit, “Yellow Ledbetter.” It was a perfect song to end the astronomical set. However, it surprisingly didn’t include all the hits – “Jeremy” was noticeably absent. But the night was so perfect and memorable that I didn’t care. Pearl Jam changes up their set literally every show, so clearly there was going to be some surprises, but all were welcome surprises that night.
I can’t think of anything that competes with the feeling I had that night, seeing a band that means so much to my uncle and so much to this city. It was culture shock, but the best kind of culture shock. I’d never seen a band that has been together as long as I have been alive, and now that I have, it’s obvious why Pearl Jam has been making music together for so long. Eddie is all about the music, and always has been. Stone, Jeff, and Matt ground the band, and not only rhythmically. Mike is like a sorcerer behind the guitar, by far one of the most underrated guitarists of our time.
While Pearl Jam is one of the most successful groups to come out of Seattle, they’re still some of the biggest supporters of the scene, donating to local foundations and playing benefits yearly. You can’t help but be proud that we get to call Pearl Jam our own. That’s all I could think about as I watched those five men on stage. They have so much history together that it was as if we’d been given a little peek into their world for one night. They were just playing music with each other, and we happened to be there, and we were lucky to witness it.
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
(Pink Floyd cover)
Mind Your Manners
Given to Fly
In My Tree
Do the Evolution
Let the Records Play
Spin the Black Circle
(The Velvet Underground cover)
Let Me Sleep
(First time since 1994)
(Mother Love Bone cover)
Crown of Thorns
(Mother Love Bone cover)
State of Love and Trust
Kick Out the Jams
(MC5 cover) (With Mark Arm, Steve Turner, and Kim Thayil)
(Van Halen cover)