Okay, to be honest, I think Neil Young saved Pearl Jam. Well, Neil and Jack Irons. Brendan O’Brien probably helped, too. The point is, I’m none of those people. I have about 1/1,000,000th of a percent of the influence on the band as any of those people, or any of the other people around the band in 1996. I am just a cup in the middle of the sea, but as Eddie himself says, the smallest oceans still get big big waves.
I suppose I should rewind a little bit, as some are probably wondering why Pearl Jam needed saving. As of my writing this, Pearl Jam has been around for over 25 years, releasing albums, making appearances, and performing live. Their shows still sell out in minutes, the fan base is as loyal as ever, so was this band, still so popular after all this time, really in danger of breaking up after just five years and three studio albums? If you were a fan of grunge and alternative back in 1996, you might not have realized it, but that was a tenuous, tumultuous time for Pearl Jam.
If it makes you feel better, I didn’t really know, either. By the time the summer of 1996 rolled around, I was getting ready for my senior year of high school, deciding which University to attend, hanging out with my friends, and getting excited for the new Pearl Jam album. I’d been turned onto the band just a few years earlier, and though there were a few other bands I was into, Pearl Jam was still in heavy rotation. I had picked up Vitalogy on vinyl when it was released late in 1994 because I’m a trend-setter, admired and revered for my ability to predict trends years before they happened, and really just because it looked cool, and I happened to own a turntable. Not to mention, I’m just old enough to remember the last decade or so of vinyl’s original relevance.
About a month before the album’s release, I picked up the first single, “Who You Are”, which also featured “Habit”, another song that would appear on the new album, No Code. I remember listening to the CD on the way out to the beach with my mom (who avoided the whole, “I don’t understand my teenager’s music” thing by actually liking much of the same music), and liking it. “Who You Are” had a nice groove to it. “Habit” was a little more raw, a little more punk. It was great though. I love getting new music from my favorite artists, and this was no exception.
What really had me excited, though, was that they were touring. Getting to that tour, was not going to be simple, though, and our stuggles might have been symptomatic of some of the tensions the band was facing.
Rewind a little further, and we find Pearl Jam on the cover of magazines, Pearl Jam making news. Not for their music, but for the tickets. A year or so before this album, Pearl Jam realized that as they got bigger, they had to play bigger venues, and all the venues they were able to play had one thing in common: TicketMaster. They saw TicketMaster as a monopoly, using their exclusivity as an excuse to charge more and more for tickets to shows, gouging the fans and lining their own pockets. The band decided to stand up to the ticketing giant and force them to price tickets more fairly. Unfortunately, no one else in the music community wanted to risk angering the TicketMaster, and so Pearl Jam was left to testify alone.
The result of this was two-fold:
That meant that Great Woods, in Mansfield, Mass? Out. The FleetCenter? Out. Foxboro Stadium? Okay, too big, but also, out. There was no place in Massachusetts the band could play. There was no place in New Hampshire large enough for them to play. In the end, we ended up with two shows that were at the edges of what I consider driving distance: Augusta, Maine, and Hartford, Connecticut. Not great options, but we had options. Sort of.
See, the problem was that as terrible as TicketMaster is, they had outlets at retail stores around the country. If you wanted to see a show, you could walk up to the Filene’s customer service desk, and buy tickets. It was like going to the box office, but without the drive. If you knew a show would be popular, you could get there early and camp out (I suspect this is a big reason concert tickets tend to go on sale at 10am). If you were lazy, or just couldn’t get to the mall or the box office, you could call TicketMaster directly. It wasn’t great, but it worked.
For this tour, Filene’s would not be an option. I’m not even sure the box office was an option (moot point in our case, as no one was driving 2+ hours to go to the box office). Our only option was the phone. That meant begging our families to not use the phone that morning. That meant being terrified someone might call in that morning. That meant sitting by the phone, waiting, watching the clock. It’s 4 o’clock, well, 10 AM, pick up the receiver, hit redial (because we’d already dialed the number in order to save a few seconds), and pray to whatever deities, demons, or eldritch horrors we could that the line would connect.
And it wouldn’t. So we’d try again. Busy. Try again. Busy. Try again. Repeat for fifteen minutes, until we hear on the radio that the show is already sold out. Pre-dialing to save those few seconds doesn’t seem so silly now, does it?
Augusta was the first of the two shows, and accordingly, its tickets went on sale first. Turns out, the show sold out in less than fifteen minutes. It looked bleak that we’d get tickets to Hartford. There were four of us calling, and none of us could get through. A few days later, Hartford went on sale, and we manned the phones again, hope still alive, for now. I never got through. Bagley never got through. Terry never got through. Julia never got through. As the radio reports rolled in that the Hartford show sold out even faster than Augusta. Oh well, I though. Maybe next tour.
Then the phone rang, Bagley on the other end. I expected his tone to mirror my own disappointment, but it didn’t. He sounded exuberant. Bagley loves Pearl Jam. While I had been a fan, it was his devotion to the band that made me listen to more than the albums. It was his passion that drove me to seek out bootlegs and singles and b-sides. To hear him exuberant on such a disappointing day, I knew something was up. It turns out, our friend Jason had been calling as well, and managed to get through. I literally bounded around the kitchen in excitement, then paused.
There had been four of us calling. Me, Bagley, Terry, and Julia. Jason had bought four tickets. Terry and Bagley had been friends for a while, so I figured she’d be in, and Julia and Jason… Well, neither would call what they did “dating”, but everyone else did. I was pretty sure I’d be the odd man out in this scenario, but Bagley gave me even more good news: Jason didn’t want to go. He’d called in because he knew that we wanted to go. That’s what I call a friend.
Amazingly, we were going. The day before my 18th birthday, We would be seeing Pearl Jam!
Event poster. Could have bought it then for $10. Can buy it now for $200-400. If I had known then, etc.
We packed into Bagley’s car - well, Terry and I did; Julia met us in Hartford - and made what should have been about a 2-hour trek to Connecticut. Now, given the numerous times I’ve made the drive to and through Hartford over the past twenty years, I know that suggesting it takes just over two hours to get from Manchester, NH to Hartford, CT during afternoon rush hour could be in Webster’s Dictionary as an alternate definition of optimism, but back then, we’d decided to leave after school, and totally spaced that there are these people out there called “commuters” who also tend to be out on the road around the same time.
There was also the issue of having absolutely no clue where we were going. Fortunately, the tickets came with directions and a map, printed on an single sheet of paper. We read the directions, followed the arrows, and before we knew it, we found ourselves… nowhere. Certainly not at The Meadows. We turned around, and tried again, quickly realized we weren’t getting anywhere we wanted to be. Eventually we realized the problem.
The sheet had two sets of directions, one for those coming down Route 84, and those coming in on Route 91. The problem was that while the text was differentiated, the map had arrows for both, and made it difficult to tell which we were supposed to follow. So, while we had been trying to follow the directions for coming in from the North on I-84, we’d been following the map for coming in on I-91, because that’s what it looked like we were supposed to do. So, the next time you want to complain about your cell phone’s GPS not being 100% accurate, just remember: it has never tried to tell you to take two completely separate highways at the same time. Well, Apple Maps might have.
On top of trying to find a way to tour without TicketMaster, Pearl Jam also wanted to battle the scalpers, which is understandable, given the fact they were only playing twelve shows in the US on this tour, so tickets would be at a premium. To combat this, the buyer’s name was printed on all of the tickets, and the talk was that this person had to be present and show their ID in order to gain access to the show. We’d tried not to think much about this, as none of our IDs matched the names on our tickets, as we hadn’t bought them. We had considered borrowing Jason’s license, but none of us looked enough like him to pull that off, so we just took our chances.
This meant one last moment of stress and panic. Standing in line, just outside the venue, we had to face the possibility that if security asked for Jason’s ID, all of our time spent on the phone, after fighting through traffic in Worcester and Hartford, after getting turned around and lost and then finally finding parking and The Meadows, after all of that, we might not get to see the show after all.
Fortunately, either the rumors weren’t true, or the Hartford security were more concerned with getting their pepper spray ready than the wishes of some rock band. No one asked for ID, and we didn’t remind anyone, just scurried through the turnstiles and into the amphitheater.
Our seats weren’t great, towards the back of the seating, just a few rows in front of the lawn, but we had seats, we were in, and we were about to see our favorite band play.
How was the show? Let’s listen to the bootleg, and take it song-by-song.
There is always a piece of music that plays just before the band comes out. Unlike the pre- and post-show recorded music, this is played over the show’s speakers. I am pretty sure it’s been different at every concert I’ve ever been to, and I’ve honestly never really paid much attention, as I’m waiting for the band to come out. Listening now, I am pretty sure the music they played at this show is an untitled track that the fans have dubbed, “Red Dot”, as it was listed on the CD with just a red dot. What’s interesting about that is that it was not on an album until two years later, when Pearl Jam released Yield. It sounds so similar, though, I’m going to check it off on my list of album songs I’ve heard live.
Okay, I don’t really have a list I check off.
It’s actually a spreadsheet.
There are differing theories on how to open a show. Do you start hard and fast? Get the crowd jumping and pumped up? Or, do you ease an already-excited crowd into your show with something that at least starts mellow? For this show, Ed decides to start mellow, with the simple single guitar and heart-beat drum line of Long Road, and it’s a great choice. The song may start simple, but it builds as the rest of the band comes in, the drum picks up, and Ed’s voice soars over it all.
And that’s all the easing in we get, and the show really kicks into gear. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it, about a month before this show. A great sense of yearning and frustration that spoke to high school me, and hearing it so early in this show really helped set the tone for me.
Keeping up the intensity. Ed snarls and screams his way through it, with the crowd going nuts.
An underrated Vitalogy song, in my opinion, though it has been played over 200 times live. I feel like it gets forgotten amid songs like Better Man, Nothingman, and Corduroy. A great song to hear live, and the only time I have, to date.
After Matt Cameron took over for Jack Irons, he simplified the drums for this song, and received a healthy dose of criticism for, “not being able to handle playing it”, which is just so unfair, as Jack’s drumming on this is insane.
This song may not start with the roaring guitars, but it’s not any less intense than the previous three, especially given its themes of privacy and fame, hot button topics for Eddie, especially at this time.
Another song about fame and privacy, and one of the best opening riffs in the catalog that almost never fails to drive the crowd into a frenzy. Didn’t fail at The Meadows that night. Mike’s first big solo of the show, and he shreds, because that’s what Mike McCready does.
Time to slow it down a little. Well, until the second chorus, anyway. Eddie sings with a sharp edge to his voice, and when the band kicks in at the start of the second chorus, the crowd goes nuts.
If you want to know more about the internal tensions and struggles the band was facing, look no further than their third studio album, Vitalogy, an album packed with some amazing songs, with some of their most bizarre tracks interspersed. Without them, the album would scream from “Whipping” into “Corduroy” and on. Instead, we get strange detours into “Pry, To” and “Bugs”.
In some ways, this could be seen to mirror the interpersonal struggles going on within the band. While Eddie has always been the face of the band, and the chief lyric-writer, Stone and Jeff carried the weight of writing the music. With Vitalogy, though, Eddie started to exert himself as the leader, playing some guitar, and writing some of the music. I would not be surprised to find out that “Bugs” made its way to the album because Ed put his foot down and demanded it be on there.
The result is an uneven album that is difficult to listen to from start to finish, especially on vinyl. I think that because of this, many of the less-well-known songs get overlooked. Everyone knows “Better Man”, “Nothingman”, and “Corduroy”, but songs like “Last Exit”, “Tremor Christ”, and “Indifference” get overlooked.
This one is sort of in the middle. Known, but not all that well.
Eddie’s voice is raw and savage, but he takes a moment during the lull before the final verse to address the crowd, telling us, “I was thinking about you guys all day,” and how sometimes playing these shows feels like “work”, but then realizes that all the fans are there to have fun, and the band should do the same. He comments that he won’t be doing interviews anytime soon, and so takes a moment to explain that though the song is “Not For You,” it’s, “not FOR you”, and that the anger is directed to people you think they’re above the music.
In 1996, the band had only been around 5 years, but this song was already a classic, with that opening bass line instantly recognizable. Kinda knew they would play it, even though I wasn’t sure how much “older” stuff they’d play. Was awesome to hear.
Would have been a highlight of the show, had security not thought it prudent to douse the fans on the lawn with pepper spray, which wafted into our section. It’s tough to enjoy a song when your eyes and nose are burning. Fortunately, it cleared up quickly, and we didn’t have to leave. Or seek medical attention. That would have put a damper on the evening.
Just the third No Code song they played, and one of only six they would play this night, in a show that featured 29 songs, and was ostensibly to support the new album of thirteen songs. Most bands would have the show loaded with the new songs. Most bands also play virtually the same set list night after night (which, while probably makes them great at those songs, also sounds boring as hell). With Pearl Jam, you never know what you’re going to get night to night. Tonight, they play six songs off of No Code. Tomorrow, they might play all thirteen. The night after that, they might play twenty cover songs and B-sides, a handful of stuff from the first three albums, and nothing from No Code. It’s one of the reasons they are so awesome to see live.
There are classic Pearl Jam songs, and then there is “Black”. This version, while mostly standard, starts off with the electric guitar, instead of the acoustic steel guitar as on the album, and in later concerts. Ends with the “we belong together” lyrics, though broken, driving home that this song is intensely personal to Eddie.
I have to confess, that while this was a highlight of early Pearl Jam, and thus, this song was a highlight of the show for me, I really don’t relate to this song (except for the “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life…” bit at the end), but I think where Ed comes from singing this song, and where I came from when I listened to it were vastly different places. I was in high school at the time, was cripplingly shy (still am), and I have never been good with social cues. I asked a few girls out in high school, with mixed results, but nothing ever went very far. My angst wasn’t over a heart-wrenching break-up, it was that I would be alone forever.
I know someday you'll have a beautiful life,
I know you'll be a star
in somebody else's sky.
Why can't it be mine?
Here’s the thing about Pearl Jam, though: you don’t have to fully relate to be moved by the song. Eddie’s singing is so soulful, so heartfelt, that you can’t help but feel for him, even if you don’t feel like him.
Yup, all one word. A classic angry song about finally escaping a horrible event/person.
“My throats getting a little harsh up here. If you’d like to help me on the next one, I’d really appreciate it.” Oh Eddie, like you have to ask the fans to sing along to “Rearviewmirror”. It’s actually hard to tell from my bootleg how much the audience is singing along. The audio isn’t great (this is before they released professionally mastered “official bootlegs”), but I’m pretty sure I can say I was singing along, especially after he asks us to “help me out” just before the final chorus.
If this concert is notable for no other reason, let it be this: This might be the only time I have heard Pearl Jam play “Lukin”, and Eddie get all of the lyrics right. Every show after this, he gets through most of the first verse, but the second verse just ends up as “rar rar rar rar”.
This is a concert staple, and a frequent sing-along song. It’s a nice breather for both the band and the crowd, as it is a little less intense emotionally than “Black”, and less aggressive than “Rearviewmirror” or “Lukin”, or the next song, for that matter.
“It’s dedicated to… uh… I’m not going to mention anything more, but I’m sure the audience is filled with courageous people, but there’s one up here, and this one’s for him.”
The song is usually pretty acoustic, starting off with chords. This version is very electric, starting out with an interesting melody from Mike, with Stone bringing the acoustic guitar in during the first chorus. Eddie’s voice seems to crack during the “Hearts and thoughts they fade…” section late in the song, and I think he’s tearing up.
“Surrounded by heroes,” Ed says after taking a moment to collect himself.
A few years after this show, I would go to see the Violent Femmes at the Avalon. They had recorded a song for the soundtrack to the movie, “The Crow” called “Color Me Once”, a languid, moody ballad that I absolutely loved (nearly the entire soundtrack is phenomenal), and which they played early on in the show. Afterwards, Gordon Gano, the lead singer, commented that it was a song, “No one had been asking to hear tonight.” I was!
Most bands stick to their album music. Sometimes, they mess around with a cover song, but usually, you go to a show, you hear album songs, maybe with some extended solos, and go home. I’m pretty sure Pearl Jam’s philosophy is, “If we recorded it, we will play it.” They play B-sides, they play covers, they play songs they recorded for soundtracks, like “State of Love and Trust”.
This song could have been on Ten. It probably would have fit in on Vs. It was only released on the soundtrack to the fantastic 90s movie, “Singles”. Just a ripping rock tune, a concert staple, and a ton of fun.
As the song ends, the band takes a breath. After a moment, the opening to “Alive” wails out of the speakers and the crowd goes wild, until the song trails off when the drums fail to kick in.
Apparently, Jack is having some issues with his gear, and while they work on the problem, the rest of the guys play a harmonica-less version of this B-Side from “Jeremy”. Also, an electric guitar version. I’m thinking they just forgot the acoustic guitars for this tour. Either way, in a moment when some bands would just make the crowd wait, Pearl Jam plays. A different version than you usually hear: electric guitar, a different drum beat, and a tambourine.
Calling this a B-side is kind of a misnomer, as CDs don’t have B-sides, but it makes more sense than calling these songs B-tracks. Besides, that would only be accurate for the second song on the single. Would the third song be the C-track? Another example of the band playing stuff they’ve recorded, regardless of where the song appeared. Another nice catch-your-breath song, which is good, because as soon as it ends, they launch into…
There’s classic, then there’s “Black”. Then there’s “Alive”. The song that got me into Pearl Jam, though I didn’t know it at the time. Around the time Ten came out, I was a counselor-in-training at a scout camp in rural New Hampshire. The camp was out in the woods, and had various “stations”, like arts and crafts, archery, the waterfront, and “discovery”. Discovery was on the edge of the campgrounds, and was the nature station. You went there to learn about animals, and plants, and things like that. I learned about latin nomenclature, how to recycle old paper to make new paper, and why the Spin Doctors were not all that good (any particular song is okay, but when listened to altogether, you realize it’s the same 3 chords for every song).
The counselors there were the coolest at the camp. They were all in college, and the 25 years of fuzz on my memories makes me picture the main counselor as Michael Showalter from “The State” and “Wet Hot American Summer” (though cooler than Coop). They were all about alternative music, and played it whenever possible. Pearl Jam was a staple, though I didn’t know much about the band at the time. Walking back to our cabin after working there all day, though, my friends and I found ourselves singing “Ohhh oh I’m still Alive…” The song just bored into my skull, and built a little home for itself, with a nice couch, some throw pillows, and a rug made of the pelts of all the crappy artists I’d listened to up until that point. Not long after this, I would accidentally obtain a copy of Nirvana’s final album, In Utero (thanks to one of those mail-order music subscriptions), and it was all over for me, musically.
In a good way.
This is probably my favorite song from Ten. Great lyrics, great music, one of the best McCready solos. I love hearing it live. This version is, again, a pretty standard version of the song, and the solo. In later shows, the early stuff gets extended, as the band just goes off on it. Not in a “Grateful Dead”, 14-minute-jam session way, but they just know the songs and each other so well, they riff and improvise, and it’s awesome. Back in 1996, they didn’t do this as much.
Alive, Jeremy, and Black. The first three Pearl Jam songs I got to know well. Saw them all at the same show. Hasn’t happened for me since.
Back in 1996, I was screaming along with Eddie when they played this. These days… Well, I’ll get to that. Probably their best “vent” song. When you’re upset, and just need to vent some energy, throw this on, and scream for a couple of minutes, you’ll feel better.
This was also my first experience with tagging, in which the band throws clips of other songs (usually covers) during a song. At this show, he interspersed lyrics from David Bowie’s “Fame” and Sterolab’s “Noise of Carpet” between the 1st and 2nd verses of “Blood”. I am not super familiar with Stereolab, but it works super well here.
Concerts in the 90’s were known for their mosh pits. The floor would tend to be general admission, no seats, and the rowdy fans would “dance” to the hard rock songs by slamming into each other and throwing each other around. Sometimes it was unintentional – you jump around, you slam into people. Sometimes, actual circles formed, and people would jump into them and thrash around. At smaller venues, it was common for fans to climb up on stage and leap into the crowd, then “surf” the upraised hands. Pearl Jam was no exception, and “Porch” was a big mosh pit song.
In a venue with fixed seating in front of the stage, though, moshing, stage diving, and crowd surfing can be difficult and dangerous. Venues like The Meadows and Great Woods (aka The Tweeter Center, aka… um, the Xfinity Center? I’ve lost track) have a lawn section for the people to get rowdy, and those who sit down front are supposed to be a little calmer. This concept was a little difficult for fans in 1996, though, and I would guess that most of the fans down front for this show had been at the smaller venue shows, where the front of the stage was mosh central, as in the middle of this song, Eddie starts to chastise the fans for moshing and crowd surfing.
“It’s like swimming on coral. Just be mellow up here, all right? Settle down!”
They finish the song, and leave the stage. Naïve as I was at the time, I’d thought he’d walked off because of the crowd. Looking back, I think it was just the first encore break, which isn’t really the encore break, just a mid-set break. Most Pearl Jam shows work like this: there’s the main set, 20 or so songs (though this has been getting longer), a break, another chunk of 5-10 songs, another break, and then 1-3 songs to close out the show. Essentially, they play a set with a break 2/3 of the way through, then an encore, but they call the second part of the main set the first encore. It’s a little confusing, much like calling songs B-sides, as the idea of an encore is that the performance was just so good, that the crowd will not leave until they get just one more song. These days, though, encores are just part of the show (and this isn’t limited to Pearl Jam). I don’t have a problem with this, it’s just an interesting note.
"How's everybody? It's a little crazy up here. Come on. You can sit down, it's cool. I can see you all if you sit, or y'know, stand, I can see you all. I'm looking at you, you can see me too. Okay, the next three words for the next five minutes: Peace. And. Love."
This song was the first single off No Code, and as such, was one of the better-known songs at the time. It’s a good song, with its chant-like vocals, and quasi-Eastern vibe. Eddie had done some work with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan around this time, and the influence is clear here (even if it was subconscious). A nice mellow tune to open the first encore.
At the end of it, Eddie asks security to starting booting people from the show the first time they “go over the top”. I’m not sure whether that means crowd surfing or stage diving (or both), but either way, he was sick of seeing it. Interesting turn from a guy who just a couple of years earlier was climbing the set and throwing himself into the crowd. At some point, I think he realized how dangerous it was, and didn’t want to see anyone get hurt. Most artists talk about how much they love and appreciate their fans, but I feel like Eddie truly does care that everyone stays safe.
Yes! Even Flow! On a tour promoting their new album, and with four to pull from, not to mention countless B-sides and covers, I wasn’t sure I’d get to hear this. So relieved when they started playing it. (There’s a joke here; if you don’t get it, keep reading the blog. If you don’t get it now, you will.)
Ed’s voice is really straining during this, but the song is awesome. Again, a pretty standard version, though Mike’s short solo rocks.
After a couple of decades following Pearl Jam, I have come to suspect that this song was written for tagging. It’s tailor-made for it, with a quick couple of verses and then a repeated chorus, and pretty simple music. After the second chorus, the band gets into a little groove, and usually Mike will play a riff from some other song, and Eddie will sing over it. At this show, Eddie asked if the crowd wanted to sing a little, and did a little back-and-forth with us, having us sing the line, “Can you see the real me, can you?” from The Who’s “The Real Me” (it’s as if Ed likes that band, or something). After a few times through, Ed answers us with, “I can”, then slides into a verse from “WMA”, a great song off of Vs that is sadly still way too relevant 20+ years later.
"Keep your hands off my sisters."
A great cover of a great cover of an old R&B song about treating women with respect. Still relevant 50+ years later. A fun song to hear live, as the whole band loves playing it. I wasn’t that familiar with it here, so I just bounced along.
“Mike and I are going to serenade you at this point.”
I noted earlier that heading into this concert, I wasn’t sure how I’d felt about No Code. One thing I did know was that I loved this song, from the simple beauty of the opening guitar riff, to the way the first verse and chorus is just Eddie and Mike, giving the crunchy guitar in the first chorus some room to breathe on its own, to the way the whole band comes in, and the song swells and crests like a wave. Waited all concert to hear it, and it did not disappoint.
Great song, with a great message.
“Thanks a lot. Thanks for listening. Thanks for coming. Thanks for… Everything. Mean it.”
So, earlier I'd mentioned that encores aren't really encores anymore, that the age-old tradition of the band finishing up their set and leaving, only to be called back out on stage by the adoring crowd has been replaced with built-in encore breaks, and that a standard Pearl Jam show tends to have two encore breaks. Well, I am pretty sure this show was only supposed to have the one break, and that the show was oringally going to wrap up with "Present Tense", but the crowd just would not leave. We'd dealt with the nightmare ticketing process, the lack of venues and shows, the drive to Hartford, pepper spray and overzealous security, and rowdy crowds just to be here. I am sure that many in attendance had been to see the band on their ill-fated 1995 tour. No one wanted the show to end. We cheered. We banged on seats. We chanted the band's name. And then...
“We just thought of another one. You guys deserve it. You guys deserve more than us. You guys deserve the world, and I hope you get it. It’s been a real nice visit. I’m sorry you missed the Vice Presidential debates. Make sure to read the paper tomorrow and bone up on it. But then again, the only thing worse than an unintelligent vote is no vote at all, so keep your hands busy come November, and your minds… Fuck, y’know, your whole life, keep your heads occupied. Have a good life. It was nice meeting y’all. See you around.”
"Keep your heads occupied. Have a good life. It was nice meeting y'all." One of my favorite Eddie Vedder speeches.
Some B-sides are popular; others are less so. And then there’s “Yellow Ledbetter”, which might be one of the few B-sides from any band that even casual fans know. Hell, that even non-fans know. It’s a B-side that gets radio time. This song is more popular than some of their actual singles. Had you asked me before the show the one song that I really wanted to hear, I probably would have answered, “Yellow Ledbetter”. Another one of those, “If I knew then…” moments.
As popular as this song is, though, I’ve always felt that no one expected it to be this popular, and the original lyrics have been lost to time. The chorus stays the same, but every single time I hear this song, the verses change. It’s as though Eddie doesn’t even remember all the words, and just makes it up as he goes. Which, honestly, probably isn’t that far off. And, really, it doesn’t matter. It’s a beautiful song, and just such a great way to close out a show.
This version is pretty close to the recorded version from the “Jeremy” single, though Mike’s solo is a little fuzzier, and he throws in a little bit of “Little Wing” towards the end (interesting, because many claim “Yellow Ledbetter” rips off “Little Wing”).
All that was left was to fight the crowds to get back to our car, including getting a futile ride from a friend’s mom, sit in traffic from Hartford up to the Mass border, then drive 2+ hours home while my friends slept. Okay, the drive to and from the concert sucked. The drives to and from the next few shows in Mansfield weren’t much better, but at least I knew the area a little more. I also don’t think I nearly fell asleep while driving home from any of the Mansfield shows.
This was a great show. In my top 9, for sure. This one has a special place in my heart, as it was my first, and you never forget your first, even after 20 years. I made a number of comments about older songs being “standard versions”, which, if you’ve seen the band play recently, might seem odd, or disappointing, but I think for this being my first experience, it was a good thing. I got to see them rock, but reign it in, which is kind of cool, too. And, it gives me a baseline for what the songs would become.
At just over two hours, this is the shortest Pearl Jam concert I’ve seen, which is saying something. It’s not on anyone’s list of “Best Pearl Jam Shows” as far as I know, and none of the tracks stand out as the best versions of anything, but the show was fun, and it was memorable, somewhat for the pepper spray, but also for Eddie’s anger and concern over the crowd surfing, and his comments before “Yellow Ledbetter”, and the fact that this was the show that showed the band that making music needn’t be a chore, just a job. It can be fun, if you just let it be fun.
This was the show that saved Pearl Jam.
Okay, that’s being a little dramatic, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this entire tour saved Pearl Jam. Making Vitalogy and No Code had been torturous. Eddie was sick of being in the spotlight, but was also taking more control of the band, and alienating other members. Their 1995 tour had been a disaster, and they were tasked with being the face of an impossible battle against a massive corporation who painted them as spoiled children. The band was coming apart. Jack Irons helped keep them together long enough to record No Code, but they only booked 12 US cities for the accompanying album tour, with just 15 shows - tiny for a band of their stature. And, while they did get the album out, they called it “No Code”, another term for “Do Not Resuscitate”. I don’t want to call this a test, but they took a chance. They made an album they wanted to make, a little quieter but still raw, a little less anthemic but still captivating, a little more reserved but still accessible.
Maybe the album was a test, not of the band, but of us, the fans. The band was testing who was truly into the music, who truly understood the band, and who was just into the scene and the moshing and the crowd surfing and the arena rock of Ten. The fans listened to the album, bought tickets, and rocked out at the shows. Through 15 shows in 12 cities, US fans filled amphitheaters and celebrated the new direction of the band. I think the band noticed, and understood that the “no code” order was just a bit premature.
Don’t it make ya smile?
Next post, a tour comes (a little) closer to home, and Eddie proves that I had not actually seen how angry he can get.