Is it still called Great Woods at this point? I don’t even know.
Something happened to me in college: a friend introduced me to indie music. A friend got me into UNH’s radio station, as well as numerous other small bands that never signed to major labels, didn’t tour in arenas and stadiums. I learned about clubs, and small shows where you can literally bump into the band members in the bar before and after the show. The mainstream radio we listened to back in high school had little interest for me anymore. I didn’t want to listen to what everyone else listened to, I wanted to find those hidden gems, those unknown bands, expose my friends to them, discovering great music before it hit it big.
I became a music snob.
I didn’t want to listen to anything mainstream. None of those “over-paid” rock stars recorded in big, clean studios, with their polished voices and clean riffs (who, these days, I wonder if they were paid much at all). None of that accessible stuff. I wanted bands that played their guitars in ways no one had thought of before. I wanted singers you weren’t sure knew they were being recorded. Weird instruments. Messed-up time signatures. I wanted stuff that took effort to listen to, that you had to work at, to listen to over and over and over again before the chord structure and dissonance made any sort of sense. This type of music was rewarding.
This type of music was also exhausting.
I was also drawn to the simple, but obscure. Pixies, Husker Du, Rainer Maria. These bands were fun, and different. They managed to use the same basic building blocks as the more well-known bands (both Husker Du and Rainer Maria were three-piece bands), but make the music interesting and unique. Fortunately, by the time Pearl Jam released their sixth album they weren’t quite the mainstream darlings of the early part of the previous decade, so I felt no shame buying Binaural.
Also, as indie as I’d gotten, I still loved 90s grunge, and Pearl Jam in particular. Their sound had changed over the past couple of albums, but they still had that edge, they still wrote great songs. So, I bought Binaural. I listened to it. And then I listened to other stuff.
Looking back to 1996, No Code was in heavy rotation. In 1998, I nearly wore out my Yield CD. In 2000, though, I think I was inundated with so much else going on, that I didn’t listen to Binaural nearly as much. This might be one of the greatest sins of mine in regards to Pearl Jam, because this album deserved so much more attention from me. From start to finish, there is not one dud on this album. From the opening strains of “Breakerfall” through the mournful closing of “Parting Ways”, this album is beautiful and atmospheric. It has an edge of hard rock, but also some slower ballads. There is experimentation, but unlike on earlier albums, it’s experimentation within the song, rather than experimentation as the song.
Regardless of my feelings on the album at the time, I knew that I wanted to see them in concert, and those feelings were solidified when I discovered they’d be touring (at least in my neck of the woods) with one of my favorite bands at the time, Sonic Youth. It’s rare that the opening band is one I actually like, but it helps that Pearl Jam tends to ask bands they like to open for them. Had I been out in the Midwest on the 1998 tour, I could have seen Frank Black (of the Pixies) open for them, which would have been amazing. Spacehog, later on that same tour, would have been fun, too. I still love Resident Alien
(Somewhere, I have a tape of the Sonic Youth set. This was the first tour that Pearl Jam had decided to release bootlegs for each show, and they made a big deal of announcing that they were allowing fans to bring in personal audio recording devices. They knew that the CDs they were going to release would have far better audio quality than the cassettes we recorded, and while we waited for the drop, we could listen to the tapes. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what happened to that tape, so I can’t relive their set. I do recall enjoying it.)
The only problem I had was that I didn’t have anyone to go with. I’d lost touch with at least one of the people I’d seen the previous two shows with, and my friend Matt would be back in school by the time the show came around. The other friends I’d been to the last show with hadn’t seemed all that into it.
Event poster. Not all that upset I didn't buy it. I do like the way the artist got Sonic Youth on there.
There was also one other slight change to my life at that point. The previous school year, I had met a girl, and we had clicked. Towards the end of Fall semester, we were spending a lot of time together, and there seemed to be mutual attraction. The semester ended before anything could happen, though I was excited to get back in January and pick up where we’d left off. January rolled around, I went back to school, and she was gone. She hadn’t done well first semester, and had been asked to take a semester off; her mom had sent her to California to live with her father.
We stayed in touch, and when she came back to live with her mom in August, we met up for a date. It went well, and so I invited her to the concert. She wasn’t a big Pearl Jam fan, nor was she a big Sonic Youth fan, but she liked hanging out with me, and so she was willing to go, so that was nice. We hung out regularly for a few months after this, then kind of sporadically for a while before ultimately going our separate ways. Haven't spoken to her in over a decade, but last time I did, she was in art school in Boston. She had some talent, and I hope she's done well and has a good life.
I was seeing Sonic Youth. Pearl Jam hadn’t broken up over the summer, so I was seeing them for the third time in six years. I had lawn seats again, but we got in somewhat early (helps when you want to see the opening act), and we were at the front of the section. I was in a pretty good mood at the start of this show.
Another more mellow song to start off the show. This song has a great driving rhythm to it, though, and is a Binaural track, making this the first time I’d seen Pearl Jam when they opened with the album they were promoting.
I love the rhythm of this song, the heavy downbeat of the drums, the bass just barely audible above it, and Stone’s steady picking. Over all of this, Mike plays around, adding another dimension to the song, a bit of harshness, that occasionally plays off Stone’s guitar, and sometimes floats off to some other place, but then comes back to echo Eddie’s chorus:
Oh he fills it up,
With the thought,
Of a girl.
And, true to form, they follow the mellow with the rock. Lead song off of Binaural, and they totally could have lead with it this night, but I like this one-two punch. “Of the Girl” works as an intro, a pre-concert song, then the show really gets going with “Breakerfall”.
This song gets better every time they play it. Eddie sounds great tonight. I love the way the song quiets down, and then builds up to the outro solo. Eddie has some fun vocalizations during this version, while Mike just goes off.
I’ve always loved this song, and never realized it’s about Ed’s truck. “Supposed I abused you, just passing it on. Go! Fuck!” I am amazed at the things I am still learning about this band. Another fantastic solo from Mike. He is on fire tonight.
A third Binaural track, and Jeff Ament’s second-best contribution to this album. If you’ve heard more recent Pearl Jam, you’ll recognize some familiar themes in this song, mainly about tolerance and the importance of being open-minded. Ed sings the hell out of it (heh).
Three shows in a row? Unreal!
This version has my favorite lyric change in this song, when
Now to something that has never showed him anything.
Now to something that has never showed him jack shit.
It’s a small thing, but it just makes me smile. And then Ed forgets the rest of the lyrics.
The entire band sounds great tonight, and this is one of the best versions of this song I’ve heard in person. At the end, Ed addresses the crowd, orginally, intending, I think, to keep his comments brief.
Thank you, and good evening, Boston. Alright… It is – to be honest, it’s nice to be anywhere – but is real nice to be here. Again. What an extraordinary welcome. Anyways, we’re going to continue on. Actually, before we continue on, we should thank a few people for coming out before, and, actually, for feeding me lunch, breakfast, and dinner for the last two days, and then playing a great show on top of it, even with technical difficulties. It was Sonic Youth starting the evening. In October, this group of people is going to celebrate… Well, I don’t know if we’re going to celebrate, but maybe that we’re going to come to terms with the fact that we’ve been together for ten years (crowd cheers, Ed tries to settle them down). Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal when you realize that next year, Sonic Youth will have been together for twenty. So, may we all be so lucky, in our relationships, and with our ability to get along.
Seriously. If this band makes it to 20, they should make a movie!
Anyways, enough with that. We’re going to continue with what was the first single off the last record, Binaural. It’s called “Nothing As It Seems”.
Jeff Ament is no stranger to writing music for the band. He has writing credits for six of the eleven songs on Ten, and dozens of other songs over the years, but he hadn’t really written lyrics until 1998’s Yield, for which he wrote two songs. He has a couple more on Binaural, including this one, which may be the best of the bunch.
There’s a definite Pink Floyd vibe to it, with Stone playing a clean acoustic, and Mike lead swimming around it on a reverb-heavy distorted electric. What’s really interesting is that while Ament wrote the entire song, the bassline might be one of the most just-keep-the-beat basslines in the band’s entire repertoire. Though, as he said of the song once,
It's pretty cool to see a little song that I wrote being played by everyone. I mean, I can almost kind of stand back and just watch this great band play a song and take it to a completely different level.
So, maybe the simplistic bassline is just to let him watch the rest of the band do its thing? Hard to blame him.
Another one off Binaural. Love the pounding drum intro and the snarling chorus.
I got a car,
I got some gas.
Let’s get the fuck outta here,
Get outta here fast.
It’s like they’ve all been in my room. (?)
I want to go,
But I don’t want
I hope you get this message.
But, you’re not home.
I could pick you up in
33 minutes or so.
You don’t have to pack your bags.
We’ll make it up as we go along.
I want to go,
But I don’t want
And I’ve never said it before,
Not to anybody else,
But with you,
I could never feel alone.
I’m not entirely sure where this song came from. It’s clearly a little improv on the opening of MFC, and is on 1998’s live compilation, Live on Two Legs, but I don’t know much more about it, other than that it’s a nice intro to “MFC”, a song about escaping a bad situation in a Mini F’n Cooper.
Ed tends to change the lyrics a bit, and I think this might be my favorite version of it. Certainly better than the Live on Two Legs version. The “33 minutes” is most likely a reference to Larry Bird, as Ed is a huge basketball fan. He’s also a huge baseball fan, but Varitek was in just his second full year as a Red Sox catcher, and had just switched his number from 47 to 33 the year before this concert.
(Note from the future: At our wedding, Sarah and I danced our first dance to Pearl Jam’s cover of The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.” We totally could have danced to this.)
A song about escaping a bad situation in a Mini F’n Cooper. Always a fun track, and the band plays it with a searing intensity.
Which is good, as they lead into a growly version of this No Code staple. Tonight’s break lyric is:
Speaking as a child who knew who John Havlicek was…
For those children who don’t know, he was a basketball player for the Celtics. He stole a ball once(that's a good thing).
The band rocks out a bit on the outro tonight, very Sonic Youth-esque.
Then they slow it down a little with the sing-song style of “Wishlist”, though they build into another Sonic Youth style outro before Ed sings the final line by himself.
Ed finishes “Wishlist” and heads straight into “Better Man”, a nice one-two punch of mellowness. He kind of flubs the “Tell him, take no more” line, but recovers well. The band picks the intensity right back up for the second verse crescendo. Another version with the “Save it for Later” tag, and just like ’98, Ed sings the entire first verse and the chorus. He gets the lyrics a little more right in the ’98 version.
Another “Binaural” track. Not one of my favorites on the album. I like that one of the guys’ dog is used in the intro, but I’m not quite sure what to think about it. Sounds good live, though.
At the end, Ed addresses the crowd, I think referencing the fact that they’re playing new songs that the fans don’t know as well, so the crowd is not in “singing mode”.
While we’ve got you in listening mode, we’re gonna play another one for you, called, “Sleight of Hand”.
Stone butchers the intro bad enough to bring the song to a halt. This is my third PJ show, and the third time they’ve started a song and had to stop.
Ok, I think the rules say we get one more shot at it. It’s like a third foul.
Second attempt goes much better.
One of the songs I’ve loved since first hearing the album. Just a rocking tune about the warlike nature of our society and our roles in supporting that, either explicitly or tacitly. I’m not thinking about this right now, just rocking out.
Some things change, but “Porch” stays a classic. A relatively short version tonight, but it leads into the encore break once again.
I have to say – and you’ll have to check all the bootlegs to make sure I haven’t said this to anyone before – but I think this is the liveliest crowd we’ve played to since Europe.
Ed always heaps praise on the Boston crowd, but the cynic in me wonders if this isn’t just a savvy way for him to get everyone here to buy more of the bootlegs they’re releasing after the tour. Clever, Ed. Very Clever.
Okay, no, I don’t really think that. He does routinely praise Boston, and I think he genuinely likes the crowds and the city.
No no no, thank you, thank you. Got some friends in the front, it’s nice. Keep trying on that one. And I’d hate to take advantage of, or be irresponsible with the attention that you’ve given us, or the trust that we might share, but it’s getting difficult to… As we come up on this… What’s going to be kind of… It could be an interesting election year if people were to get involved. It’s hard to not say anything about it I hope you don’t mind if we do. But, there’s… Just to let you know, I spoke with someone last night on a porch, and out in Northampton or something, and they weren’t aware there was another choice besides the boring Republicans and the getting-more-boring-every-day Democrats. And so, I was talking to another friend in New York, because I mention voting for the Green Party, but this friend of mine, he knew who Ralph Nader was, and he loved who he was, but he wasn’t aware that he was running, so I’d like to let you know that. I’d also like to let you know that it’s not really voting for him, it’s that if you gave him some support at this point, there might be a chance we could get into the debates, which then we’d have a more interesting debate, besides just two people who are very similar. And one of the reasons we talk about it here, is because I you’re a highly intelligent and educated crowd. We won’t even bring it up in Philadelphia. Well, we might.
The band has always been at least socially conscious, if not outright political. That hasn’t been tempered by success or time. To go to a show and expect Ed to not make some sort of political statement is not just foolish, it’s myopic. He’s making a political statement with every song the band plays. Speaking of that…
So, this one is kind of in my head, but hopefully I’ll get through it. It goes like this.
A new one for me; a cover of a Steven Van Zandt that I think was made popular by Jackson Browne. I’m not sure I’d heard it before, but it caught me immediately. Ed plays it by himself on a clean electric guitar. The crowd claps along and causes him to flub the second chorus. He pauses to catch the beat of the crowd, then kills the rest of the song.
Straight from Ed playing clean guitar into the snarling intro. A fun juxtaposition.
This song is always so much fun to see in concert. Fast and simple, and the band always brings it with fire on this track. Gotta love Jeff and Stone singing backing vocals as the choir. Ed changes the lyrics in the final verse from “I am the first mammal to make plans” to “I am the first mammal to shit my pants”. It’s a fun change; to me, the song is from the POV of someone who claims to have “conquered” nature. He’s evolved. He kills, but knows why he kills. He has the technology to mow down trees, flatten hills, and make roads. This person is not painted in a positive light, so the idea that he’s boasting about how advanced he is by the fact that he shit his pants is a nice subversion of expectations.
I have no idea if that’s what Ed intended, but it’s still funny.
It’s always fun to hear the crowd roar at the first notes of the instantly-recognizable bass riff.
I’ve seen Pearl Jam a few times, but I’ve only seen this song played once. I’ve seen the movie “Once” more times than I’ve seen Pearl Jam play their song “Once”, which, again, has only been once. Fortunately, it was a kick-ass version of it.
At the end, Stone takes the mic.
Yeah. Okay, you know how I screwed up that one song earlier? (Sleight of Hand) Well, this is your punishment for that. Punishment for you? Wait a minute, this is Ed’s punishment.
I tend to like the weird songs on albums, and this song would be the weird song on pretty much any album it appeared on, but especially any Pearl Jam album, even No Code. I remember listening to it the first time, confused by this higher-pitched voice coming out, and trying to figure out if Ed was contorting his voice for some reason, before checking the liner notes and discovering that, for some reason, Stone Gossard is on lead vocals. I think this, and “Smile” on which Stone plays bass and Jeff plays rhythm guitar, further speaks to the way the band wanted to break out of their mold on No Code. It just feels like they wanted to try something, and so they did. Fans love “Smile”; I’m not so sure about “Mankind”.
I can tell you this, though, I am bouncing up and down at the front of the lawn belting out the lyrics right along with Stone. It’s just such a fun, bouncy song. And, while I don’t sing as well as Stone, I’m much closer to his level than Ed’s, so I don’t feel as bad singing along.
The band takes a moment, and Ed addresses the crowd, sounding bemused.
We don’t usually play this song unless there’s a dancing… Cow. Do you come to all the shows dressed like that, or just ours? ‘Cause I’ve always wanted to know. Alright.
There is, indeed, a dancing cow here.
A beautiful song written by Victoria Williams and one of Pearl Jam’s few regular covers that I actually knew before I’d heard their version. Pearl Jam recorded a version of it for Sweet Relief, an album of covers of her songs to raise money to help her deal with her newly-diagnosed multiple sclerosis (as a musician, she had no health care, and as respected as she was in the music community, she’d not had much commercial success).
I think I got her album from BMG or Columbia House (because yes, at points in my life I belonged to both services – found some great music through them). Not sure why, but I did, and I liked it, particularly “Crazy Mary”. I liked her quirky vocals and the folksy, yet lush production – acoustic guitar with orchestral elements.
I bought Sweet Relief, listened to Pearl Jam’s version, and promptly put it away. It’s not that it was bad, but it was kind of in between. It wasn’t as quirky as Victoria Williams’s, but it tried to keep some of the folksy elements of it. It was as though they just re-recorded with a male lead singer. And, there’s this weird slide guitar that gives it a country feel.
While I stand behind that assessment, listening to it played live tonight is a revelation. I don’t know what’s different, but the song soars, from Mike’s lead guitar carrying most of the music, even when the rest of the band pulls out, to Ed’s vocals, and then Mike’s solo towards the end, the song is simply beautiful. Pretty sure I’m tearing up by the end. Not ashamed. Not even a little.
Oh, no, is this “Last Kiss”? No, it’s something else… It’s the b-side to the “Last Kiss” single. It’s got the same 50s vibe to it, but I like it a lot more. It would be fun to dance to, if I knew how to dance to songs like this. It’s a Pearl Jam cover of a Beatles cover of a little-known soul/R&B song, and even ends with Eddie giving us a little, “Cha-cha-cha.”
I love the way this song breaks down in the middle. There’s not really a solo; you have the two verses about the subject driving away from the abuse, reflecting on what happened, then the song slips into the anti-solo, where Mike plays around with feedback and vibrato while Stone and Jeff play around with the rhythms of the song, almost as if giving Eddie (as the subject) time and space to think about everything that happened. After a few minutes, Jeff slips back into the bassline, Stone and Mike fall in line, and Matt uses his drums to drive the band into the chorus wherein Eddie explodes with relief at putting it all behind him, then the band rocks out to the close of the song. Hearing the song on Vs, you know it’s good. Seeing it live, you understand why it’s been such a staple for the band, even being the title of their greatest hits compilation album.
Eddie and the guys head off stage after this. “Rearviewmirror” could be an awesome show closer, except that the song gets me so pumped up, that the last thing I want to do after hearing it is leave. Of course, I know the show isn’t over, because the house lights are off, and Ed always says goodbye at the end of the show. After a few minutes, they come back out.
So, we’re gonna do a couple more. Well, one more, and then I’ll see you at the Irish pub in an hour and a half. Save me a spot, I’ll take a black & tan, please.
The ultimate closer. Mike has the distortion on, as well as a phaser, giving the intro a cool feel. I’m not sure what’s more surprising about this version – that Ed changes the lyrics of the post-solo verse, or that they’re intelligible. While I love this song, it’s nearly impossible to sing along with live (or on a bootleg the first few times you listen) because the lyrics are never the same twice, and often, somewhat unintelligible. Tonight, Ed sings:
I wanna see him, but he’s been taken far away, yeah. And I leave him a message, but it’s the photos I’m stuck with.
Mike slips into another song that I don’t recognize during the outro solo (apparently, it’s Aerosmith’s “Sick as a Dog”). After a minute or so, Matt starts to join in, and the crowd starts to clap along, but that quickly gets too fast. Eventually, Mike returns to the outro and closes out the show.
…Or does he?
BONUS PEARL JAM!
A classic Neil Young song that I’m always surprised this wasn’t a bigger radio hit. I mean, what better way to get radio play than have the song be named something the DJ wouldn’t be able to say over the air?
“And now, here’s… A song by Neil Young.”
Then there’s the chorus. I mean, I suppose they could have done what Cee-Lo did when he recorded a clean version of “Fuck You”, but I’m not sure “Forgetting Up” would work all that well.
See some of you tomorrow. If not, we’ll see you next time. Take care. Good luck. Good night, good-bye!
The show wrapped up and we made our way out of the amphitheater into the parking lot. Probably the worst thing about the Tweeter Center is the parking lot. It's massive, and it all looks the same. So, when you come out of a show, you have to first remember the general area in which you parked, to cut your random, aimless wandering by about an hour. Of course, even when you find your car, you still have to get out of the parking lot, so really, the lot is the second worst thing about the venue, behind the traffic. Once you get out of the lot, you still have a 2-3 hour drive home, so I guess that's the worst. Among the worst aspects of the venue is the parking lot, along with the traffic, and the location, and the fact that the "lawn" is just sand... Oh, never mind.
Glibness aside, there is some meaning behind Ed’s wondering how much longer the band would be together, as the band almost called it quits before this tour. The troubles behind the scenes of No Code have been oft-publicized lately, as the album celebrated its own 20th anniversary a couple of years ago, and everyone was reminded how rocky the band’s inter-personal relationships were in 1996, but the end of those stories is always that the album and tour helped them come together as a band, and that much of that tension was gone by 1998’s Yield.
This time, it an wasn’t internal issue, it was very much external. The Binaural tour started with a European leg, where they played a bunch of festivals. In June, they played the Roskilde Festival, in Roskilde, Denmark. Wet conditions made the floor slick, and as the crowd surged forward, several fans lost their footing and were caught under the crowd. Nine people lost their lives. The band canceled the final two shows of that leg, and some considered retiring from music altogether.
They pushed on, though, and I think they used the US tour as a sort of therapy. I don’t know how often Eddie brought up the Roskilde tragedy in other shows, but I suspect that it was too raw for him to talk about it much, and he never brought it up at this show. I do know that Ed has always been big on crowd safety (well, maybe not so much the first few years, when he was climbing on the scaffolding himself and leaping into the crowd), and the tragedy only strengthened his resolve to see the band’s fans celebrate the music safely. In his own words, “Peace and love.”
As big as an Indie Music Snob as I was at the time, the bootleg of this show still got a lot of play in my car. I rocked out to songs like “Porch” and “Corduroy”, crooned along with Ed on “Soldier of Love” and “Patriot” (which quickly became a favorite of mine). As time went on, though, other bands cropped up, and this bootleg got pushed toward the back of my rotation. Then, seeing them twice in 2003, this bootleg virtually disappeared from my collection. The two shows in 2003 were the bookends of an epic 3-show swing through Mansfield, dubbed by fans as “The Boston Experiment”. Those shows, and the middle one I didn’t go to, became my go-to for live Pearl Jam.
Sometime around 2003, I acquired audience recorded bootlegs from the Hartford show in 96 and the Mansfield show in 98. The Hartford show is understandably memorable for me, as it was my first Pearl Jam show, and it was something of an ordeal. 1998 was memorable because of the quarters incident. It was the first time I’d seen a performer lose it on stage and threaten to walk out, and then they finished with what’s become my least favorite Pearl Jam song (so, not a great reason for that to be memorable). Looking back on this show years later, even through writing this post, I considered this as a show I was at, and nothing more.
However, this was a great show. The 2000 tour was the start of the “Official Bootlegs”. They released every show on CD in stores, which led to the surreal situations of Newbury Comics having 20+ new Pearl Jam releases at once, and, as they were considered live albums, Pearl Jam set a record when seven bootlegs debuted on the Billboard Top 200 chart, including this one, which debuted at #163. Some reviewers considered it the best of the tour.
I don’t know about that, as this is the only bootleg from 2000 I bought. As much as I love seeing Pearl Jam live, I never get as into bootlegs from shows I wasn’t at. I think part of the reason for this is that, having the shows I was at available to buy, why would I need to listen to some other show? Why listen to a facsimile of my experience, when I can re-experience it? The other part is that each show feel so personal. I know that I’m one nobody fan in a sea of 20,000 (give or take), usually in the back, invisible to the band, but the fact that each night’s setlist is different, that the band plays a little differently, that Ed addresses the crowd differently, it makes it feel like my show, and each show I’m not at as their show.
What I do know is that this bootleg is going to get a little more time in the rotation now, after I’ve underrated it for so long, which is kind of fitting, given how I underrated Binaural for so long.
Next time: I join a club and take part in an epic experiment.