Twenty-five years ago, a new type of jam was discovered in Seattle, a jam made up not of fruits and sugar and pectin, but of guitars and drums and vocals. This wasn't a jam you spread on toast, this was a jam that erupted from your speakers and bombarded your ears like pearls shot from an air-soft rifle that's had its barrel drilled out to accommodate pearls, and yet somehow still builds up enough pressure to shoot them out, hard enough that your ears feel it, but not hard enough to do any damage. This metaphor is terrible, but the band it describes is not. That band is Pearl Jam.
Twenty years ago, I went to my first Pearl Jam concert. In the decade that followed, I went to five more (roughly one every two years). In the decade after that, I didn't go to any. In this past year, I've been to three, bumping my total up to nine shows over the past twenty years. To some, this seems like a lot. My wife has been to three. My mother has been to two. My best friend has been to just one. To many others, this single-digit total is laughably small. Poke around online, and you can find people who talk about going to 20-30 shows like they're talking about what they had for breakfast. Many of these fans go to nine shows per tour. I'd have liked to have been able to go to more, but I can't change that. I was fortunate enough to be at both of the recent shows at Fenway Park. Seeing these shows, the spectacle, the great crowd energy, the amazing versions of so many great songs, I realized that I saw a couple of shows that will be talked about for a while, which got me thinking about the other seven shows that I'd seen.
They were all memorable for one reason or another. Some were better than others. Some involved pepper spray and how I could have been swimming on coral. Others involved sing-alongs and invitations to beat up jerks in the crowd. While I've reminisced about these shows at one time or another, I've never gone back and really thought about what the shows meant at the time, what they mean to me now, and put any of that into words. I've also never really thought about the quality of these shows. I think it's time I did all of that. I have recordings of every show I've been to (the shows from 2000 on being recorded and released by the band, the 1996 and 1998 shows being recorded by fans), so let's take a stroll down memory lane with the masters of war, the soldiers of love, the jammers of pearl.