|All photos by Jason Gonulsen|
If I don't fall apartWill my memory stay clear?
So you had to go
And I had to remain here
But the strangest thing to date
So far away and yet you feel so close
I'm not going to question it any other way
It must be an open door for you
To come back
"We're dealing with some very dangerous people," the man said.
The man was not Eddie Vedder. And the dangerous people were not Pearl Jam fans.
The man was an assumed mobster whom I had observed earlier in the day at Bank of America. He owed some group of people a lot of money, and things were escalating quickly. He was not happy.
I'll never know if this man got it all figured out, but that's not the point. The issue on my mind is this: when danger approaches, how do you react? And are you ever really ready?
Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field had never happened before Friday evening, and it might not ever happen again. So when Eddie Vedder had to deliver the bad news before "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" -- that there was dangerous weather approaching, and that we'd have to wait it out "as a team" -- it still seemed improbable that the impending delay would signal the end.
Let's back up a second, though, before the storm.
8:20 pm, sky blue sky. The first notes of "Release" evaporated into the air, and there were grown men jumping in the general admission pit, hugging each other, as if to demonstrate that this was exactly the song they wanted to hear.
As I noted before, Pearl Jam fans are not dangerous people; they come from an era before YouTube comments and immediate reaction before a laptop or phone screen. They come from a time when you reacted to something real that was happening in front of you. They still do that.
These moments continued during "Nothingman," a song about leaving or being left. The man I observed walking in front of me appeared to have the latter role as, and I kid you not, he was literally foaming from the mouth while he sang along: "Ohhh, she don't want him/ Ohhh, she won't feed him." This was all during the second song of the evening, mind you.
I might as well keep going. During "Present Tense," a song that builds into this beautiful release as Vedder sings, "You can spend your time alone/ Re-digesting past regrets/ Or you can come to terms and realize you're the only one who can't forgive yourself," there was another man who walked by, hands clutched near his heart, with the most endearing look on his face. He walked in front of me twice, and his genuine look of being captured in the moment did not change. I find pure joy that this unguarded behavior still exists at concerts.
And Vedder kept charging. Before beginning "Come Back," a song he dedicated to Sarah, "one of the good one's that passed away," and her husband, Andy, Vedder also called Wrigley Field "the crown jewel of the whole planet Earth."
He also must have known what was coming: an evacuation. This put Eddie in a tough spot because of two reasons: one, the impending reaction that would result in telling his fans they had to leave the area; and two, he had to perform a devastatingly emotional song, one that I can only imagine requires ultimate focus and effort to deliver properly.
I'm not surprised he succeeded, with the help of the guitar wonder that is Mike McCready (who plays off of bassist Jeff Ament beautifully during "Come Back"). I judge their success once again by observing the people around me who were just blissfully lost when Vedder sang, "Come back, come back/ I'll be here." If you've ever lost somebody, then you know the desperate condition of this sentiment; only, the cruel reality is that the past is likely always to be what it seems: a memory.
Which brings me to "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," the last song before a two-hour plus weather evacuation. If I wrote a list of the top 100 songs you need to hear live before you die, this would be on it. The eruption during the line, "And I just want to scream hello!" is well worth any of the miles you've traveled or money you've charged on your credit card to get to experience it, and it served as the last euphoric rush before an unfortunate series of storms.
Wrigley Field, while a beautiful concert venue, was not built to be one. And it was certainly not designed for an impromptu weather evacuation. Wrigley's narrow corridors filled quickly, which forced some of the crowd to spill near the right field foul pole, right up again the ivy that climbs the outfield wall. I know this because this is where I stood. When you add alcohol, confusion, and disappointment into the mix, this, of course, is a recipe for disaster.
I'll say this, though: everyone involved with the show -- the band, the security, the fans -- did the best they could. More than two hours were lost, so fans with babysitters were likely doomed, but few bailed on the situation.
Circumstances, though, are a bitch to overcome. When the show re-started with an acoustic Vedder sing-a-long of "All the Way," which included a guest appearance by Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, I'll admit I was stuck in a "what could have been" frame of mind: momentum, obviously due to no one in the band's control, had been lost, the crowd was restless, and it was midnight. It was almost as if the first seven songs were part of a different show, a different world.
And maybe that's how Pearl Jam's final two hours should remain in my memory -- as a separate show.
"Ernie Banks likes to say, 'Let's play two'," Vedder said when the band re-joined him on stage. "I say, let's play until two."
They played until 2:04. Here's what I remember.
I remember a man in an Atlanta Hawks Mookie Blaylock jersey doing a funky dance to "Do The Evolution," a song that tested the crowd's remaining energy and the ability for it to resurface. Some dug deep and found it, but by looking around Wrigley, some did not. Some just wanted to sit. Not Mookie Blaylock Guy -- he was wired and ready to roll.
There was a definite shift of focus during "Corduroy," when the crowd wanted to scream "Everything has chains!" while Vedder waited for the line and sang it more low key. Not sure it worked, but how do you really know what works and what doesn't after such a lengthy delay? Whatever the answers are, the intensity and urgent investment during the moments of the first seven songs never returned, at least not consistently. Again, circumstances.
Of the three new songs that were performed, "Future Days," which featured Brendan O'Brien, was the best of the bunch (although I'll say that "Mind Your Manners" was much more impressive live than the studio version I had heard online in the days leading up to the show). "Future Days" began a short acoustic set after a frantic and sloppy "Rearviewmirror" that ended the main set. And let's face it: a break and re-evaluation was needed, as the crowd was shot as the clock turned past 1 AM.
The brief acoustic set worked. Versions of Pink Floyd's "Mother" and Mother Love Bone's "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns," served as a calm before a final (musical) storm that brought a final dose of thunder -- "Porch," which featured what could be described as Vedder crowdsurfing, for maybe 25 seconds, led into "Wasted Reprise/Life Wasted," which left two more songs, which I'll describe in detail.
"Black." What a monumental, important song -- in my life, and in the lives of any Pearl Jam fan who lived and breathed their music in the 90's. I can tell you, without looking, that it's the fifth song on Ten, and it was the song that convinced me that there are two types of people who sing: those who are who are trained to do it, and those like Eddie Vedder, who give you every imperfection, every grunt, every inhale and exhale, and every "OHHHHHH AND ALL I TAUGHT HER WAS EVERYTHING" and "WHY CAN'T IT BE MEEEEEE" that you ever wanted. This song was not meant to be sung pretty. It was meant to be pulled and pricked from Vedder's soul, affecting every nerve, every vessel, every demon that lives in his gut. Hearing this live at Wrigley Field at around 1:50 AM, well, you tell me if that will ever happen again.
"Rockin' in the Free World." Written by Neil Young, of course, for the Freedom album. Pearl Jam often covers this and "Fuckin' Up," and they do both justice. While "Yellow Ledbetter" was on the original setlist to close the show, I'm certain they made the right call with ending it on more of an electric note, as it was 2 AM, and everyone needed one final pick me up.
"That's one more kid that'll never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool," Vedder sang.
A long night deserves a cathartic ending.
Until next time, Pearl Jam.
03. Present Tense
04. Hold On
05. Low Light
06. Come Back
07. Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town
weather evacuation (2+ hours)
08. All The Way
09. All Night
10. Do The Evolution
11. Setting Forth
14. Mind Your Manners
15. Lightning Bolt
16. State Of Love And Trust
20. Eruption-(Van Halen)
22. Why Go
23. Unthought Known
24. Future Days w/ Brendan O’Brien
25. Mother-(Roger Waters)
26. Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns-(Mother Love Bone, A. Wood)
28. Wasted Reprise/Life Wasted
30. Rocking In The Free World-(Neil Young)