[REVIEW] Don’t Go On Me: Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field in Chicago


Written by Jason Gonulsen

They could have turned in — turned in for the night, a Monday night — but they turned out.

I’m not talking about the band.

I’m talking about the 40,000 who waited out a two-hour weather delay in the steamy halls of a baseball stadium that first opened its doors in 1914. Perhaps this was routine for some — including me — who had to seek shelter during a similar delay in 2013 at the same venue.

All delays are not the same, though, and the 2018 version had an advantage: Unlike 2013, Pearl Jam hadn’t taken the stage, hadn’t built any momentum, hadn’t given their release. The anticipation of this evening had not yet been met with any sense of reality.

I cannot explain how important this is for a show of this magnitude. In 2013, Pearl Jam opened the show with six slower songs, testing the waters, fans ready for the waves to roll in. But that was not to be — after a couple hours, anyway. By the time the show resumed, it was midnight, and the gas tank of everyone around me was nearing empty with the nearest exit miles away. No one wants a stadium concert to start, then stop, then start again.

This one was different. As you might know, Pearl Jam has been opening the majority of their shows in the past few years with songs like “Pendulum,” “Release,” “Long Road,” “Low Light,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town,” “Wash” — all fine songs, but none of which brought thunder like the opening notes of “Given to Fly,” an electric strike for the 40,000 who, by the looks of Wrigley Field, told their Uber driver to come back later. This show was on.

“And he still gives his love, he just gives it away,” Eddie Vedder sang as the rain poured down. “The love he receives is the love that is saved.” A surreal moment for many, I’m sure. You go from asking yourself, “will this show get canceled?” to “is this really happening?” Sounds like hyperbole, I know, but for me, it’s going to stick as one of those concert memories that is untradeable, untouchable in my mind. So much that, if lightning had struck Wrigley Field at that very moment, at that was all we got, it would have been enough.

But is it really ever enough?

This was Pearl Jam’s fifth show at Wrigley Field since 2013, and they have no problem selling the thing out. And it’s not like the hipsters are demanding to see them. Their fans, who still line up days before the show to get the spots in the general admission pit, are more or less the ones who rewound cassettes in their youth, and were awestruck by the compact disc. Their relationship with experiencing music has changed. Neither format can now be played in newer cars.

A Pearl Jam concert is still Christmas morning — it has not been passed by. A Pearl Jam concert is tradition that won’t be run off by technology (or, for that matter, lightning). It’s definitely not enough and never will be enough to only stream their tunes on Spotify.

It’s almost enough when they open a show at Wrigley Field with “Given To Fly,” “Why Go,” and “Go.”

“Never acted up before,” Vedder sang. “Don’t go on me now.”

Things did not slow down until a cover of The Beatles’ “Rain,” followed by a cover of Neil Young’s “Throw Your Hatred Down,” both deeper cuts from legends which set up one of Pearl Jam’s own legendary songs, “Even Flow.”

And while the masses may come out for songs like “Even Flow,” “Alive,” “Black,” and “Jeremy,” it’s the performances of “In My Tree,” “Immortality,” “Come Back,” and “Smile” — the latter played via request from a sign held by the stage — that keep the die-hards happy.

While this show was “only” two and a half hours (their “normal” shows are well over three hours) because of an extended midnight curfew due to Wrigley being located in a residential area, it’s my opinion that no one should have felt short-changed. Length of a show doesn’t necessarily fairly represent the quality of show, and when Vedder slammed his guitar to the ground three or four times at the end of the show-closing “Baba O’Riley,” somehow, you knew it was time.

Time to go home, but also time to start thinking. Thinking about the next one, whenever that may be.

Pearl Jam. Please, please, please. Don’t go on me.

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