Now this is different. We're waiting for our next Pearl Jam show and we're inside, out of the wind and rain and in some relative warmth. The SECC is a hugely impressive complex from the outside, shadowed by a giant shipyard crane, the main building all swooping curves, but look further and you can see the square 'sheds' behind, which can only spell 'exhibition centres' and 'concert halls'. However, like any book, read the same for Hall 3 tonight - never judge it by its cover.
The soundcheck is already promising good things. The PA is pumping out 'Wooden Jesus', we then hear some 'Once' riffs, and with the inclusion of "Rival", "Leatherman" and "Present Tense", things are already beginning to look, or rather, sound good.
Tonight is the first time I've seen "The Vandals" since the opening night in Lisbon. People may hold differing opinions on them but, hell, they're a warm-up band, they know it - they tell us! - and they certainly do it. Just keep the clothes on next time ;). Mike's already made an early appearance at the side of the stage, camera in hand, taking pictures of us.......where do these photos go?
Tonight's crowd are already feeling pretty enthusiastic, just witness the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.....oh, I can't be bothered to count......crowd surfers tonight. Things become all the more hectic once the band appear on stage. "We've been here once before, a long, long time ago and its great to be back...."
First up, we've got "Sometimes". Beside this I've written 'huge surge'. This isn't going to be an ordinary show. A crunching "Breakerfall" follows almost as if to prove the point. It's rough, it's tough. I suppose this goes as much for the song as well as the crowd. 5,800 people and we're making our presence felt.
"Corduroy", with the tune really hanging before Mike launches into an incendiary solo, and "Hail, Hail" are up next, Eddie spitting out the 'cha, cha' at the end of "HH". A slug of wine and we've now got "Animal" on the offensive. This is one hell of an opening. Stoney's grooving and Mikes jumping all over. We all feel closer tonight, the crush of the crowd, the closeness to the stage, the size of the arena, we can clearly see Jeff, and at his rhythmic side, physically and musically, Matt.
To the delight of one section of the audience Ed picks up a t-shirt thrown at the stage, holds it out, takes a look, wipes his brow, rolls it up and tosses it to the floor. Time to cool down? Well, its "Dissident", so no, with things just getting ever more manic. Everyone knows the words, arms out, hands aloft, we're all making quite a noise tonight. The surfers keep a coming, but while we may laugh at the first few, they're becoming a constant stream now, and its not fair on those they are crushing at the front. Fortunately, they're steering clear of my area, but you can't help but feel for those affected.
The "Binaural" duo of "Grievance" ('that one was from Binaural', Ed helpfully tells us;)) and NAIS follow. Up close, it's clear how much the band 'feel' this song, perhaps none more so than Mike, showcasing as it does his guitar-playing prowess. I keep hearing the phrase "Mike's on fire". However, its not exclusive to this song or this show, I've heard it and thought it throughout the shows so far.
This segues into "GTF", and then first sign of Ed trying to calm the crowd. "Shhhhh" says Ed as he whispers a verse. I think one part of the crowd then collapses mid-surge, but when something's moving forward and backward, left to right, something's got to give. Ed is motioning to the band to hold-up, he's checking if everything is ok, as documented in the notes. Given some time, things seem good, we're back on track.
"Even Flow" makes another appearance, under another guise as Ed introduces it as "In a Big Country" (see www.bigcountry.co.uk). My notes just say 'better and better' and thinking back, I'm pretty sure it does, combining the fact that its a great, old tune pulled off brilliantly and refreshingly each and every time I've heard it on this tour.
The lights go down, guitars are swapped but most tellingly Jeff brings out the stand-up bass again. "Daughter" seems injected tonight with more passion than usual, particularly at the song's close - Ed grabs the mic stand, and drained, slides down to the floor, bringing a close to this first half of the show.
"Untitled" and "MFC" follow and whether or not its teed up by the former, I will never bore of the latter. Ed then tells us, smiling, that the next one is 'a quiet little number'. Its 'Habit', making its tour debut. This is a great tune, but now with an added twist, an extended jam, Eddie, with his guitar strapped over his shoulder him, holding it out, 'firing' at the audience (note: see the 'Eddie Frehley' pic in the photo gallery :)). Where's Mike? Oh, he's on the floor! If they're not living, feeling this song, this show, then I wasn't present that night.
While this crowd have fully participated in this show, they're not the best of singers ;). However, everybody knows the words to "Better Man", introduced by Ed, cast in a single spotlight, as "an addiction song". After a triumphant finale to that one, things slow up, and Ed takes some time to talk to the audience.
"Sometimes when songs are written you find messages like prayers.....sometimes there are messages for me and only when I play it does it sink in.....sometimes I'd rather listen to myself". I think a few of our prayers are actually answered when we realise that the promise of 'Present Tense' from the soundcheck is met. The setting on the stage is perfectly set as the techs throw light on Ed, then Mike, and then one by one on the rest of the band as the track builds into musical maelstrom. An instrumental, rather than audience, surge, this is one of those moments where you do not want the song to end. Its the same for me whenever I listen to it to "No Code". Its breathtaking, Matt adding fills, Mike riffing, Jeff powering things on, its an awesome sight. A undeniable highlight, in fact one of many, from this evening.
There's no let up though, as 'SOLAT' follows, with 'RVM' charging on after it. A crushing, exuberant way to bring this part of the show to a close.
The first encore begins with a gymnastic flourish, as Ed appears and 'roly-polys' on to the stage :). "After seven or eight years we're going to stay a while." Yep, they certainly do.
An exhilarating "Brain of J" kicks things off, Eddie's grip on the mic unshakeable as he takes us through the song, telling us 'the whole world will be different..' questioning us 'when?' with our answer 'soon!'
Forever to be a (live) favourite, Mike's guitar is glittering - it must be the 'V', it is - we've now got 'DTE'. No shimmies or shakes, but I think thats because the audience is doing enough of that. The spotlight falls on Stone for his all-too short solo, I feel the pounding of Jeff's bass in my chest prior to the 'admire me...' line.
Yellow and white lighting bathes the stage and the band and we've got "Light Years". I've adored this song from the moment I heard it. Extra licks from Stone and Matt are thrown in, making it different to the album version, and then Mike's solo just soars. Then, a short interlude, as Ed steps up the mic:"Before we go we should thank all the way from Long Beach, California, the Good, the Naked and the Ugly: The Vandals'.
The crowd, singing out 'hearts and thoughts', finish up 'Small Town' for Ed. A joyous moment, followed by 'Last Kiss' ("another with a story") it's obvious Ed's having a good time up there. Jeff's looking off into space...not for long though, as Ed's takes the guitar off, Mike races to the front of the stage and it's, no, it can't be, I'm looking at the others, mouths either agape or nodding furiously, eyes wide open, we've got "Once". Ed's frantic at the mic, 'I've got a bomb in my temple and it's gonna explode', the energy from the stage and in the crowd is off the scale. Nothing new is added to the mix - well, Matt always adds something :)) - but that doesn't take anything away from the performance. They simply steamroller through the thing, Ed again lifts the microphone stand aloft, again I'm willing him to smash it down onto one of Matt's cymbals, again my hope remains unfulfilled as he crashes it to the ground. A small gripe but I'm not worried. Jeff, Mike, Matt, Ed and Stone exit the stage, but we've yet to have our fill.
The yells and screams are deafening, as we demand more. We get it. Out comes Ed, no theatrics this time, only the 'grunge-ele' (see the Wembley show notes) held behind his back for those close enough to see. "Be careful, that's enough to give a guy a big head" he tells us. "Look what I've got" he says, flashing the miniature guitar to us. He then messes up and tells the Scottish contingent that the band have been here once or twice before: cue playful boos and Ed looking sheepish (they've appeared only once before). "Fuck off", he tells us, "I' ve had laundry to do and the house was a mess" =). He then makes a reference to Mike Scott (see notes for further info) and tells how he and Jeff have been listening to him recently and that he'd love to sing the chorus to "Once" like him, and then goes onto impersonate Scott :"Once.....upon a time" (imagine the ex-Waterboys' phrasing and tone and you'll get the picture) and then chuckles to himself. "Hello Mike" he says, waving, much to the audience's appreciation. Then comes the story about Mrs Mop (again see notes for more) and how he thinks it was a wonderful thing that she was so proud of her name. The monitor level is too low for Ed at first but with a couple of hand and facial gestures, we're taken through "Soon Forgets", dedicated to Mrs Mop. I had my doubts when I first heard about this track - Ed and a ukelele - but it just 'works'.
The rest of the band join EV to wrap things up with "Ledbetter". As before, everyone either leaves the stage or watches at the side, Ed seems to be watching intently - we see and wave at Jeff but he looks at us and points to stage right - as Mike is left to bring things to a suitable finale. He seems so comfortable in the spotlight and while it's frequency on the setlist for some is disappointing, the song and particularly Mike's solo never are.
A wild crowd and an fantastic show, I see one of the front row survivors after the show and ask him if he's ok, 'Hey man', he says, 'I don't care, I heard Present Tense and Once tonight'.
© 2000 S.A. Cripps