Pearl Jam do not take the stage in this smallish football stadium, perched on a hill overlooking the river, until at least 10pm. That's what the tickets said, if we'd bothered to pay attention (which no one did). This was at the end of a very long day, punctuated by rain storms and bright sunlight, alternately; where the promoter and his horrendous organization and equally bad security guards outside had everyone pissed off. All of this is forgotten, of course, once they start to play.
"Of The Girl" could not be a more perfect opener for this band, right here, right now. It requires concentration and showcases their strengths with this album: delicate and true interplay, focused melodies, Ed's voice, Mike's guitar work, that rhythm section. Ed does this delicate little hipster dance. To my surprise, people -- LOTS of people -- are singing along. Every word. This bodes well. There is something different about the band tonight, there's a focused intensity, it's not nerves I don't think, but they just seem *different*.
Then it's like a rocket taking off as Mike changes to the Flying V and we head into "Do The Evolution". The crowd is one great jumping mass, not moshing, not random violence, this is moving to the spirit of the music. The audience is singing along so loudly it's hard to hear the band. It's a fantastic moment. You can't help but be carried away by it. "Animal" next was a perfect segue, continuing the intensity along.
"Red Mosquito" gives us time to take our breath; I hadn't intended to write a setlist (we were all going to take turns remembering four songs each), but it's obvious how good this show is going to be and I don't want to forget anything, so I manage to pry my notepad and a pen out of my waist pouch. Ed says, "Portugal, this is Matt Cameron" and we're off into "Corduroy;" it's nothing short of pure joy, soaring out above the crowd. Mike's running around, Ed's jumping, Jeff is bouncing around in circles; the kid next to me has a cell phone out, capturing it for a friend; and then Matt just brings this one home.
"Grievance" is another barnburner, those powerchords - "champagne breakfast for everyone" indeed. It's just perfect. We all keep screaming to each other how great it is, how good Mike is, how fantastic Matt is, could Matt Cameron be any more perfect than he is right now? There's a large monitor upended sideways blocking an otherwise perfect view of McCready; it doesn't matter, because he knows it's there and he keeps running around it, peeking beside it, playing hide-and-seek with us, laughing his ass off. Singing along, singing the words, climbing up on his monitor and falling backwards.
Ed then tells us a little story about how he got here two days ago and went off to find the surf; that he ran into a perfect stranger and "within five minutes his wetsuit was on my back and I was out in the surf," and that Matt asked a kid on the street if he could borrow his board and off they went. Ah, this explains everything; it's the Pearl Jam Surfing Cause And Effect Factor: if Ed gets to surf, the show is going to kick ass. "This song is about the simple things," and it's "Light Years," showcasing this lovely yellow and green lighting, like sunlight streaming through an afternoon window; it fits the song perfectly.
Ed picks up a wine bottle, takes a long swig and makes a face; tells us it's Oporto wine, which gets a big cheer from the crowd: it's a local beverage. We then slide into "Nothing As It Seems" which just seems to grow into its own every time I hear it live (okay. So it's been three times, and then once a recording of Vancouver. still.) The notes say it all: "Mike RULES. power. confidence. powerhouse." Ed slicks his hair back; it's not hot, but it's humid. He's hanging off the microphone, watching McCready solo with this total, intense concentration. It's just perfect.
"Given To Fly" next; the friend behind me exclaims, "I've never heard this song live!" and I remember once again that PJ didn't tour Yield over here; it's another frenetic bounce in the audience, matches the momentum of the song perfectly. "Even Flow" and where are those cue cards, he's laughing, but it doesn't matter because the crowd is just carrying the words anyway. Mike is running around, and we all scream with delight as Matt brings us to the last verse of the song. Watch for this moment this tour; I said in 98 they should never retire this one and it hasn't changed with the '00 version.
"Faithfull" is another huge singalong (okay. they all were. but this one in particular.) The audience's common voice cracks Stone up; he keeps coming to the front of the stage and listening and shaking his head and laughing, and then playing that much harder for us. In 98 this was the song we traded off "In Hiding" with and I think with the passage of time it's shown to be the stronger of the two, at least live. It works.
The melody of the next song is clearly recognizable; "Untitled" from MFC, except it's not the same words, he's going down the same road and we end up with the "I won't ever be alone" lines at the end, but it's a different story. It doesn't matter; it's still a singularly beautiful moment. "MFC" should clearly be next but the sound problems we'd heard manifest during "Faithfull" have gotten worse, and they're back there tinkering around with Matt's drumkit. Ed tells us Matt is having some problems and they're working on it, but in the meantime, do we have any questions? Some of us start yelling for "Dead Man" (until one of us says, "hey, he said questions, not requests!"); Ed goes to the front of the stage to listen. Mike is sitting on his monitor, noodling; we definitely get the "Angie" riff at least once -- I am so excited I can't even yell anything intelligible to encourage him to continue. In the meantime, Ed grabs a guitar and it's a bare-bones "Last Kiss" which was just great to hear in that context; by the end the drum problem has been fixed and Matt joins back in for a full band version.
"MFC" is indeed next; there are more lighting effects, these bright white lights that remind me of headlights. It's a little sloppy but I don't know that I'll ever have a problem hearing any version of this song. "Breakerfall" and yes, it IS a Rickenbacker, but it's Stone on the Rick and god I love this song. "Wishlist" follows, Ed loses his place but comes to the edge of the stage yet again to get his cue from the audience. He rewards us with the acapella "radio song" last verse at the end.
"Thin Air" takes us into a "Daughter" with no recognizable tag; Ed manages a melody and the crowd sings it back to him, and continues singing it, even after the song ends. This whole show has lots of singing - I can safely say I have never been in a Pearl Jam audience anywhere, ever, that sang along so loudly to everything; I mean, anyone can sing along to "Daughter" but listening to the crowd sing along to the new songs and the more obscure older songs was just the most wonderful thing.
"Evacuation" next; I was so excited I now can't read a damn thing I wrote down (that and the crowd was going nuts); Ed seems to have an easier time singing it tonight, even with it being outdoors (although I can see this being a casualty of the setlist later on in the tour). "Immortality" and Ed is once again picking up the words from the audience, laughing; Mike's over on the side, smoking away. Once again I am almost violently struck by the cohesion of this band, how much tighter they are than I have ever seen them; the jam at the end of the song is not this pulsating, meandering thing; it is focused, intense and has an overwhelming power of its own. Mike, Jeff, Ed and Stone are all gathered around Matt; Ed drops back and points to Matt as the drums bring the song to a close.
"Betterman" has a short "Save It For Later" tag; "Black" has a particularly sweet solo, and Ed finishes with "we belong together". And then out of nowhere they careen into "Go" and it's another nuclear assault. I would match this song this tour against any version of it in its prime; they are going nuts - in a controlled way, but still bringing a tremendous amount of energy and power to the song. Mike especially, he's running everywhere, he's playing the guitar behind his head, he falls over the amp, rolls onto his back, rolls over again, springs back upgright, and then works the feedback to bring the song to a close. Un-fucking-believable.
The audience is screaming & chanting, and singing the chorus of "Alive" over and over again. Ed comes out and dances along, commenting that since we sang it so well, they wouldn't have to play it. They start chanting "Eddie, Eddie" and Ed starts interjecting "sucks! sucks!" after every "Eddie" making it "Eddie!" "Sucks!" "Eddie" "Sucks!" ...which of course ended the chant very quickly. Stone's at the front of the stage again for "Last Exit"; "Jeremy" is next, and Ed's looking to the crowd once again for the lyrics; at this point he's just laughing. "Elderly Woman" is next, and then there's a short conference mid-stage and sure enough, we get "Alive". At this point I look over to the wings at Stone's side of the stage and there is Mr. Dennis Rodman, whom we knew was in town - it was all over the radio earlier and everyone fervently hoped we weren't about to have a replay of Dallas 98 here.
The band leaves the stage but it's clear they have to come back. They start walking out, everyone's onstage but Ed. Then here's Rodman, with Ed draped over his shoulder; he walks out and sets him down gently; he waves and leaves. Ed comments, "That's Dennis Rodman; this is the shortest amount of time he's been on a Pearl Jam stage," to much laughter and applause. He thanks the audience several times, opening his shirt and putting his hand on his heart; "Mike's gonna play this one out for ya..," the house lights come on, and it's a joyous, cheerful "Ledbetter". Jeff walks to our side of the stage and people are waving; he points at Mike and goes over to sit down and watch. It's a different kind of solo; it's times like this I fervently wish I was a guitar player so I could describe it better. It's just lower and calmer than it usually is, and gently brings the show to a close.
The wind is now freezing cold, and it takes us two hours to get back to the city, where I wrestle with international long distance and phone the setlist into Jean. I have to be up in three hours to get a flight to Barcelona. But what a show, what an audience, what a proper start to the European tour. The best is obviously yet to come.
copyright © 2000 Caryn Rose