I made it clear as soon as the tour started that the only thing I really WANTED to do this year was go see Pearl Jam. Nashville is about a two hour drive from home, so I met up with my friends in the early afternoon and the five of us set out down the road - an SUV buzzing with over-anxious energy and giddiness.
We arrived at the venue around 6PM. I was literally shaking with excitement. I just wanted to get inside and get my seat. Paranoid fears of my tickets being phoney or of missing Eddie do a solo set before Sonic Youth were crawling through my mind.
The gate security was very gentle and understanding during the strip search:). Actually it went very smoothly and there were no hassles. We were expecting the Gestapo like we had experienced two years before in St. Louis. Once inside my one purpose in life became buying t-shirts. After waiting in line behind two girls who had the innate ability to blow their cigarette smoke in such a way that it hit me directly in the face I secured my two precious shirts. If I were a rich man I would have bought a dozen of each. Instead I settled on the Insignificance shirt with bombs and pineapples and the blue east leg evolution shirt.
We headed for our seats by entering from the top of the grass section. I had been to the amphitheatre once before in '95 but didn't remember the stage being so close. We were surprised by how much smaller it was than Riverport in St. Louis. We were in section 101, 10th row, seats one and two, so I was right on the middle aisle - which meant having to deal with people going in and out all night. I had previously only experienced Pearl Jam from the lawn so actually being able to see the band was a big deal for me.
Reality still was not setting in as I sat down and looked around. I watched the crew setting things up for SY, the people gradually filtering in and noticed all the speakers - especially the big stack on the right. I had been sick and my right ear was still clogged up, so I was having a little trouble hearing properly. I hoped that the coming storm of sound wouldn't make my ear problems worse.
James Brown was being played and two drunk goons several rows behind me were carrying on and being extremely annoying. The louder of the two wore a bandana and green and white football jersey with Vedder written on the back (#42?). He danced up and down the aisles chanting "James Brown - yeah!" My friend repeatedly mentioned his heartfelt desire to remove this jackass from the realm of the living.
Nevertheless, SY took the stage to polite applause. (The goons changed their chanting to "Sonic Youth!") I had never heard anything by SY before, but figured they would be far better than the Murder City Devils ... ugh. By the end of their set I was quite impressed. Thurston (?) dedicated the first song - (Teenage Riot) - to "Ed Vedder." Later on he again addressed the crowd "This one goes out to our fan club," pointing to the two goons who were still chanting and generally making asses of themselves. Needless to say they went nuts at this recognition and just about all the seated sections could hear them. Everyone got a good laugh out of it and the goons were not heard from again for a while.
Now it was ... as I heard a random person put it ... "halftime." SY had been great but now my ear was really messed up. Time went by and the crew setup for PJ. I noticed the ukelele being brought out and set off to the side and excitedly concluded that we would get to hear "Soon Forget" in a couple of hours. I was actually caught off guard by the band's entrance. The Baba music began quietly and built up, and suddenly they were there. My five personal music gods were about to bring down thunder and lightning on a hellishly muggy August night. I had been telling my friend all day that the opener would either be "Release" (PLEASE!) or "Sometimes." I hear a very brief false start - just a couple of notes - but it's enough to tip me off. I cry "Sometimes - it's Sometimes!" to my friend and seconds later the band proves me right. The song is surreal, the entire moment is surreal. They're actually out there! I am here right now seeing this! Ed is rocking his head back and forth. It pulsates back and forth and then builds up and up and up. Then it's "Breakerfall" and I've guessed right again. The blue lights flashing all around are incredible. I know this band isn't much into stage effects and that's something I agree with - but these are just perfect. I'm probably going to have to buy some lights like that because the song just isn't the same without them anymore:) The crowd (particularly down front) is really into it - jumping up and down - but I think I'm the only person in my section singing along.
Next we get one of the two-songs-you-can-place-a-wager-on-hearing-at-every-show - "Corduroy." It's actually a very good version with a great jam at the end. Ed is abusing his guitar - just ripping away on the strings.
"God's Dice" slams into us and I fully realize that I am there - seeing PJ live! This song rocks live! Ed screws up the words, but that's okay because it seemed I was the only other person who knew them anyway. It appears that they enjoy playing this one; but that Ed isn't quite comfortable with it yet, like it needs some more ironing out.
I'm shocked to hear "Do the Evolution" so early in the set. This blows all my ideas of what would be played when and where out of the water. (Which is actually a good thing.) This song was not really one that I was hoping for, but I have no complaints. I'm amazed by Stone's solo. Ed looks like a madman hopping about on stage. "It's evolution, baby!"
Now they take a little pause. Ed says hello and then acknowledges the sweltering heat: "If it was 3 degrees hotter, you'd think it was hell." Then he adds much to the approval of the crowd " ... at least it ain't Arkansas." He teases us before breaking into the next song - "We're gonna play'em all tonight!" - and then it's "Red Mosquito." (I know he wasn't serious but part of me imagines a marathon show for the ages and I join in the hopeful, mindless cheering.) The red lighting adds with the heat to set a great atmosphere for this song. This is where Mike starts dominating. My head keeps swiveling between the big screen to my right and to where he stands oh so far away on the other side of the stage. He is absolutely mesmerizing. Throughout the show I see him playing to the crowd and make a mental note to sit on his side next time.
"Wishlist" is no big deal, but I soon warm to it. Gotta love that giant disco ball. Beforehand the crowd had started chanting "Eddie, Eddie!" I felt very frustrated and bad for Ed because I know he hates that. He warns us with a stern "Don't piss me off."
Next is the one song my friend really wanted to hear, "Elderly Woman." I look at him and he has this big blissful smile on his face. Finally people seem to know the words and are singing along.
"Untitled" is next, followed by a strong version of "MFC." I look down at my watch and am amazed that we've already heard 10 songs. I wonder if they really are going to play them all tonight.
"Given to Fly" begins (one of the greatest PJ songs of all time IMHO) and the energy level in the amphitheatre doubles. This is by far the best version of this song I've ever heard. Everyone is going nuts and the band is soooo into it. My friend - who believes that GTF is their best song ever - would later rave that this moment is the highlight of the show. He has a strong case - this is such a powerful, epic song that only soars higher live.
"Daughter" follows appeasing the number of casual fans in attendance. Especially the guy behind me who is already growling for Jeremy, Alive, and Even Flow and didn't recognize anything except Corduroy up until this point. People like him shouldn't even be allowed to buy tickets. They need to have some sort of test that you fill out or maybe make you sing along to songs that only true fans would know. Sheesh - there I go again. "You'd better stop me before I begin." End rant here.
Ed has the wine bottle out tonight, but it doesn't really look like he's drinking so much that he would be drunk. I really don't think Ed has a problem and if he did I'm sure the rest of the guys would let him know. "Even Flow" is ... well ... Even Flow. It just rocks. Plain and simple.
I see Matt get up from his drums and Stone and Jeff move off to the side. I'm perplexed and not sure what's coming next. Ed says that the next one is dedicated to a special person. The opening notes of "Present Tense" trickle forth and I'm a little disappointed. I had been hoping for a rarity or something special. But by the end my jaw is on the floor. Matt, Stone, and Jeff all come back for the full band jam and I am completely lost in the music. The studio version of this song DOES NOT DO IT JUSTICE! It had always been just a "ho-hum," average song for me. But hearing it live the song is totally different. It throbs, it flows, it pounds, it whispers ... holy crap this is mind-blowing. I most certainly DID get something special ... damn. The energy of the last song carries over into "Animal," but - damn it - am I the only freaking person in this crowd who knows the hand motions?!?! This is one of the songs I dearly wanted to hear and I count right along with Ed. "Once" rocks, but now and during Animal is when people might think Ed is drunk ... or possibly out of his mind. (But I know he's not.) He's rolling his head all around as his face contorts into odd grins. He leans on the mic stand like it's all that keeps him upright.
The guys switch up instruments (as they've been doing between pretty much every song) and it's "Of the Girl." I thought this was only an opener? Oh well, two openers for 1 show, I'll take it. I think I had built up this song live too much in my mind. It was good, but I think I might prefer the more intimate, groovier album version better.
Now comes the 2nd of the two-songs-you-can-place-a-wager-on-hearing-at-every-show - "Better Man." It makes the casual fans happy, but is generally nothing to write home about. But I just can't say enough about "Insignificance." I just HAD to hear this one! This song rocks my world on the album and it shakes the galaxy live. Immediately after the "play C3 let the song protest" line they stop, all the lights go out and the world turns black and silent - just for an eternal moment - and then everything comes back as if it had never happened. I'm going completely insane! That was the most incredible thing I've ever seen/heard/experienced at a concert! I sing along with Ed at the top of my lungs until the song is finished. Then I'm hoping for what should come next. Sure enough, it's "Rearviewmirror." It's like we're hearing the predecessor to the previous song. They're so alike, yet so different. RVM is the untamed, more raw of the two, while Insignificance is more evolved and deeper. The guys aren't quite as into this one as Insig., but the energy level is still high. I'm hoping to see an Ed/Jeff lean or any other combo, but no such luck tonight. Oh well, the song rocks to a close and the band says goodnight as they exit the stage.
20 songs for the main set! I'm ecstatic and can't wait for what the encore might bring. The wait isn't too long before they return with Ed hopping off of some of the equipment to the left of Matt's drums. They open with "Last Exit" or what my over-excited mind mistakes at first for Satan's Bed. But hey, LE ain't too bad - I've never heard it before and am glad to get it tonight.
"Go" is next and Stone is blazing, but this is where Ed seems to strain his voice. Awesome solo by Mike, killer drums by Matt. My friend and I hear the opening notes of "Jeremy" and share a disappointed glare. The crowd, of course, goes wild. Ed struggles through the song, holding his throat and asking the crowd to help him.
They pause before the next song and I'm worrying that they might have to cut the show short because of Ed's throat. Instead they bring a shirtless guy on crutches out of the audience. He is introduced as "Andy, from Cookeville, Tennessee," and he chats briefly with Ed. Then Ed says that since his voice is failing him he's going to have Andy help him with the singing. The crowd starts chanting "Andy! Andy!" Ed appears to think we're saying "Eddie" but then catches on and seems very pleased. It looks like Ed goes around and tells the guys the next song. There is some confusion and instruments are changed again with Jeff ending up on Stone's side with a 6-string and Stone on bass. After 4 or 5 false starts of "Smile" Ed laughs and says "How about instead of playing a song we just heal him?" Then he lays his hands on Andy's head like a faith healer, takes Andy's crutches, and tosses them on the stage. Everyone gets a big laugh and there's a general "good" feeling floating around the entire amphitheatre at this point. During the false starts Ed had Andy count off 1, 2, 3, 4 ... but each time Matt and Jeff wouldn't start at the same time. It was funny to see and proved that they are mere mortals after all. After all that lighthearted tom-foolery they finally got the song going. Andy sang the first verse and did a fairly decent job for one who is yanked out of the crowd. I wonder if it was me would I be able to remember the words or would my mind go blank? Ed plays the harmonica and then eventually takes over the vocals as well. Andy stands to the side looking either very euphoric and overjoyed or very intoxicated. After the song Andy is led back to his seat and the band assumes their normal positions.
"Leatherman" comes next - a very fitting song for Nashville. Once again I'm the only person in my section who knows the words and is singing along. The two poor girls in front of me had to put up with my singing all night. "Soldier of Love" follows with Ed doing some interesting little shimmies with his arms raised over his head. I'm sure if the "woo girls" had stuck around they would have been going nuts.
"Porch" closes out the first encore featuring Ed singing part of it while seated on the equipment in front of his mic stand. He gets up and walks around the stage singing an improv or tag of some sort. It had something to do with burning ... (the CC has something on this).
Finally they come back for the last time. I'm still holding out for Soon Forget or anything else. I dread hearing those opening notes of Yellow Ledbetter signaling the end of the show. However, I have a feeling that Ed's voice just won't allow the show to go much longer. The house lights come up and Ed is smiling and talking to the crowd. He reads off several signs " ... Hunger Strike - no, sorry, not tonight ... honey, that one's not even big enough to read (sign is passed closer for Ed's inspection)." We're all begging them not to stop as Mike begins "Yellow Ledbetter." The crowd accepts the inevitable and everyone is waving goodbye to the band throughout the song. I notice Jeff winking at someone in the front on my side. Suddenly, near the end of the song as Mike is finishing up, my ear pops and I could hear clearly for the first time in weeks. I couldn't believe it - I didn't need any medications or home remedies - in the end all I really needed was the sweet sweet healing power of Mr. Mike McCready and his guitar. I even recognize some Van Halen ("Dance the Night Away" I think) worked into the end by Mike. A wonderful end to a night a worth waiting for. There's a general feeling of happiness in the air even as the band leaves the stage and people begin to surge towards the exits.
All in all I had an incredible time and got to hear a lot of the songs I really wanted. The crowd was decent and the band seemed to be in good spirits. The highlights included Insignificance, Present Tense, Given to Fly, and Andy from Cookeville singing Smile with Ed. Now I have to plot and scheme to make it out to a 2nd leg show.
© 2000 thealiveguy
photos ©: Gina Gillman