Crazy week. Fly down to Shoreline on Tuesday, fly back on Wednesday; Thursday afternoon and we need to go to Portland. I will admit that the thought did cross my mind, several times, to not go to this show: October had been a hard month, I was still trying to get work done, and I had countless friends and houseguests arriving on Saturday for the Seattle shows. But Portland was "speeding distance" and there was no way I could sit home when PJ were onstage a short drive away.
Despite the fact that this show got cancelled and then rescheduled, there were a lot of tickets left and *a lot* of empty seats; they even closed off behind the stage. This surprised me. We had these really sweet hard side-of-stage seats and I'd been concerned they would be too high up; they weren't. To make things even better, people in the second row of our section never showed up, providing us with a mid-show upgrade. We were right on the side of the stage, one row up. You couldn't ask for better seats. This was one really cool & unique vantage point.
"Baba," and then they all walk out; I notice that Ed opens his notebook, and then places his setlist laying on top (it seemed to one side of it). I was fervently praying that we would get a severe rocker a la Sacto, but instead it's those hopeful, tentative chords of "Sometimes". My companion has never heard this live so I get to partake of that 'first show' rush by proxy. I further notice that Ed's abandoned those vintage Converse he wore in Europe and on this tour (they weren't Airwalks, they were Converse) in favor of Vans. (Okay. Small stupid details. So shoot me.)
I invoke the "Mandatory Grievance" theory with the next song. This is nothing short of ferocious and wakes me out of any shoe-induced reverie I might have been in. Another great point about these seats: unobstructed views of Matt Cameron. This runs straight into "Corduroy," which is adorned with much leaping about: Ed jumping, and then Jeff - "bounce bounce JUMP" my notes say. After a precise, slightly more lengthy solo than usual, Ed drops back to Matt, turns around, waits for Mike to finish, and then brings his guitar neck down like a conductor's baton, closing the song. It's a loud crowd, though kind of sedate for the most part.
By the time we reach "Go" ("Go"?? Here?! Whoa.) Stone has abandoned both his sweater and baseball cap and Ed's ditched his jacket. Mike is spinning in circles for this one before he launches into a sharp, soaring solo that brings the song to a close. "Hail Hail," next; Mike is exhaling this plume of smoke, and then "Dissident". Somewhere along the way I have lost my intense dislike for this song. I think it has to do with the fact that it's been reborn with this renewed sense of conviction.
"Good evening, Portland - good evening," Ed says. Takes a swig of wine. "Cheers! I've got some good news for you, and also have some good news. The good news is -- we made it!" he says with a snort. "Actually, no, I'll switch that: the good news is you made it! The really good news is we come to Oregon, and we play here tonight, knowing that we play in a swing state. You're all a bunch of swingers whether you know it or not. And the best news of all is that your vote counts, so that's exciting; it's great to be in a place with this kind of energy. So this song's off the last record and it's about out with the old and in with the new, it's called 'Evacuation'."
It's tonight that I finally confirm to myself that gesture of Ed's I've seen, when he looks sideways, licks one finger and points upward -- he's asking Kari to boost his vocal monitors. I would imagine that on this song, that would be kind of important. It's hard enough to sing as it is. They finish, and Matt falls backward, looking wiped. "A good way to lose your throat, singing that song. Matt Cameron wrote that song, that's Matt Cameron on drums," Ed gestures backward.
"Wishlist" is preceded by this little guitar noodling that I think is either going to be "Immortality" or something I'm not familiar with; but no, it's "Wishlist". I'm going to have to see this two more times and I've already run out of things to say about it about 10 shows ago. To amuse us, Ed closes the song by singing, "I wish I was the president/but I smoked too much crap..."
"Betterman" has a warm, rousing response from the crowd, Ed letting them sing along at the beginning. Matt just SMACKS the hell out of the drums as we go into the song, oh my god! If you weren't paying attention, this was going to wake you up. No "Save It For Later," but some other vocal improvisation from Ed - "I don't want to leave you, don't want to leave you," with a definite guitar melody going on. Then "Given To Fly". Here we are, three shows left on the tour, and Ed's voice (despite the smoking) has never sounded better. Just close my eyes and drink it all in. I'm watching him unbutton the long-sleeve shirt he wears over his t-shirt, and I think about a conversation we had on the way down: if any of us did that, we'd get it wrong. Ed does it every night, every time, and never misses, just like he folds up his t-shirt sleeves mid-show with military precision.
"State"! Bounce bounce bounce. Mike again spinning in circles, like a top. "Untitled" follows along the same lines we've heard so far this tour, and then my beloved "MFC". I'm unfortunately distracted by some freaked-out kid who runs down our aisle, pushes aside the security guard at the end, and proceeds to climb over the railing and jump down onto the floor (which was effectively backstage). It took Pete and five local security guards to subdue this kid. Pretty scary.
This cranks straight into a tight, solid "Habit," Ed focused and intense. "Speaking as a child from a town just about 5 hours north of here..." (which would be Bellingham, not Seattle, but nevermind). This is another song that has grown into more than just a straight-ahead rave with a small obligatory jam tacked onto the end, now it's borderline experimental and interesting as hell.
"That song's about coffee in the morning and beer at night... caffeine, it's a gateway drug." He continues, catching his breath: "Let's see, this one, is really one of the nicer songs on the last record, and for whatever reason we haven't played it as much as we wanted to on this tour, and since it's just ending now we're going to try to fit all this stuff in. It's just really one of the better songs written about new love, young love -- I can say that because it was written by Stone. It's called 'Thin Air'."
The random song title generator next provides us with, "This one's called 'Have a drink on me,'" and what else could it be but "Evenflow"? They reach the solo, and Mike hits it. Ed drops back to his amp and picks up his abandoned jacket, fumbles for his cigarettes, pulls one out and lights it; all the while, his foot has not stopped tapping. This is one killer solo, Mike is really going for it; Ed turns to Stone, raises an eyebrow and nods to him, like he's saying, "Damn, this is a good solo." He finally walks over to Mike and holds out his cigarette so he can take a drag on it, and then Mike looks to Matt - "Ready??" -- Matt cascades into that break (which is ALWAYS different) and then there's this double Ed & Jeff jump to bring the thing to a riotous close.
"Black," a solid, elegant "Insignificance" (one down. two more to go. dammit!) and then with Ed still holding his guitar, they launch into "Porch". I am so caught off guard by this - "Porch"? Already? - that I have to go back and count to see we are indeed at song 19. Solo, Ed grabs his wine and strolls over to the corner and hangs out. Stone and Jeff are playing together. Mike's soloing, and Ed's looking at him cross-stage; Mike looks to him kind of like he's saying, "Okay, I'm done" and then Ed comes back and starts improvising: "I remember like yesterday.... I remember the old days... I could get close to you... I felt so close to you... what happened to the old days..." And then some random vocalizing, which brings us into the last verse, good as anything you've ever heard. And they're off.
Ed comes back out alone and we are looking for that ukulele. "Thanks a lot - really." He starts pointing out the half-empty upper levels. "Who's up there?" he says, shadowing his eyes as the house lights go up a bit, and the upper levels cheer in response. "It's been kind of a long road, it is a long road, everything's a long road, but it's been kind of a long tour and to be flying over this big six inch, it looked like 6 inch thick white plush carpet above the clouds today, you know, it's beautiful, you know, we were flying so high you could almost see space. But, I mean, we were high..." he says with a grin. "But it was funny just knowing that underneath those clouds it was fucking dark, and it was exciting, because we knew we were close to home, it's great to be in the Northwest." The audience applauds enthusiastically. "So it seems like a challenge to play such a big building with such a little instrument..." he brandishes the uke proudly. "I'm not really sure, at one point, he did own Ticketmaster, but - Paul? Are you here tonight? Paul Allen?" The crowd roundly boos. "Well, this is his building, right? I mean, you'd think he'd be here, get in for free, I know he's kind of money-conscious... I mean, he's not all bad, even -- you know what Neil Young said about Richard Nixon, that "Richard Nixon has soul.'" Heather and I (who went to see Neil at the Gorge back in September) go apeshit. "Campaigner"! How fuckin' appropriate. Ed continues: "Never could figure that line out, but... maybe, he must be in a skybox if he's here. Anyway, Paul, if you're here, this song's for you. And if you're not, this song's for you."
Of course (doh, I hear you saying), this leads into none other than "Soon Forget". (All I can think is, I can't wait to hear his Bill Gates tirade when he gets to Seattle.) The audience is respectfully quiet and it's wonderful. He ends it with this great exaggerated classical bow and we applaud madly.
In "Do The Evolution" (up next) Ed tells us "They won't let me sing in the choir." "That's actually a true story, that one," he says at the end, "This one is too, this is about a real guy, and he had a name, and his name was Leatherman." "Leatherman" is fun but seems to confuse most of the crowd, and then leads into a beautiful "Nothingman". There's some improvisation going on up there, random riffs and notes. "We're just making it up," Ed shares. "Elderly Woman," and then this little jangly ending, I think it's just an extended ending, but then the hair on the back of my neck stands up straight because this is not some random jam - I mean I'm close enough to see their faces and how they're playing, I've watched them improv - this had direction, this had focus. I'm not saying it's 100% polished, completed, finished, but this had been played before, this just felt like A SONG.
This moment cascades into another stellar, expansive, *pounding* "Rearviewmirror" (with riffs from Mike at the end that sound for all the world like "Jumping Jack Flash," but it could be my imagination) and that's it. End of first encore. They come back out and Ed gives the now-traditional "History of PJ in Your Town" talk: "Well, I know we played the Satryicon a couple times... they might have been there, those two guys right there," says Ed, pointing at two guys in the second row wearing Mother Love Bone shirts, "Green River, I think, played Satryicon...one of the other places we played was this racetrack, I remember, we played with Young Neil, as we like to call him, so we're going to end the night with a Young Neil song... let's see your fingers," as Ed assumes "the doublefuck" and the band marches into "Fuckin' Up"! I remember this in 98, the 1998 Portland version of "Fuckin' Up" is still my all-time favorite, and this is pretty fuckin' good too.
And that's it! While I expected Portland to be a good, solid show, it was definitely more than a couple of notches above it. Common sense prevents me from trekking across two mountain passes to go to Boise and back, but I now wish I was going. The trips have gotten shorter and shorter, and the next time I see PJ play, it will be five minutes from my house. With this bittersweet happiness wrapped around us, we speed back up I-5 to await the homecoming.
copyright © 2000 Caryn Rose