More than three months after filling out my fanclub ticket request form, I was in the Adirondack mountain town of Saratoga Springs in upstate New York, a few hundred miles from home, which I hadn't seen in a week. I was with my buddy Marc, and we were exhausted from a long day (and night) of waiting for and taking buses from New York City. We had no other reason for being in Saratoga other than Pearl Jam so after spending the pre-dawn hours killing time in a Dunkin' Donuts and watching the sun rise over a really nice park (whose name I forget) we walked the mile or so to SPAC. It was the morning of August 27th and our sacrifice had paid off. We were second in line for fanclub seats.
By the time we finally had our ninth row, Stone's side tickets in hand (more than eight hours later) we had met a bunch of fans who were making our international road trip to see two shows look like a trip to the grocery store. They were all super friendly and more than willing to share their advice on how to get to more shows, and share memories and scrapbooks from past concerts.
When the gates finally opened at six, we freaked out when we saw how good our seats were. This was only our third Pearl Jam show, and for the other two, I've been much further back from the stage.
As scheduled, Sonic Youth came out at 7:30 to rock the crowd with a 6 or 7 song set accompanied by a video screen behind them which was showing black and white images of a street corner in New York city. The video really worked well with Sonic Youth's surreal sound. I enjoyed a few of their songs like Kool Thing and Bull in the Heather and the crowd was really getting into it by the end of the set. They received one of the loudest ovations I've ever heard a crowd give an opening band when they left the stage. It was a much better sight than in New York City where a disinterested crowd looked bored and shouted "You suck!" between songs.
As the lights came on and the staff started setting up the stage, the excitement was mounting. The crowd was filling in and there was definitely a tension in the air. My friend and I were discussing what we were likely to hear as an opening song. He was really hoping for Oceans. I would have liked to hear that or Release but was expecting Of the Girl. Finally, the opening strains of Baba O'Riley could be heard and the crowd erupted. A few seconds later the lights went out and the band made it's way onstage. They grabbed their instruments and the crowd was going crazy.
I was expecting to hear a gentle, peaceful song to open the set, but no... Breakerfall! I've never seen them open with a fast one before, and it worked amazingly. Ed shouting into the mic, Mike and Stone pumping out the tune, with Mike playing and pointing into the crowd and grinning like a kid in a candy store, Matt pounding away on his kit and Jeff leaping HIGH into the air on the last note.
There was no pause between songs as they went from one loud rocker to the next. Whipping, Spin the Black Circle, Hail Hail and Corduroy followed and the crowd was going nuts, bouncing up and down and singing at the top of their lungs. It was clear that the band was on tonight. There was no sloppiness (not there usually is) and the whole band was really jumping around on stage. Jeff looked to be in a particularly energetic mood.
By the time they slowed things down with In My Tree (a song I never though sounded as good without Jack until last night) I was dazed and in a trance. It was a warm night, but I had shivers down my spine throughout that whole song. Matt's really taking this song over as his own, and taking it to whole new levels that I didn't think would be possible after hearing it on a few bootlegs from ‘98.
Before Light Years, Ed dedicated the song to the inventor of the lava lamp, who had just passed away. He made a rambling, mumbling, confusing comparison of the lava lamp to a circle of life before cutting himself off with a laugh and leading the band into the song.
Ed preceded Wishlist by talking about some really intelligent Apes that they had met who could communicate with humans. He then said how he wrote this song because it was so easy that a chimp could play it. After botching the lyrics (for the second time in as many shows I'd seen this summer), Ed joked at the end of the song how maybe an ape could play it, but he still couldn't sing it. :)
I won't go through the whole set, but it was unbelievable. The band kept the energy level high, and the highlight of the first set for me had to be the last two songs, Insignificance and Rearviewmirror. Insignificance is by far my favourite song off Binaural and one of my favourite songs ever. The band really came together during this song, pausing at the exact same instant, teasing the crowd for a second in the darkness and then racing through the rest of the song, never missing a beat.
The best performance of the night came during Rearviewmirror. During the bridge of the song, the band calmed things down until it was only Matt pounding away on the bass drum and Ed, Mike and Stone keeping the riff and picking away in a very extended jam... then slowly, Jeff comes back in and then, the band picks up momentum as Jeff's bass gets louder and louder and louder and then the band just explodes as Ed and 30,000 devoted fans screamed the words "SAW THINGS" at the top of their lungs. The band extended the ending as Matt was going insane on the drums and slowly, with his back to the audience, Ed raised his right hand high over his head and then brought it thundering down in a series of Townshend-esque windmills with Matt punctuating every downstroke with a cymbal crash. The windmills got faster and faster until Ed's arm was a blur and finally the band unleashed the last chord with the crowd going absolutely insane and this time it was Ed who leapt high into the air as Matt brought down his drumsticks for one last cymbal crash. What a way to end the first set!
After yelling ourselves hoarse for a few minutes they came back onstage and soothed the crowd with Sleight of Hand, with the stage bathed in blue light. Then Ed proceeded to tell us how he and Matt were both wearing the same shirts that they wore the last time they were in Saratoga in ‘92 (note: either Ed has the memory of a god or he was pulling our legs. This fan suspects the latter :) and that evolution is a slow process... This of course leads into a blistering version of DTE, with Stone really shining, stepping to the front of the stage to deliver his solo.
Then we got a real treat, as the band played a thundering version of Once, the song that made me fall in love with Pearl Jam the first time I heard Ten back in the seventh grade. The end of the song had the whole crowd singing with Ed, punctuating every shout of "once" with fists raised and index fingers pointing towards the roof, or sky for those on the lawn.
Another great moment came during Elderly Woman when the crowd drowned out Ed's voice during the "I just want to scream ‘HELLO'!" line and the house lights came on for a split second. Ed took a step back and grinned his approval at the audience before continuing the song. Porch ended the encore with Ed climbing up on the barricade during the bridge, clutching and shaking hands with fans, and nearly getting pulled into the throng. He made his way back on stage to deliver the last verse and was swinging the mic in a wide circle before catching it perfectly on the last note to end the encore.
Ed came back alone a minute later and pulled out his "who-kelele" and played Soon Forget for us but had to stop halfway through the song to complain that people were messing him up by clapping off beat. Much laughter and cheering ensued before he explained that he appreciates the support but that it's important to keep a beat. I was laughing my ass off when he finally started playing again (picking up from the second half of the song) and this time everyone was clapping along, doing a better (but not great) job keeping time with Ed jerking his head comically on every clap.
The rest of the band re-emerged and Mike took the spotlight for the last two songs delivering blistering solos during Black and Yellow Ledbetter. Yellow Ledbetter was played with the house lights on and the when the band finished the last chorus, they walked offstage with the exception of Mike who continued to play for another few minutes with the crowd noise reaching insane volumes.
Finally, the amazing night came to an end but you could still feel the energy in the air. I can still feel it almost 24 hours and 200 miles of highway on a Greyhound bus later. As I type this back home in Montreal, I just want to thank the other fans who were at this show. People from NYC think that they are the best audience in the world, but they are NOTHING compared with Saratogans. The crowd at Jones Beach was dead. You guys rocked.
If you're reading this, and you have a chance to see Pearl Jam play this fall, GO! Get tickets now! Trade, make friends with scalpers/fan club members/people with tickets... Offer to walk Mike's dog in exchange for a pair of seats in Seattle. Do whatever it takes, but figure out a way to see the band play this tour. You will not regret it.
© 2000 Paul Glass