plink plink plunk. plink PLONK plunk. plink plink plink
While waiting for the Ten Club ticket line to open up, we start hearing distinctly non-opening band musical rumblings from inside the venue. Jean looks at me and says, "Soundcheck!!!" and gestures over towards the other side of the box office. "Go do your job!!!" she says, laughing. I raise my eyebrows and go for a little stroll. It's an outdoor amphitheater, I'm just trying to get away from crowd noise and fan (as in electric) noise. It's clearly roadies noodling around, not the band yet. Someone is trying to tape, so I silently sidle closer to the wrought iron fence, as though closing that extra 30 feet of distance is really going to make any kind of substantive difference. It's then I hear it.
plink plink plink plink
I crack up laughing when I realize the UKULELE gets its own little soundcheck. I give up on this fruitless task -- it's too early for any real action -- and walk back over to sit with my friends, still laughing. We ended up missing the soundcheck because we went to eat; when we return someone informs us that they soundchecked "U" and "Sonic Reducer." To be honest, at the time we thought that this was wishful thinking, a vivid imagination, or a combination of both, and keep referring to it as the 'alleged' soundcheck. We would discover out later that it was indeed most likely the real deal. But, I get ahead of myself.
It's my first show of the second leg, so much is new for me. Stone's hair, for one. :-) Anyway, after Chicago I wasn't expecting it again, but sure enough, that gentle swelling backbeat and it's "Of The Girl," setting the tone. There's McCready, nicely spotlit, newly shorn spikey hair, elegantly laid back with leather jacket and cigarette. It's more a prop than anything else I tend to think here, and his mode is utterly Keefian tonight, especially this song, the most Stones-influenced to date. I love it. It's sharp, it's sweet, it's nicely polished. They're tight.
"Hello, St. Louis," says Ed. "We're in no hurry to leave..." and they charge into "Go". Oh boy. Mike's running in circles, soloing dramatically, guitar wailing and shrieking. This charges into "Hail Hail," and any concerns I had about seeing the first show after any type of legendary show (again, see Chicago) were removed. The day off seems to have done them good and there's a great momentum at work.
"Brain of J"! I haven't heard it live this year! It's so odd, the Yield songs evoke an unexpected nostalgia for me. Haven't figured it out yet. Anyway, back to the song. It's raucous, I get goosebumps - honestly it's perfect. "The last song is about how the whole world will be different, this song is about how hard it is to change things," and sure enough, "Insignificance". I'm collecting versions of "Insignificance" like prize pumpkins, measuring one up against the other, trying to find the best one yet. Any live version of "Insignificance" is a good thing, but I have such blind faith in the potential of this song to just explode onstage, I'm just waiting for the penultimate version. It's probably a good thing I haven't heard it yet, I'm enjoying the gathering process too much. Anyway, tonight's version is a serious contender for the title. Ed's intense, although he makes a small mistake on the bridge and shakes it off; Mike is lost, his head tilted back, and then it all explodes.
"Whipping" next and now I am in utter disbelief by just how ON they are tonight. Sometimes this song can be uneven and lumbering, but tonight it's just shooting straight ahead. Mike's playing the guitar through his leg - okay this is hard to explain, he's leaning over and then doing it. Ed finishes up with this killer Townshend jump, catching major air.
Thump thump thump. It's either "Not For You" or "Light Years," and yep it was the latter. Ed takes off his jacket; he's wearing a Nader 2000 shirt under a buttondown. Mike's playing that sparkly silver Gretsch I love so much. "Thanks a lot," Ed says, swigging some tea. They then barrel into "State" and it's just freakin' pandemonium. I love this. The one thing about the 00 setlists is that you can't call them. I mean in 98 you could kind of guess and there is some random patterns going on this year but there is such an obviously conscious effort to move things around, it makes the shows even more of a delight than they usually are. Towards the end of State, Ed is going off to the side and I think he's reading a sign (there were A LOT of signs at this show, more on this later) and it takes a few seconds before I realize he's watching the sign language interpreters who are on a little platform just below the stage, over on Stone's side.
Song finishes, Ed applauding us. He then points out the interpreter to us, clearly really intrigued by the whole thing. He asks us if we don't think she should be on the stage, instead of below it, and goes over to make sure that this happens. They have a little chat and Ed comes back over and says, "This is Kim." We all applaud. Tells us that she is interpreting all their songs, what they say, this is Matt Cameron - watching her sign as he talks. [This is probably the reason there was no deviation from the setlist - they had to supply the interpreters with lyrics!] "I'm curious what the next song sounds-- I mean, looks like," and it seems only fitting that the next song in question was "Given To Fly".
Ed sings the song half watching us, but half sideways, so he can watch the interpreter. If you've never seen ASL interpretation of a concert, it's more than just someone standing there signing, they are also interpreting the beat, trying to really bring the experience of the song across. It's a really beautiful, graceful thing to watch. Anyway, he is just fascinated by the whole thing. At the end of the song, while the rest of the guys play out the ending, he goes over to Kim and does this charming little dance with her. Just unbelievably sweet.
"12345 against one," that old standby, "Animal". Mike's doing the mid-air kick splits, Ed lets us sing, on the surface it all seems great but there doesn't seem to be any real punch to it. I've been kind of underwhelmed with "Animal" lately and someone I know recently suggested that this song might need to be retired. After tonight, I have to concur. It's been such a mainstay for so long and used to be a highlight, but it doesn't seem to have the same power that it used to.
This impression probably wasn't helped by the fact that it was bookended by "Elderly Woman," which is a lovely singalong number, sure, and the lawn is an above-average display of lighters. "All the lighters... look like souls dancing in the dark," murmurs Ed at the conclusion. This is followed by "Wishlist" and it's like we've just screeched to a dead halt. Mike's back at his amps, smoking. The crowd cooperates with the 50,000 hands line, getting a big smile from Ed.
Matt starts the next one and there's a huge fucking cheer: "In My Tree". This one is admittedly a little sloppy at the beginning, but it rapidly gains momentum and solidifies big time, to the point where I'm getting goosebumps. Mike's solo just soars, Jeff's slapping his bass intensely. My notes say "pure & true" and while that may not make any sense, that's just how it felt by the end, as all four of the guys up front look to each other to bring the song to a close.
Ed hefts the wine bottle casually, takes a swig, and they careen into "Evenflow". After Chicago, I want to see Ed gets the words right myself, dammit! But it was not to be, I don't think - Jean thinks he just jams his mouth up to the mic and sings whatever comes to mind as long as it sounds right. =) I still don't care. This song just never seems to get old, tired or worn. Never. "Maybe he's seen a little better set of days," and he's pointing to himself. Matt's laughing at something, I wish I had figured out what, because he was really laughing. During the second verse, it's an Ed and Mike call and response going on, and I'm reminded about how much I am missing the Mike/Stone call and response thing that used to go on, the dueling guitars, point and counterpoint.
A kid in the front row has a MCCREADY 2000 sign. No, it's not original, but he made it about two hours before the show, after he walked away with his first row tickets and completely freaked. Mike acknowledges it, Stone's amused, while Ed is just focused and intense. Mike charges into the solo and just loses it with precision, while Jeff and Matt are just cranking it. Both Ed and Jeff launch themselves to close. It's hot, but we're still missing the pacing, the momentum that we started with.
"Daughter" time. Mike's singing along to himself. I was too close to hear dialogue really well (not that I'm complaining!!!) but Ed was deliberately changing the "shades go down" to something else and I guess I'll have to wait for the tape to find out what. Mike's at his pedals, there's some cool echo and effects going on. We're in the tag zone, and Ed's vocalizing, just singing along, seems like he's thinking hard about what to do next. He gets a great crowd response, just singing back and forth, and the last line we sing back to him, he falls backward, clearly really pleased, and it's then that he twists his ankle. He covers it well, but when he went back to his amp for a guitar he was definitely limping. Ed's a trouper; he didn't let that stop him in any way - I mean he even went to the front of the stage for "Porch," but this did affect the somewhat stalling momentum of the show.
"Betterman" (no tag) is followed by "Footsteps," and yes we did get that delicious harmonica work, although not enough for my liking. "One for each day," Ed counts out on his fingers. While I would have been thrilled to have a longer harmonica break, it was still yet another goosebump moment. (Yes, I have highly emotional, physical responses to Pearl Jam's music played live. I'm still not sure what's wrong with that.)
Nice segue into RVM, and while I'm not really expecting anything much from this song - while I have grown to appreciate it more than I used to (I'm admittedly not this huge RVM disciple, although I completely and totally understand why it has the following that it does!) I was completely and totally unprepared for what we got tonight. Astute observers have noted that the RVM jams have seemed to take on this Sonic Youth-type noise flavor to the jams (noise in the best sense of the word!) and tonight's jam absolutely exemplified this. Instead of just this pulsating shimmering mass, it was this zigging, zagging, disciplined yet experimental journey. Stone especially was really crucial to this, very atonal and exploratory. He's down at his effects rack as though he was Thurston Moore Himself. Stone's the top notes, Ed's somewhere in the middle, Mike seems to have found this drone he's grooving on. Focus then invisibly shifts to Matt; rolls, cymbal crashes, and then all of them are just kind of suspended in mid air for what seems like forever. Matt starts the beat to bring them back in and Jeff leads them all into the close. It's so hard to explain. It's so hard to put into words. This is more than just a song. This is masterful work here. This was this band showing us what they are made of, pushing the envelope of what is Pearl Jam.
How do you follow that?
They come back out for the first encore, Ed visibly limping, and he seems on the verge of a wince. Ouch. The Rickenbacker for Stone clearly indicates "Breakerfall," a great great version that I'd only wished had been earlier in the set. Jeff's rumbling, and Ed just NAILS it. Love this song.
Next, Ed starts talking about, well, we've never done this before... I am cautiously optimistic because he greatly generalizes about that sometimes (meaning, 'we've never done this before within the last few weeks so unless you're at every show it will be totally new to you') and I know he mentioned the song by name but I was too busy being alternately in disbelief and freaking out that they were actually going to play the fucking thing (hey, three years after I requested it at aro.space in 98! No, I am not saying that I had anything to do with this whatsoever, c'mon). "It's actually a Prince song," and Jean turns around so we can laugh at this together (both of us being Prince fans who take a lot of shit for it. We've always wanted Ed to do a cover of "My Name Is Prince." Can't you see it? "My name is Prince! Yeah! And I am funky!") Sure, it's kind of rough, Mike is making goofy faces and singing "U U U U" to himself, rolling his eyes, and clearly fucking up a few times or at least getting lost. But, hey, "Given To Fly" the first time I heard it with Matt was a mess too. Who cares! God, they played it!
"Do The Evolution" seems to fit in next just fine, except Ed can't shimmy, or even move much. Some guy in the third or fourth row center has a copy of Ishmael that he holds up and Ed gestures to. Without taking a breath, or giving us time to think about what might be next, "1, 2, 3, 4. What the fuck is this world/running to..." AUGH! Porch??? It's got that chunky, bluesy feel that the song seems to have permanently acquired, which seemed to originate from that Bridge 96 version. I like it. A lot. It allows them to play with passion and intensity without the manic directness of the early years. During the jam, well, he's obviously not going anywhere; he goes back to his amp and picks up that hand mirror and starts to reflect it on the audience. I turn around and this is just a fucking incredible thing to watch. He's picking out bits of audience on the lawn, people are jumping up and down and raising their arms to catch the beams of light. It was was oddly intimate for an action so largely public, like he was trying to bring those bits of audience closer to him, singling them out from the mass.
They finish, and Ed then informs the audience that the Cardinals won. The place goes apeshit. Stone yells "BULLSHIT," while Jeff is shaking his head. Ed's drinking wine and laughing. "Actually, they lost," he then shares, "Doesn't it make you feel better that you were here instead?" I don't think people in this audience necessarily agreed. He then talked about the upcoming debates with much derision (again, I was too close to really hear dialogue so this is a massive paraphrase), and then finished that speech by saying, "If you'd like to hear the truth, you might want to listen to this guy, Ralph Nader," and refers people to Ralph's web site, and "thanks for letting us mention that."
The usual introduction of Mr. Cameron, who was "killing his drum set," (has anyone else noticed that it's completely fucking impossible to get a decent photo of Matt playing?? argh!) and then before I know it they have rolled into a magical, fucking majestic version of "Parting Ways". I'm particularly watching Matt, he is using these mallets (is that what they're called? the things that look like they have cotton balls on the end of them) and just hitting the shit out of the drums, and then he's switched back to drumsticks right before my eyes, I did NOT see it happen, neither did Jean, it's like that section of "Jesus Christ Pose" where he seemed to grow another fucking arm or something because you don't understand how someone with two arms is making that noise. This is a BIG SONG. This song is just HUGE in its power and its presence and even though they're still working into it, here's another song that I do not think the studio version does ANY justice to AT ALL. I mean, this song could hold up to the arranged-by-Michael-Kamen-and-a-big-real-fucking-orchestra treatment (although I'm kind of ambivalent about actually wanting to see that happen - the point is, it could totally stand up to it).
"This next song's not called Maggot Brain," Ed says, nodding in the direction of a sign to his right (and hello to the kids from Ashland), and it's "Sonic Reducer". I don't know what it is about me and this song, there are people would would sell their grandmothers to hear this song and I have heard it so many times that I have lost count; it was the first song I ever heard PJ play live, maybe that's the deal. Anyway, there's nothing not to like about this song (except that it seems to befuddle a great portion of the audience). Stone fucks up, and he's cracking up over at Mike. It's a great moment.
Why this was paired with "Last Kiss" is beyond me; I've been taught by a friend in radio that this kind of segue would be referred to as a "train wreck" and I can't think of a more apt description for this particular duo of songs. Then it's time for Mikey to play us home, and it's a really too short YL to close. Two things about this song: one, some kids in about row 7 had a sign that said, "MANKIND PLEASE". Ed saw it and shook his head at them, sorry, pointing to Mike, we're done here. They flip it over and it says, "YOU PROMISED LAST TIME" and Ed grabs his head, he looks sooo genuinely upset, they DID promise it last time. It was utterly charming. Two, the ASL interpreter. I didn't think to look over there, but what the hell was she signing? What lyrics did they give her? To steal (with permission) from my friend Andy, "She wasn't signing the lyrics. She was signing 'I don't know what the fuck Ed is singing, and neither does he!'" (Okay, it was funny at the time. Guess you had to be there.)
It's over before we know it - honestly Mike didn't have any time to be prolific or go anywhere interesting - it kinda sounded like he was hitting the riff of "Sympathy for the Devil" but that could of course be wishful thinking on my part (freely admit all known biases here). Definitely a fine show, but it was a 7 or an 8 when we coulda had a 10, and okay I'll even spot them a point due to team injuries.
Time to get out of the parking lot and get ready for the trip to the other side of the state tomorrow.
© 2000 Caryn Rose
photos ©: Jean Bruns