Through a combination of luck and wit and stealth and timing and generosity, I find myself third row DEAD CENTER for Groundwork 2001, along with my friend who we'll refer to as West Seattle Babe (WSB for short). Unconfirmed rumor had flown around since last Thursday that PJ were now supposedly closing this show, but we could never confirm it so we never reported it. It made sense, but we really didn't know. So after Alanis we walk down to the floor and are in that idle pre-show unfocused chit chat mode, talking with everyone who picked up released tickets today at 5pm in rows 12 and 13, and then we see activity onstage: what crew is it? Do we recognize these people? Whose kit is that? And then we see those gold bat wings and we know, and again, the aforementioned luck and stealth and timing and we are third row center. It's a little too good to be true.
As of that afternoon, we had also heard the slightly more confirmed rumor about Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan performing, and when the stage was set up with tabla and tapestries and floor cushions in front of the Pearl Jam setup, we knew that was next. This situation was greeted by much happy buzzing in the PJ contingent that we were going to get "The Face of Love" right here tonight. Unfortunately not, but we did get a very stylish Ed (blue shirt, tan pants, and a bluish plaid suit jacket, none of which anyone has seen before.... amazing) giving a very heartfelt introduction to Rahat and his ensemble, mentioning that anyone who would fly to the U.S. from Pakistan right now was pretty brave. They performed to an enthusiastic and attentive crowd for about half an hour, and left the stage to warm and sincere applause. They were clearly touched and I wish all PJ audiences would be so respectful to opening bands.
Now it's time! People everywhere are bouncing up and down in anticipation of the band we are all here to see. We all gleefully watch Pearl Jam crew race around and set everything up, Stone and Mike with new amp setups, even -- it's going to happen, any minute now, any minute now, why does this seem like the longest set changeover ever and then some other microphones are set up in the area between Ed and Stone and now the buzzing starts to be "Long Road" maybe? Maybe it will be "The Face of Love" after all! But no. Instead, we get -- Artis the Spoonman. I'm sorry, but the only time I want to see Artis the Spoonman onstage is if Kim Thayil, Chris Cornell, Ben Shepherd and Matt Cameron are up there with him. It was just so freaking anti-climactic to give us 15 minutes of Artis when the crowd is so clearly straining and nervous for Pearl Jam already, and those are 15 minutes that would have been better off given to PJ.
Finally it's over and the microphones are removed -- to our relief Gwyneth Paltrow did not come out at all to read another prepared introduction -- and at 9:55 on the dot, our boys come out onstage. We'd heard the soundcheck, but know from the first night of Bridge that one cannot take a Pearl Jam soundcheck these days for any kind of barometer as to what's going to happen come showtime. However, tonight we needn't have worried. Ed with guitar, is it going to be "Long Road" again (which would have been fine but we were all really ready to RAWK OUT in the worst possible way, after two nights of wonderful but sedate acoustic goodness)? But no, instead, here we go again, at first just Ed and guitar:"I'm sick and tired of hearing thingsWe're all screaming the words along with him now, after two days of not being able to talk above a whisper...and then the rest of the guys forcefully kick in as one unit, the music matching the venom in Ed's voice, here we go, the electric version of this song that was already pretty fucking powerful acoustically but the added energy & power turns Ed's vehemence up about four notches (when it was already pretty high up on the scale). He is spitting out the words with conviction and precision and does not trip once on a lyric. Not once. Matt's face is intent, Jeff is also looking down intently, and Stone -- Stone is hopping around that stage, rocking out, clearly feeling the funk this evening. And when Stone Gossard is feeling it, shaking his hair around (he's got the longest hair in the band now, and was the clear winner in the equal opportunity "Which Member of Pearl Jam Is the Hottest Right Now" poll held at Shoreline this weekend) it's always a good night onstage. Little did we know what that was going to mean.
from uptight-short sighted - narrow minded hypocrites,
All I want is the truth,
Just gimme some truth,
I've had enough of reading things
by neurotic psychotic pig-headed politicians...
All I want is the truth,
Just gimme some truth,"
Just when we'd recovered from that, everyone gleefully hopping around and smiling at finally getting to rock out, fans AND band, they charge into "Have a drink, they're buying..." "Grievance," and finally, a weekend full of pent up Pearl Jam energy comes out and it is pogo city in third row center, in sections 128 and 127 and rows 11, 12 and 13, and all the other pockets of Bridge travellers and other lunatics who were just ready to kick it tonight along with Mr. Gossard's band. I know I could not breathe when it was finished and my notes under that song say "better than sex". While that's stretching the truth just a little, there was something to be said about finally being able to jump up and down and just go insane after two nights of standing in one place and swaying gently. The bruises on my legs and the blisters on my feet today speak happy volumes. I don't have to worry about embarrassing anyone but myself tonight if I act like a stupid fangirl, so I do. West Seattle Babe is just as bad as I am so we're quite the matched set.
But wait, there's more: "Insignificance" starts and I cannot believe it. Think about it. "Gimme Some Truth, "Grievance" and "Insignificance". Talk about your motherfucking trilogies. Someone said after September 11th that they didn't think we'd ever hear "Grievance" ever again, and I hoped to hell that would not be true and equally believed that that would never happen. Ed, you do not need to ever talk again to make a point politically. After Saturday Bridge, I made the observation that Neil Young conveyed a very pointed and specific political message without needing to say one fucking word, just by his choice of songs, and it was even more effective and compelling by the fact that he didn't speak, that he just played. I think PJ must have paid attention to that, because they managed to pull off the same thing tonight on this stage, with the same level of intensity and conviction that Neil did during Bridge.
"Insignificance". Still my holy grail from Binaural. Time has done nothing to change that for me - if anything, time has reinforced my rating of it within the PJ canon, and September 11 turned it into my theme song to the point where I'm ready to get PLAY C3 as my vanity plates. "Play C3 - let the song protest." That is precisely what Pearl Jam did onstage here tonight. They didn't talk, they didn't go off on long-winded rants against rich people, Republicans or those nasty dotcommers who work with that bad, evil technology, they let their song protest (and, well, John Lennon's too) and that was ALL they ever needed to do. It made their point more convincingly than they would have by trying to talk about it.
And this is only at song 3. We still have a little ways to go.
Oh, back to "Insignificance". Before the band walked out onstage, I saw the ebow clipped to Ed's mic stand and there was much rolling of the eyes and sighing over the thought of "Wishlist" being in this setlist. But we were wrong. The ebow wasn't for "Wishlist," it was for Ed to use during the "Insignificance" bridge, which turned into the same kind of intense Sonic Youth-inspired noisefest that RVM was on the latter half of the 2000 tour, only this was sharper, quicker, harder and more focused. Ed breaks a string and has to switch guitars mid song, which he manages to do and only loses about half a second, Mike hits the first mid air leap, and Stoney is shaking his hair like he's one of the fucking Beatles in A Hard Days' Night.
Ed calls an audible and now the people in the crowd who don't own Binaural have their time to rock out with "Given To Fly," and we're wishing we'd thought to bring something to drink down there with us (Key Arena security was ridiculously lax, despite stern warnings about increased security checks - all they cared about was me not being able to bring in a bottle of water) because GTF still doesn't give us any time to catch our breath. It's nice that a Yield song can get this kind of crowd reaction, the audience is loud and singing along and the band are clearly getting off on the energy. Mike is jumping up and down, Jeff's hitting the bass and lurching forward with every note, Stoney is still marching and swaying, walking in place, going in circles, making the faces, mouthing the chords this is like vintage classic Stone here, we are just standing with our mouths agape at it, I am using more film on Stone than on any other member of the band.
Then, finally, respite. "Light Years". The other song that I thought of more than any other PJ song besides "Insignificance" over the past month. "No time to be void/or save up on life/you got to spend it all..." People were complaining about "Light Years" being in this place in the set or being present at all, but I argue they were not looking at the context. There is tons of Ed/Stone interaction tonight, but during this song especially, and Stone is even MORE animated. Changing film yet again!
Ed now begins to talk about how great it is to be here, and how great it is to see other kinds of music, music that's been around for 700 years, and rock and roll's only been around for, what, 55 years? "I think…that's how old Mick Jagger is." Actually, Ed, he's closer to 60, and as I yelled out at that moment, "HOW OLD IS PETE????"
"Nothing As It Seems," which is proving itself to be MVP of the weekend, tonight featuring the scorcher of all opening solos. Not only do I think that Ed's guitar playing has improved over the past year, Mike McCready has also gotten better, if that doesn't sound stupid or presumptous on my part to say so. Mike is just going nuts on the solo breaks, eyes closed, head back, arching back and then quickly snapping forward down towards the pedal board - my notes say "constructed ecstacy" and while it was pure stream of consciousness at the time, I like that. It's a good description of what was going on. Momentum killer? Hardly. NAIS was as strong and compelling a performance as its predecesors in the set, it just wasn't straight ahead rocking out.
Yet another audible. New song #2, or as we know now, "I Am Mine". I think I liked it better acoustically, there seemed to be more of a dynamic, more intricacies that are missing with the full electric punch. It seemed flatter with electric, although I'd need to hear it again in order to really give you a more solid opinion other people thought the acoustic version was flat. I still like it and will look forward to hearing it again sometime SOON. When it finished, we started yelling "PLAY MIKE'S NEW SONG!" We did that a couple of times last night, but it didn't work. (I really wanted to hear his new song electrified. I hear "Sweet Virginia" all over that thing.)
Strum, strum. Please god let this not be what is now known as "we wrote this song behind those hills over there..." (wait for the Bridge reviews...) but it's "Betterman," and so I sit down briefly. A friend one row behind us and over sees this and laughs at me and shakes her head, while someone directly behind me with whom I am not acquainted does not understand why I am sitting down. "Betterman" in 2000 was the universal diehard fan run out for water or the bathroom or to buy posters song (not for me, I still can't run out of the middle of a Pearl Jam show for any reason), but if you had to hear "Betterman," this was an excellent, spirited version and the crowd of course loved it, and I got back on my feet within 30 seconds. To make the same joke for the third time in three days (hey, if Michael Stipe can do it, so can I), it's "The One I Love" of Pearl Jam. Apparently there was some chanting of "get laid, get fucked" (again, you'll have to wait for the Bridge reviews) during this song over in the 11th row, but I cannot confirm that personally...
Ed hits that last note for all he's worth, just letting it soar, and then dives into one of those improvised moments we all became familiar with at the end of the 2000 tour: "This is one of those times... Please be mine..." and then if you were listening at all to the tags of the end of the tour last year, you knew what was next: "DON'T LET ME DOWNnnnnnnnnnnnnn," sung with intensity and abandon, and despite myself I am screaming that last line with him at the top of my lungs, we are all screaming it with him, one of those great moments where the band and the crowd bridge that gap between them and the feeling is communal, even if only for a brief second.
The chords to the next song and we look at each other in disbelief HOLY SHIT! The crowd cheers LOUDLY as it's DTE, totally unexpected and wonderfully timed and ironic and completely fitting with what appears to be the dominating theme of this set, and the entire arena is going nuts. It's reminding me of the Seattle II '00 crowd all over again: on the floor, on the sides, all the way up in the back of the 200 section, everyone is doing the evolution and singing and screaming and it's just wonderful. West Seattle Babe and I are doing the frug wildly on the break until we fell over because we were laughing so hard. It was at this moment during which I realized that PJ had, indeed, blown R.E.M. off the stage. There was no way R.E.M. were going to be able to top this moment and this energy right now. It is INSANE, the solos are perfect, the guys are all rocking out, Matt's face is just full of intense concentration and Ed is honed in razor sharp on the delivery of the words.
More discussion, is it an audible? "Long Road". Now? I have to say I was totally puzzled by this. Energetically it did not fit, and the guys did not seem focused on the song and it started out pretty sloppy as a result. This made no sense to me right now, the only thing I could think of was maybe they were trying to be nice to R.E.M. by bringing the crowd back down a little. Ed's looking left and right, from Mike to Stone, like's he's trying to conduct it, bring it back together: hey, guys, are we playing the same song? And then Ed looks to stage left and there is Rahat Khan. Suddenly it all makes sense. Ed cedes the spotlight to him and moves over towards Stone. Rahat bows to Ed, one hand on his heart, bows to Jeff and the rest of the guys, and begins to sing, and we are transfixed and transported somewhere else. West Seattle Babe standing there with her camera in hand, utterly unable to move. I am frozen in place but then I focus and go into autopilot, where I manage to take photos without realizing that I am doing so, without losing the feeling of this unbelievable moment. Incredible. Just incredible. This is the second time I am lucky enough to see a Pearl Jam song transformed beyond rock and roll into something other. Rahat hands over to Ed and Ed picks up his chant and begins to sing, and they sing together, and at the end the two meet in the center for this incredibly intense hug... and then it's over.
I just want to sit there very quietly for a few minutes and let this sink in and not have to hear anything or talk to anyone. People keep coming over and hugging us and there is much shaking of heads and more than a few faces full of tears and a universal feeling of disbelief. It was a moment of musical intensity and political statement and great art and total rock and roll combined into one moment, combined and created by the five men who we call Pearl Jam. It was a moment and it was magic.
I could not pass up the idea of third row center seats for R.E.M., since they are the only band I have seen more than I have seen Pearl Jam. I was hoping that the electric version might convert me back, just a little. I enjoyed the first day's Bridge set so I was hopeful. They walk out and Peter Buck has mandolin in hand, and I say to WSB, "They're going to *start* with "Losing My Religion"?" to which she replied, "How else are they going to be able to beat PJ?" Too true. And it was fun and entertaining but it wasn't Pearl Jam, they didn't even come close, and that version of "Betterman" both amused and pissed us all off (but at the time we just laughed really hard). But as Michael Stipe said, "We're R.E.M.; this is what we do." And they did what they do fairly well. There were interesting moments. There were nostalgic moments. I remember with great fondness literally hundreds of various R.E.M. shows and memories and moments, and my predilection towards guitar players who are intelligent, articulate, well-read and sarcastic. I take a bunch of photos of Peter Buck for a friend who apparently still has that crush. (No names!)
The end of their set, and they go to play something from Reveal or Up that involves lots of acoustic guitar and noodling on synthesizers, and I am suddenly very, very tired. Every time Peter picks up the Rickenbacker I am silently praying, surprise me. Play something that's going to knock my socks off. Play something old -- "Chestnut!" as Michael used to announce back when they only had four albums and they'd play something from the early days. Christ, play "West of the Fields" right now and I'd be happy (that song being my least favorite ever). I am half asleep. I have my jacket on; I am ready to go. But then they start "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" and I can't help it, it's 1985 again, and I take off my jacket and I'm going to dance around like a silly girl and have some fun.
And then: "I believe everything we dream..." sings Michael. I look at West Seattle Babe with my eyes wide open and scream back, "Will come to pass through our union..." Friends who were sitting sidestage said it was like watching a wind-up toy come back to life, seeing me start going crazy again as R.E.M. go into Patti Smith's "People Have the Power". I have loved Patti Smith long before either R.E.M. or Pearl Jam existed. When I heard that this song was on the setlist of the secret R.E.M. pre-Bridge show they played in Athens, I have to admit, I was bummed. Okay, I was pissed, and my reaction at the time was, fuck R.E.M., can't they pick another Patti song? (Which was petty and unfair, but there you go.) But right now it seemed right, it seemed proper, it felt good, and I having the time of my life, and R.E.M. are totally into it. I'm in this total Patti Smith euphoria and somehow I fail to notice Ed running out behind the R.E.M. drum kit from stage left, to the microphone on the other side of the stage. It took me at least a minute to see him there and then I go fucking NUTS, WSB saying "I thought you saw him!" and I am diving for the camera and realizing I only have two shots left on this roll of film, I wasn't taking photos any more, and then finding another roll of film SOMEHOW (I swear that wasn't in there before PJ started, I always put all the film I have in one pocket) and then it's the quickest film change in history, and before I really consciously know what I'm doing, I'm climbing onto a chair in the second row so I can get photos of Ed being Michael, Ed with the hat, Ed and Michael hugging, I am still singing and screaming and having just the greatest time. I haven't stood on a chair at an arena show since 1985.
"I believe everything we dream
can come to pass through our union
We can turn the world around
We can turn the world's revolution
People Have The Power
People Have The Power
To wrestle the world from fools
it's decreed the people rule
it's decreed the people rule.."
And then R.E.M. go back into "It's the End of the World..." and Ed stays up there dancing and singing along, I was too caught up in the moment to be taking notes or thinking or analyzing too hard at that moment. It was a great, great ending, and it was too bad the arena was only half full and tons of PJ fans had left to catch planes, sleep, or just got tired and left.
It's midnight now and we make our way out of the arena. The travellers who didn't bail after PJ and didn't bail halfway through the R.E.M. set are all out near the Sonics store, and we are tired and cold and hungry but giddy and jubilant and happy and sad and glad, and I find myself launching into a version of "Mony Mony" with Shannon and Kathy, everyone screaming "come on motherfuckers, get laid, get fucked" (again, it's a Bridge thing. Sorry I did this backwards) until we collapsed into giggles.
This is our band. This is what we do. We are goofy Pearl Jam fans and we're proud of it, dammit. We love them and we get mad at them and they make us happy and they piss us off, but they are our band and we wouldn't have it any other way. Tonight was one of those moments where we are reminded why.
© 2001 Caryn Rose