The Band and the Performance
The Fastbacks opened at 8pm ... really fun, playing for approximately 40 minutes, barely pausing between songs, a la The Ramones. Kim Warnick was decked out in a spiffy silver jumpsuit. Great energy and they appeared to really enjoy their set. It seemed like years between the time The Fastbacks stopped and PJ started.
The minimalist stage was set with the familiar iron chandelier hanging from the ceiling, but the red lampshade type item was not there. A small shrine on Stone's side held two cows and miscellaneous candles. Several other tall white candles in oversized mugs and incense were lit at 9:30, and Pearl Jam opened with "Long Road," the stage totally dark, until a sparking mirrorball lowered throwing little lights all through the arena. The press, lined up in front of the stage, were snapping away with giant lenses—no flashes allowed.
The band was sporting a lot of new equipment. They probably grew to regret this later, as equipment problems cursed Ed and Stone all night.
Ed's new guitar started cutting out during "Who You Are" and he started trying to adjust settings on his new preamp. Stone, Mike and Jeff came up around Jack's drumset and played two extra stanzas waiting for Ed to return. They stopped the song rather abruptly.
After a brief pause, which Mike filled with a little "Sympathy for the Devil" riff, Ed cued everyone ("Animal") and from that point on, the setlist wasn’t used except when they were trying to decide what to play next and he would scan it to pick something new that they hadn’t played.
Blonde Mike was enjoying himself, did some nice Townshend split leg jumps and ran and pranced all over the stage, smiled but there were no outstanding solos that usually spoil us. When he grew bored during equipment change ups, he would throw out some filler riffs, ready to get on with things.
A fan jumped on stage during "Animal" and Ed greeted him with a funny little doubled handed wave, in a surfing stance, extending one hand for a handshake, and then spun him under his outstretched arm in a do-si-do manner. The fan was corralled by the stage staff, who ended up carrying him off in a rather rough manner point and upsetting Ed. Ed basically quit singing, telling the crowd to it was a shame because they were just about "... to have a dance" and he encouraged the crowd to "go ahead" and that everyone should know the words by now. When the song ended, Stone stepped up to the mic, rolled his eyes and commented smiling, "Woo!" Ed cautioned the band's stage staff to take it easy; that he could just talk to anyone who made it onstage to get them to leave, requested that the pit security keep an eye out and that the crowd take care of "their neighbors."
Another eager fan made it onstage during "Alive." Somewhat stunned when he realized he was face to face with Ed, this fan slowly sat down by Ed's mic, Ed sang to him, looking in his eyes, pointing and singing "You're still alive." The fan rolled onto his back looking overwhelmed. When he rose to his feet, he performed an arcing stage dive into the center of the crowd.
During "Not for You," Ed's D string broke. He turned to Stone saying, "You gotta do my part ... I got no string" and he quickly swapped out guitars at the end of the song.
After "Daughter," Ed's mic was swapped out and he did a funny little surf song type soundcheck (maw maw maw, like the Blues Brothers). Jeff appeared to be amused with everything that was going wrong. Rather than getting upset (his equipment was working fine), he was just laughing about it. In fact, the band only looked annoyed a couple of times ... when people threw stuff on the stage.
At the end of "Go," Mike was slamming his guitar into the stage and then wound it upward in an arc. Just before it smashed into the floor behind him, one of the techs dove beneath it saving it like a football catch, much to Mike's surprise.
Ed discussed how in a couple of hours he’d be laughing about the night's difficulties and having a beer in a somebody's kitchen ... "I'll even tell you whose kitchen," slamming into "Lukin."
Later he joked about how they had a computerized setlist designed for them by Microsoft that was supposed to tell them which songs 80% of the people wanted to hear them play that night, but that wasn't working out. Instead, they were "gonna get together after each song and choose the songs we want to play for you." The crowd went nuts. "So much for technology," he laughed.
Unlike the '95 tour, other band members didn't huddle around Jack to keep him going. Rather, Jack was right on and drummed solidly for most of the show. This must have been terribly difficult for Jack, but he ROCKED. The lighting and soundboard staff couldn't keep up due to the setlist scramble. Mike had trouble knowing what was up next because Stone and Eddie were so plagued with technical problems.
After "Alive," the band left the stage briefly, while the crowd yelled for more. At 11:15, PJ returned, Stone and Jeff pulled up stools, and they played a beautiful "Off He Goes." Stone stepped up and said, "I know you've all been waiting for this," and started "Mankind." He was marching, playing his ass off and singing, even when his guitar stopped. Scully frantically tried to swap Stone's equipment while Stone kept playing and singing and smiling, finally stopping and putting his arms in the air and continuing to sing—even doing a little "Walk Like an Egyptian" arm movement. Ed went off to Stone's side of the stage and sang backup vocals from a mic in the darkness.
It was so out of control, like everything that could go wrong did. From guitars to Ed's mic to the lighting ... the equipment problems were immense. Some bands may have said, "fuck this" and given up, cutting the show short. PJ really worked to make this show happen. In an apologetic fashion, Ed said, "Hopefully we can win our way back into your hearts" introducing "Rearviewmirror."
After a riveting "Leaving Here," PJ took another brief break. Returning, Ed asked if the crowd wanted "Around the Bend" or "Yellow Ledbetter." The Seattle crowd, not having a home show since 1993, cheered for "Yellow Ledbetter" so that was it.
There was a keyboard setup at Key Arena (near Stone) and we saw "Better Man" on the setlists as they were taped down. They never performed "Better Man" since they scrapped the setlist due to equipment failures. The way things were going, the organ probably wouldn't have worked either!
In addition to a crew member taping parts of the show using what appeared to be Ed’s super-8, we noticed two pro cameras taping. It's doubtful these tapes will ever be released—particularly given the technical problems of the evening.
Ed commented how he had seen Kiss three weeks before and they had pyrotechnics and "fire up to the fucking ceiling" and "we can't even get a fucking guitar to work." He sort of shook his head laughed and then said, "From the bottom of my heart I want to tell you how much we appreciate all the shit you go through being our fans. We'll come back and do it again in December." You can bet they will.
At 11:50, Ed picked up two items tossed onstage, saying, "I got one of these (a joint) and one of these (a bra) ... I'm going home."
After waiting on line since 11am, I found it hard to resist going to the pit to be near the band. This would be the only Pearl Jam show I would see and the allure of closeness is irresistible. My advantage and only reason I was able to stay in the pit is that my husband (Tony) is a nearly 300-pound, former football player who has been lifting weights rigorously for a long time. We also were near enough to the front of the line so we were able to snag a position on the front barrier, just in front of Stone. If we hadn't had a piece of the barrier to hang onto, we would have been whisked away in the wave of people.
The people who started off in the pit initially were fine... these were the fans who had waited on line all day hoping to get close to the band. The problem occurred when everyone mashed in, including a number of beefy males who apparently got tanked up somewhere until right before Pearl Jam came on and they decided to make the show a bummer for everyone else.
I'm really not a whiner or a wimp... I'm a relatively "older" female standing 5' 10" with some meat on my bones, but this was pretty tough. And for some reason, every "tough guy" who made his way to the front wanted to fight Tony. Even the security guys were telling him to "protect" people. (Yikes, isn't that what security is for?)
There was no control over how many people were allowed to enter the front pit area, which extended 1/4 to 1/3 back from the stage. Apparently, if you had a GA ticket, you could try to cram yourself in. The people who were smashed up against my back and sides were apologizing for crushing up against me and were freaking out because they couldn't keep their feet on the ground. My ribcage and hipbones were so crushed against the front barrier that the bruises remain a week later. I also suffered an elbow in the face and two bad head/neck kicks by crowd surfers.
There are a couple of possible solutions to the crowd/pit problem, imo...
1) No general admission. The '95 Milwaukee shows are the best I've been to, largely because most of the venue was assigned seating and the first three sections were all fan club members. No one had to wait on line; all fan club ticket holders had great seats; everyone in the front was a fan and was strictly there to see PJ; no one got kicked in the head; everyone could stand and dance and sing and it was fantastic!
Obviously some venues (like Key Arena for one) can't do all assigned seating because they have a floor area. Folding chairs won't work... people will pick them up and get smashed with them. In this case ...
2) Restrict the number of people allowed in the pit. After those who have been waiting on line get in the pit and sit down and it is full, close it off and wrist band everyone who is in. If someone has to leave to go to the bathroom or something, they are tagged and can get back in so they don't have to be separated from their friends. No one else gets in, period.
If someone crowd surfs and gets pulled out from the front, their wristband gets removed and they cannot return to the pit, period. If someone gets too wasted, fights, etc, they're out.
No one should have to have a 'bodyguard' to get close to the band. That's bullshit. (BTW, my 'bodyguard' husband told me he considered bailing out at one point as well. I can't imagine how much worse I'd be hurting today had I taken the pounding he did.)
One good note: there was no booze served at Key Arena. I hate to think what it would have been like if they were serving alcohol. New Orleans was a total slop pit because people were drinking on line, drinking before arriving, and drinking in the venue. The tarp on the stadium ground was covered with puke and water (from getting hosed down) and other unmentionables. People there were so totally wasted they had no clue what band was playing. It was really sick.
I've written letters to the Ten Club and Curtis Management, for what it's worth. I don't know that it will do any good, but I'm really concerned that this kind of stuff will continue until someone dies and then PJ will just quit touring completely.
If you are fortunate enough to see Pearl Jam during the '96 tour in a seated venue, good for you! I hope you have a super time. If not, think long and hard about venturing into the pit. You could end up spending the rest of your life in a wheelchair due to being kicked in the head/neck or dead. (This is an unpleasant vision to have floating through your mind while you're trying to enjoy a PJ show.) If you do decide to weather the pit, you won't see much unless you are at least 6 feet tall and you will be ducking feet from knocking you in the head. I could see and take photos because was up against the FRONT barrier where no one could get in front of me and Tony was protecting my back (or trying to).
I feel very badly for my friends and the fans who waited all day and weren't able to retain a spot in the front (in fact, they had to bail out even before PJ took the stage) due to asshole people and poor security (too few and too ambitious). It isn't fair. No one should have to take a beating to be near a band they love :(
Copyright © 1996 Jean Bruns