review & photos by Brett Habel
"What a week, that's all I got to say ... what a week in Sydney" - Ed
Thursday 5th March, 1998
".... up soon we have Pearl Jam live from Melbourne Park", was the announcement made by Jane Gazzo, host of Triple J's nighttime show. I had my hi-fi tuned in and ready to go, continually checking my DAT walkman making sure everything was online and ready to go in order to get a good recording.
I am still coming to grips with the fact that Pearl Jam will be here next week, only four days now until Pearl Jam hit Sydney and here I am sitting in front of my stereo awaiting the cross over to Melbourne park glad to be getting a sneak preview of next weeks shows.
It's 9pm and we cross over to Melbourne park, I am sure many of you know how it goes from here, with thanks to JJJ the concert was broadcast not only around Australia, but also around the world through the wonders of the internet.
Boy, what a show it was, amazing stuff! My tape of this show became permanently attached to the insides of my walkman over the next four days, listening in awe at how good the guys sounded, Ed's voice was amazing and well Mike, how good can he get? And of course, Stone, Jeff, Stone and Jack.... superb, what a great show!
As the next few days drew to a close, I counted down the hours, 48.... 24....12....
Monday 9th March, 1998 6:00am
"beep, beep, beep" my alarms awakes me at 6am, I am usually fairly reluctant to get myself out of bed at this time most days, however today I JUMPED out of bed knowing that I was only a few small hours away from experiencing Pearl Jam and tonight I was lucky enough to have floor tickets.
After going through the usual routine, shower, change, eat, watch a bit of TV, I pack my bag for the usual Monday outing to tech. (I think you Americans call it college). Today I am wearing my favourite Pearl Jam t-shirt, one of the no code styles which even though its only fairly new it just looks good!
I left the house and plugged my headphones firmly into my ears, and started the short walk to the train station with the '96 Bridge Benefit rolling away in my walkman. I couldn't help but sing aloud, luckily there weren't that many people around at this time of the morning but I wouldn't have cared even if there were, this is Pearl Jam week! Pearl Jam have hit Sydney!
I get my usual 7:04am train and with Ed now singing his heart out with Black, I close my eyes and imagine that I am there.
Well it's almost time, only seven hours until Pearl Jam hit the stage, I have ditched my last lecture for the day, I couldn't concentrate anyway, and am now sitting outside of door 1 talking to a few fellow pearl jam fans about a lot of things, their two-day camping trip outside of Tickettek in Sydney waiting for the tickets to go on sale, possible setlists for tonight, songs we want to hear, songs we don't, and just about anything to do with Pearl Jam!
We notice the members of Shudder To Think arrive in their Toyota Tarago, with most of us are still wondering just what they are like, I had read the reviews of the N.Z. shows, and those reviews weren't too crash hot in their admiration of StT. Oh well I'll just have to see for myself.
Ahhh... the dulcet tones of Ed's voice escape the insulation of the Entertainment Centre and the rumours are now confirmed; Pearl Jam are doing their soundcheck at 3:30pm. We then race around the back of the building onto a walkway which gives us great sound because a few of the roadies have left the back door open, and boy, what a soundcheck it was -- some great stuff -- (you can check the setlist out at the 5h concert chronology) including what we hoped would be a preview for tonight, with Dead Man being played! We stay there for the duration of the soundcheck and it brings my expectations to a boil, I can't wait anymore, I want Pearl Jam now!
The soundcheck finishes and we head back over to the front of the Centre and notice that the crowd has grown quite a bit now and a few of my mates have arrived and I share with them the knowledge I have gained from listening to the soundcheck, "Pearl Jam sound f^%$&ng great we're in for a hell of a show guys!"
We notice that the merchandise tent is being set up and I discovered when I arrived that I was not the only one who had noticed, there must have been close to 100 people lining up, however after hearing of the quick sell-outs of shirts in Melbourne, I decided to line up and grab mine before they run out.
I stuff my shirts into my bag, along with a few stickers and a very cool Sydney poster and do a quick walk over to door 5, saying "hi" to a few people I know on the way, I grab my spot not too far from where they are going to open the door (I am sure all of you know that when you have a floor ticket it's first in best position) and sit there awaiting the opening of the outside doors, which is scheduled at 6:15pm.
Finally.... after sitting in the same spot for a few hours I began to get cramps in my legs (or maybe it was just the sheer excitement running through my body) and was glad to be finally entering the building. The security people placed signs at the door which read amongst other things "no cameras or audio/video recorders." Pearl Jam should really inform the venue of their policy beforehand.
However my joy was short-lived as we were instructed to again sit and wait. Time ticked by and the guys and girls sitting outside door 5 were getting anxious (as we all were) and we all couldn't contain the excitement, we broke out into song and started singing "Jeremy" ahhh.... it didn't sound half bad either, it was quite a special moment.
YES!!! it's time (well almost) and we all stand up as one and cement our position in the line to the door, we enter and our walk turns into a sprint (we were told before we entered to walk slowly, but hey, this was position we were talking about!) to our places on the floor and waited....
The lights went out and Shudder to Think took the stage. They weren't the greatest thing I had ever heard however halfway through there set the singer dedicated the next song to Ed, I immediately recognised it as the improv at the end of Daughter which they played the other night during the Melbourne radio show, "where'd mom go?" not a bad song actually.
As 9pm grew ever closer the building filled like an exponential curve, in the last 15 minutes the building went from being less than half full to being packed to the rafters, amazing really.
Looks like a good crowd in tonight, with the Mexican wave going around the building and through the pit, a great site, the crowd (like myself) are overjoyed with expectation.
Then Jack's unmistakable drum solo, The Colour Red, comes over the PA system and we know its not far way now. YEEEEEAAAAHHH, HERE WE GO!
The pit was getting tight, then all of a sudden PEARL JAM WALKED ON STAGE!, and the noise generated by the crowd was the loudest thing I had ever heard, it was great, great to be there, great to see Ed and the boys so close to me.. ahhhh ...
They opened with Long Road, with the pit slowly moving from side to side it was easy to see that everyone was just pleased to be here tonight. The guys sounded great and, gee, Ed's voice sounded absolutely amazing!
Then the unmistakable intro to Hail, Hail then pounds over the PA.... and I put my camera in my pocket and my notepad in the other and hang on for dear life.
"... hail, hail the lucky ones, I refer to those in front ..."
Not content with blowing us away with a super-sonic version of Hail, Hail, Mike starts playing the chords of the power packed Brain of J, and I am overcome with sheer joy, joy not only to see the guys live for only the second in my life and first time in three years, but also to hear them. Shit, they sounded fantastic! Anyone who says that Pearl Jam are not a good live band are kidding themselves. I don't care if you like their music or not; live, they ROCK!
Phew, after only 7 or 8 minutes in the pit, myself and all around me are sweating and grasping for the cool air which sits above us... ahh... what a feeling!
This next song is the one which really convinced me that Pearl Jam were getting the crowd into a frenzy, and how good they are at it. Do The Evolution was next up, and I must say Pearl Jam certainly looked a lot happier than when they were out here in '95. Ed was doing the jig and dancing around in his own style, Stone, well we all know Stone he was marching on the spot and rocking his head up and down, Mike... magnificent, and Jack great stuff.
" ... the first mammal to wear pants .."
I was really feeling the pressure of being in the pit at this point, but let me tell you this, it WAS worth it -- a magnificent experience to be in the pit during a pearl jam concert. I was having a really hard time writing up the setlist and taking photos (and this can be seen in the photos I have provided for this concert, sorry!)
Jack brought us into the next song, and this one would have to be very close to my favourite on Yield, Faithfull. Anyone who has heard this song live would agree with me without a doubt that live, this song is simply breathtaking -- it really was. The LP version sounds pale in comparison (and the LP is really good, don't get me wrong). I don't know what it was about it but as soon as head hit the chorus with......
"it echoes, nobody hears, it goes, it goes, it goes"
" we're faithfull, we all believe, we all believe it"
I really felt I was in heaven, it's hard to explain the feeling but anyone who has been to a Pearl Jam concert will know what I am talking about; I was in the zone.
Next up the guys led us into Corduroy with a jam, which was a fairly slow number, I think that maybe it was to allow the crowd to settle down, because the crowd was really fired-up tonight. I was always expecting to hear this song so it came as no surprise. It is a stalwart and one of the classics.
At the end of Corduroy, I went to my pocket and pulled out my notepad (which is a hard task when your in the middle of a pit;)) only to discover my pen had kicked the bucket and decided not to work, "shit, there goes the setlist" I thought to myself, but I didn't care that much because hey, Pearl Jam were about 10 metres in front of me and I was there to enjoy the concert so I tossed the pen and rocked on!
I am not sure of the rest of the setlist (I will be able to confirm it when I receive a copy of the tape hopefully next week and I'll send it over to 5h) however there were some great moments, including......
Given to Fly, this song is just a classic, just no other way to describe it, its up there with alive, even flow and indifference. Mike was on fire tonight and on this song I am sure I saw smoke coming for this strings, shit this guys good.
Daughter, I am ALWAYS glad to hear this song not only because it's one of my favourites but also because there is always that excitement in waiting to find out what the improv will be and tonight I almost blacked out because it was none other than "Another Brick in the Wall" again, amazing... I just stood there not knowing or caring where I was, listening and experiencing the moment.... ahhh....
Dead Man, YEEESSS! Dead Man, I feel in love with this song ever since I first heard when I grabbed a copy of the "Off He Goes" single, and let me tell you a little something about the setting, all stage lights out except for two spotlights, one on Jeff who was playing his violin-type instrument and the other on Ed, and they were both sitting down on chairs. Now I am not kidding when I say this, but during this song Ed's voice sounded the best I had EVER heard it (and I have listened to a few boots ;)) it was simply.. aghh.. simply fantastically-superbly- awesome; it sent shivers down my spine.
The encore consisted of something very, very special, a little something for Jeff's birthday. Ed held up a banner from the pit which read, "Happy Birthday Jeff" and asked us all to join him in wishing Jeff a happy birthday even though it wasn't until tomorrow. Ed told us "hey, I'm willing to stay here until midnight" which was given a roaring response from the crowd. One of the roadies then walked on the stage holding a birthday cake as Jeff sat in Ed's stool in the middle of the stage. The roadie handed Ed the birthday cake and then to everyone's amazement, planted it between Jeff's ears, right in his face! What a moment! Not one to let things die down, he then slammed the cake into Ed's face, with the crowd laughing with the guys, Ed did the honours and gave Stone and Mike their slice, and finally Jack. He handed the cake to Jack and Jack popped his face in the cake.
As you can see from the picture, it wasn't just a little sponge cake, but a big fat cream cake... what a moment, one which I am sure I will keep in my mind forever. It really showed just how much the guys had changed since '95, no longer a subdued bunch. The members of Pearl Jam were REALLY enjoying themselves tonight and it rubbed off onto the crowd, and made it a really special concert.
Who You Are, a ripping version of Go, Once, and finally to send us on our way, Leaving Here.
Ed said before LH that the band had to get to bed early tonight because they had a big day of surfing planned the following day, which was ensued by boos from the crowd who were, as with any crowd around the world, always wanting to hear more, but the boys easily made up for our disappointment with a great version of Leaving Here, a song which isn't played that often.
WOW! what a show, if tomorrow night is even half as good as tonight I will be more than happy!
© Brett Habel ... used with permission
on to Sydney, part II