Viva Las Vegas
Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
106 degree heat, dry desert winds, we're in front of the venue at 7pm waiting to get in. The arena is much smaller than I'd envisioned; I'm really glad this isn't an outside show after all (not to mention that Sam Boyd Stadium is in the middle of nowhere). We run in and I grab seats on the first section in front of the stage, Mike's side, about 10 rows up. Aside from the speaker cord, it turns out to be a fantastic perspective from which to view the show. If the behind-the-stage seats had been closer to the stage, though, I think I would have headed there; the fans that were sitting in those seats the night before just looked like they were having the best time.
9pm, and Zeke take the stage. I put in my earplugs. =) They play a great set, crank out all of their hits, and the crowd pretty much seems to dig 'em. They end their set with their cover version of "Shout It Out Loud," it's fun and great, and hopefully was going to set the tone for the rest of the evening.
[I'm not going to waste any space in this review talking about the crowd, but you can read my opinion of it at the bottom of the review. Let's just say that it was not what any of us who were there to see the band were expecting.]
Billy Zoom is standing at the front of the stage, guitar pick stuck to his forehead, for about 15 minutes before the rest of X come onstage. They start playing, my friend Karen jumps up; these shows for her are like seeing PJ and the Stones were for me, total X fan who used to go see them when she was 16, and I'm digging the fact that I get to share this with her. We can see that the sides of the stage are just overflowing with PJ and the crew, watching the show. They did get quite a bit of applause, but we were kinda pissed to see kids down front and center giving them the finger throughout their entire set; it must have gotten really loud, because at one point Exene said, "They'll be on soon. They can't hear you, they're not here yet." But they're great, they were awesome, and now it's time for PJ!
But not yet. The arena has these light-up message boards, you know, you see them at a basketball or hockey game. Some dork at the arena had taken the over and they are flashing 'EDDIE', or "YELL IF YOU LOVE EDDIE" or "ARE YOU READY FOR PEARL JAM". No, we're just sitting here because we feel like it! Finally, "The Color Red," we stand up, and from our side-stage vantage point we can see them walk onstage. Oooh, baby, Vegas! What are we going to get?
Imagine my surprise when they kick into "MFC," talk about your surprise openers, and I'm anticipating all sorts of amazing things based on opening song section alone. Ed's in that striped shirt from the TFC, Mike wearing a black-and-white striped shirt (LONG SLEEVES - dude, what were you thinking?!) and another nice jacket like he wore in San Diego. "Corduroy" next, everyone loves this song, they always play it so well, it is truly their "arena song" (thanks, Maggie!), and even though I'm on the other side of the arena, I am transfixed at the sight of Mr. Stone Gossard more alive than I can ever remember, constantly at the front of the stage, commanding, delivering. It's just great to watch.
"Brain of J", another great Stone viewing song, Mike is playing so hard he falls down. "Hail Hail" next, Ed's doing the DTE dance, and Matt Cameron, ah, Matt, Matt. I have the perfect Cameron Viewing Trajectory [tm] tonight, no ride cymbals to block my view, maybe that's why I thought he was playing so incredibly well (even better than last night!), but I don't think so.
Next is "Given To Fly," Eddie's back is arched as he sings, Matt's fills at the end are just incredible. "So we're in Las Vegas...my what a wonderful place it is, too," Eddie says in a voice just dripping with sarcasm. And "Dissident" is up next, there are still a zillion songs I'd rather hear besides this one but at least this tour it's not a constant, it's rotated, and that's been my only complaint about it before. And, again, there are still "PJ moments" in there for me, that moment where the guitars grind in before the last verse is rousing and wonderful.
"Evenflow," Eddie manages to fall down before the second chorus, and as always, this one just grooves along and gets the whole place shakin'. From my viewpoint tonight, I have an unparalled view of Mike's fingers, one I haven't ever had before; the view from above and to the side is totally new to me; I've been closer, but it's always been at the same level or below. If I was a guitar player I'd be in nirvana right now; but even as someone who doesn't have much of a clue, I can see that his fingers just flow over the strings. Keith Richards talks a lot about being an "antenna," that he just plays what comes to him, and I know the comparisons are probably getting tiresome, but I see a lot of that in how Mike is playing this tour, he is channeling this incredible energy into and out of his music. Jeff walks over to Matt and there's the rhythm section working it out, Stone is wailing at the edge of the stage again.
Some chords, and I'm jumping up and down: "Faithfull!" I don't know why we have to keep alternating this with "In Hiding" (well, look and see for yourself, that's what's happening). And tonight I finally got to see something I've been waiting for, Matt has said this is his favorite song and tonight there was absolutely no doubt in this from the way he was playing. Eddie spells out "M.Y.T.H" in sign language, that whole verse was delivered conversationally, like he was having a chat with a friend, not like he was singing to 20,000 people.
"Jeremy" already, and once again my unique viewpoint gave me the opportunity to watch Jeff play this one and I am totally fascinated. It's almost a new Jeremy, the choruses the same as the new version, but otherwise standard and the crowd loves it. Matt once again distinguishes himself with his work at the end of the song.
Stand up bass, I'm writing down "Daughter" and they have got to stop this, it's "Nothingman" once again, introduced as "Here's a nice little ditty about a fuckup...this is like 'Leaving Las Vegas' right here." Every time I hear this song live I am finding something new and different in it, tonight it's the "some words when spoken, can't be taken back" line. It is just so wonderful that this song is no longer a rarity and that lots and lots of fans are getting to hear it.
And then, out of nowhere - "Leatherman"! We're going insane, half the people around us have no idea what the hell we are going nuts about, Stone is playing guitar and not tambourine this time, Mike and Stone are cracking up cross-stage about something.
Mirror ball time, and it's "Wishlist". I'm calming down, writing some notes, and the drunk woman behind me decides I'm not acting excited enough for her, so she grabs me, shakes me, and screams "COME ON! WOOOOOOO!" into my ear. Yeah, and you were drinking beer and talking during "Leatherman". Leave me alone.
"I wish I had a couple more of these to share... sure tastes good," says Eddie. The people down front probably could have used a beer right now, but the people in the stands obviously didn't. "Lukin" next, too short as always but still fun and intense. "Just imagine," Eddie says, "Sure is nice to be here... we were supposed to be outside tonight, but since they DIDN'T SELL ENOUGH TICKETS - THANK GOD - we get to be here...you're supposed to feel lucky in Las Vegas, and you should feel lucky, since you got to see X tonight," he finishes. Now it is time for "Daughter," and I'm about to lean over to Karen and say, "I bet he'll do an X tag" and before I know it, sure enough, he's singing "White Girl," we are both squealing with delight, Matt is playing these awesome, delicate fills. Eddie ends the "White Girl" tag by holding the note for a very, very long time, I think that's it, and then - "WMA"! People in our section were going nuts.
"So we played 'Leatherman,' we played 'Nothingman', this is the other one," and sure enough, "Betterman". And then, once again "Rearviewmirror," even if Eddie started with the wrong verse. The jam is awesome, Eddie making these screeching noises down the strings, and then at the end, I'm watching all four of the guys on guitars (well, and bass) jamming away, it's just so powerful to watch, Eddie and Mike looking at each other and playing together.
Then - already - it's "Alive," lights on the crowd, Eddie singing a verse to the back. And then they're off for a very long break, surely they're coming back! - and here we go, "Spin The Black Circle," followed closely by the much anticipated "DTE". "I'll tell ya.. if this town is any clue as to what will happen with evolution, we're in trouble," and he's off into this ed-rap about Vegas and gambling, talking about going into the casinos and seeing mutants and "plastic palm trees," how people will spend hours feeding $300 "in silver dollars" to a slot machine, but then they'll line up for two hours for a free buffet, and then they appropriately slide into "Habit". Instead of the "speaking as..." line, instead Eddie stood perfectly still and did this "chuka-kung, chuka-kung" noise over and over again, while pulling an imaginary slot machine lever down again and again. Ed and Jeff did this awesome double jump at the end of the song.
"Black" next, Eddie giving props to Mike (another great solo) and Matt at the end, followed by "Last Exit." "See you all later...I'm going to go watch Siegfried and Roy," he says, and that's it. 12:30, barely an hour and a half, and not quite the stellar Vegas performance many of us were anticipating, but still a strong one.
footnote about the crowd:
It seemed like every PJ fan on the West Coast had made the roadtrip across the desert, by plane or car, to see the Vegas gig. Everyone was talking about it in San Diego the night before, and there were tons of tour shirts from earlier shows represented. This was an odd gig; general admission, but indoors, with a starting time of 9pm, and two opening bands. The floor was miniscule, and while I heard later that security at the front was excellent, it was non-existant in the rest of the arena. They stopped people from going on the floor before Zeke hit the stage at 9pm (even if you had been down there all night and just went up for some water - what about WRISTBANDS?), and the sections closest to the stage were also cut off and you were refused entry, even if you had a seat.
The crowd was drunk. I mean, d-r-u-n-k. Okay, it's Vegas, we're gonna party a bit, sure. But people were so drunk and so out of control that it was impossible to circumnavigate the arena by 9pm due to the beer lines (all the food stands sold beer, and this was in addition to the gazillion stands that JUST sold beer), and they stopped selling beer before X came onstage at 10pm. The people behind us were so drunk they kept spilling beer all over us and our posters, and had to leave the show early. In addition to all of this, people showed up at 10:30 and couldn't believe that there were no seats left on the first level, or near the stage. And finally, I have never seen so many women taking their shirts off at a PJ concert in my life. Guys I was sitting with were disgusted.
I will not mention the fact that the crowd down front was giving X the middle finger all throughout their set (nevermind that the entire PJ organization was crowding both sides of the stage to see them), nor will I mention the idiot on the floor setting off bottle rockets during the first three songs. I think you are getting the general idea.
On the other hand, the fans that were there to actually see the band, and not just get drunk and rowdy in the same physical space as Pearl Jam, were great, but they were sadly outnumbered by the drunk morons. Somehow, this is not what I envisioned when I dreamed about going to Las Vegas to see PJ, and I can't help but think that this affected the setlist or performance. Personally, I did not think that Eddie was that drunk - I didn't notice anything at all out of the ordinary about his performance, besides the fact that he was just dripping with sarcasm.
And finally, security was non-existent, except down front in the pit (from what I've heard from friends who were down there), but even with that, two assholes managed to make it onstage, which to me is a sign of not enough security. They should have handed wristbands out for the floor, they should have had more security in the aisles, and they should have stopped selling beer much earlier than they did. Thank goodness there is only one other GA indoor show this tour; not the best idea with zero security present.
more vegas notes in my tour journal