"the smallest rivers still make big, big waves..."
Riverport Amphitheater, St. Louis, M0
2 July 1998
Opening notes of "The Color Red" and I stand up and start bouncing on my toes, almost the Stone Bounce [tm]. Earlier in the day, someone had asked me what in my "professional opinion" (yeah right) they would open with tonight. I said "Oceans," it was a hunch more than anything based in reality (and they had been soundchecking it and the soundcheck material is turning up in the set. Lord help them if they soundcheck "Breath," we'll all be on the next plane) and damn if i wasn't right. I've heard this before but I guess it was a combination of the awesome sound, the incredible (third row!) view, and the 100% fully-charged, musically rock-solid performance, but I was entranced. Speechless. I don't have any notes from the first five songs beyond song titles because I was so caught up in the music...
"Hail Hail" to me is the show barometer, what does Eddie do with the phrasing, it's the Gossard bouncing barometer, you get a weak "Hail Hail" I guarantee the rest of the show will follow suit. But not here, not here. Although sitting on Stone's side means that you're basically looking at his butt all night since he plays facing in (not such a bad thing tonight and NO not for the reasons you are thinking, get your minds out of the gutter!), it also rewarded me with a perfect viewing trajectory for Mr. Matthew D. Cameron. From my Soundgarden days I am well familiar with the issue of being too far left or right and having my view of Matt blocked by his ride cymbals. Tonight, however, I am presented with ample opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes, watching Matt play.
"Brain of J" next, the McCready barometer, and while Mike's only at a low boil tonight, he can still run circles (and literally does!) around most so-called rock guitarists on their good days. He is jumping, flailing, while cranking out these blistering lines. "Spin The Black Circle," I love Eddie on the "drop drop dropping it down" lyric and it's a perfect compliment to the energy level so far. Not so fast it's a blur, not so slow you wish they hadn't tried.
"Tremor Christ" shocks the fuck out of me, can't remember when I heard it last. Here I finally emerged from the PJ-reverie to note Matt's drumming and Eddie's slight lyric change: "the smallest rivers still make big, big waves..." "Given To Fly" bursts out and I finally have a basis for comparison this tour, and can safely say they have this nailed now. I liked the thudding aro.space version, in Missoula it was standard but kind of rough, and tonight it's almost back to where it should be, soaring, anthemic. The crowd's got the "arms wide open" part down - at least in the center- and god but this sound mix is incredible. It was big but not overly loud - I didn't need ear plugs, even down front on the side - and crystal clear. For one of the first times ever I can clearly understand every word Eddie says. He's doing that DTE dance, swaying his hips side to side. It is VERY hot, and I'm wondering why on earth they aren't wearing shorts. Matt's fills on this song are nothing short of exquisite.
"In Hiding" reaches out next and grabs me by the throat. Maui was emotional, Missoula was tentative, but this is by far the best version of this song I've heard so far (and Jean agreed). My notes read, "Jesus! This is PJ!" Eddie smirks knowingly at the crowd during the "cracks along the wall" line and during the last chorus he's got both arms raised with the middle fingers extended - fuck the world, maybe?
Maybe yes, because afterwards he tells us, "In St. Louis we're in hiding from New York, Chicago and LA," and commented how he'd been walking around the venue before the show and thought that the seats seemed close together and that he hoped we were okay. Actually, I thought there was tons of room - I'd spent the previous songs alternately bouncing, jumping, dancing, tilting my head back and just wailing, singing away, much to the amusement of the people sitting around me. These were fan club seats but obviously not the fan with a clue seats. Everyone experiences shows in different ways and they are all valid in my opinion, but laughing at people who are dancing and singing (me) or standing focused on the music (the person next to me, who sold me this amazing ticket) while you carry on conversations and make beer runs every other song is bullshit. The people behind me kept asking one friend what song PJ were playing and he didn't recognize one until "Evenflow".
Anyway, Eddie ends by noting that "we appreciate the presence of everyone of you" (turning on the house lights briefly) and we crash into "Corduroy," again, just as solid as its predecessors in the set: Matt crashing, Stone wailing, Eddie Townshend-jumping. As they go into the jam, Ed, Stone & Jeff huddle around Matt as Mike solos. We cruise into "MFC," I just remember being in ecstasy, my notes say "MIKEY!" and you can probably guess the rest. Probably the tightest I've heard this one although I still wish they would let it jam out a little more at the end.
A wonderful "Wishlist" is next, it's the spontaneous lighter song, I turn around and the lawn is full of flickering lights, ah, I'm such a sucker for these arena rock gestures and I get the shivers (or maybe it was the heat stroke from 3 hours in the parking lot). When the song finishes, Eddie tells this wonderful story about the last song being an example of writing a a list to go to the store: "broccoli...paper towels...and then you start to think, what if I could change the world by making a list..." and mentions how the band use their outlet for little things, to change little things, and "this next song is about a man who wanted to change the world" (trust me I had NO idea where he was going with this) and - "Nothingman" makes me swallow hard. The only time I've been privileged enough to hear this song was Bridge 96. Mike's head is tilted back, that mix of ecstasy and concentration, I'm writing notes from the light of all the lighters flaring, the lawn a virtual conflagration (I said I was a sucker for those arena-rock gestures, but this was INCREDIBLE), and when Eddie reaches the "and he who forgets, is destined to remember" line, it's time for the tears again, where are these coming from, how many times have I heard this fucking song and don't cry. And I think, ah, fuck you, Vedder, stop DOING that. Stop writing these songs that I can hear a zillion times just fine but one day one line will just get stuck in my throat and pull out this stuff I don't want to deal with.
Jeff puts on the funky-colored bass and we're in variation 36792 of what I recognize as the pre-"Habit" improv (that will have a name once we see it written on an actual setlist; what info we've gotten so far is strictly anecdotal) and yep, it's next, portraying every characteristic I've assigned to it so far. It's so wonderful to really look forward to this song, not that I didn't like it before but it is just so much more now. "Speaking as a child of the 90's," and Eddie is rubbing the neck of his guitar on the mic stand, feeding back, ending with yet another Townshend jump, despite the heat.
Ed runs over to Stone and Jeff to tell them something, and we groove into one of my all-time faves, "Evenflow." Mr. Cameron is the distinguishing member during this number, McCready and Gossard assisting, but Matt is the one anchoring it down.
Stone approaches the mic and says, "Thanks a lot, it's nice to be here" and I'm once AGAIN write down "Mankind" only to be greeted with the opening chords to - "Daughter". (I guess if I'd bothered to notice the stand-up bass I would have been less of an idiot, but - Stone! Stop talking! You're confusing us! =) [I'm kidding! I'm kidding! I think it's GREAT!]). It's dance time for the crowd, but a chance for me to perch on my chair and catch my breath. *whew* The tag, as already noted, was by Suicidal Tendencies (took him quite a while to get there) and as Eddie sings "the shades go down," he drops down slowly into a crouch, singing, as the song ends.
"Immortality," Mike totally transformed - it's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, one minute he's just hanging out up there, strumming away, next minute he's the Voodoo Chile and playing leads and solos that scorch your ass. "Black" was another rest number, while I observed the interpretive dance performed by the woo girls on the aisle across from me, but I perked up, eagerly anticipating Mike's solo (after hearing the Chicago encore in real-time over the phone and banging my head on the desk in awe). Eddie is also entranced with Mike (consistent with what we've heard so far, he is so intent and focused and seemingly as delighted with Mike's playing as we are, judging by his attention and expressions). Not exactly Chicago, but damn nice.
"Alive" ends the set, pretty well extended, and it was here I managed to achieve my "annoy Eddie by being a fan at the fifth show in a row with a 'Breath' sign" honor as he saw it and rolled his eyes: "jesus, these fuckers just do not let up!". I then pulled out my Who flag (souvenir of the 1982 tour, and thank you I already had five people today remind me how old they were that year, bite me =)) which got a far more favorable response (but no song. I'm like 0 for toofuckingmany now. I'm gonna bring that life-size Kids Are Alright display to Portland, I swear). And they're off!
They return for the encore, Eddie proudly brandishing an ancient St. Louis Cardinals baseball helmet, noting that they don't make them like this any more. Stone, who has the spikey hair thing going again, asks us all if we like his hair. Following is Ed's now-standard acknowledgement to the crowd that they hadn't been here in a while: "Some of you are college graduates... some of you are addicts.. some of you are both). Somehow, DTE follow out of this, I like it as an encore song but think I miss it in the set. Both Matt and Stone are noticeably a bit off, Stone cracking up at Mike, shaking his head, but Stone is still jumping around like crazy for this song. I just love watching him so loose and happy.
Standard "Jeremy," a great "I Got Shit," introduced by Ed as just that (none of this "Id" stuff), followed by the crowd favorite and popular slow dance number (hel-LO, lyrics anyone??!), "Betterman." Stone's guitar goes out and he has to switch mid-song, Eddie totally nails the last "she loves him" verse, and then went into a real extended instrumental "Save It For Later" tag, so extended I thought he wasn't going to sing it (but he did), ending with yet another great jump.
Eddie informs us next that their friend Brendan O'Brien was here, I'm thinking "oh good, they can play something with an organ like 'Lowlight'!!!!" and instead he starts talking about how he knows some of us collect bootlegs, and if we do we've heard a really bad version of the next song, by a guy named Neil, and they careen into a kick-ASS version of "Fuckin' Up" ("It's a sing along, okay?" Ed says - yeah right) as I pick my jaw up off the floor, Matt on background vocals (about TIME!), best damn version I've ever heard them do. Those of us in the far right section were treated to the Stone Gossard Exotic Dance routine, wiggling his butt in a very exaggerated fashion, shaking his hips, and cracking up the whole time, Mike over on his side singing backing vocals. Mike, Jeff and Stone were laughing their asses off.
They leave again, and return for the inevitable, yet well-placed and excellently-played "Yellow Ledbetter," houselights and all, TFC '96 version, and wrap up the evening.
Final verdict: Musically, rock solid. Loved it to bits. Fabulous sound. But a little something missing that I can't quite put place my finger on - just a little, and still definitely an 8.5, with "In Hiding" and "Fuckin' Up" rating a 10+.
On to Kansas City!
Review copyright © 1998 Caryn Rose
Photos by Jean Bruns and Caryn Rose