This show took us all by surprise. It was one of those 'sleepers' -- a show you'd never guess would be a killer. They played well, they played powerfully, the audience was great, and we ended with the unexpected: all those events that conspire to make a Pearl Jam show great.
We are driving through the Albuquerque desert for what seems like forever, following a long and winding row of cars. But for that row of cars, I'd have insisted that we took a wrong turn somewhere. I can't see a parking lot in the distance, much less anything that looks like a venue. In fact, I'm still looking for the damn venue after we've parked! Someone grabs me by the shoulders and spins me around and points: "THERE!" It's basically a hole in the ground, an ampitheater forcefully set into a hillside. There's a beautiful sunset in the west as we walk down the slope to our seats.
Everyone we know upgraded themselves big time for this show, a show for which most people already had decent seats. I am row E and I am happy to have gone from Row Q to what I think is 5th row, Stone's side. Imagine my surprise when I get to my seat to find that Row E is actually first row of that section, and I'm the first seat on the aisle. Thank goodness I grabbed a lot of film before I got out of the car!
The night is cool, clear and crisp, stars everywhere, with a decided wind as PJ take the stage. In this atmosphere I could only think of one appropriate opener, and sure enough, the guys take to the stage and glide into "Of The Girl". We're in a different kind of South than the bluesy swamplikeness of this song, but it still fits. Earthy. Real.
Stone is wearing a shirt with CHICAGO emblazoned across the front. Ed's already in fine form, the ever-present props, cigarette and wine bottle, perfectly poised. Jeff is of course still wearing shorts, and Mike in contrast is wearing this silvery puffy down coat from which his head seems to barely poke out -- it's cold but not THAT cold. Then again I can understand not wanting to take a chance getting sick. (Who wants to bet we'll never see a fall tour with outdoor venues again?)
DTE, song two? Always a good sign. It's also the perfect crowd barometer, and Albuquerque does themselves proud. This was a GREAT GREAT audience, tons of energy, singing along boisterously to the new songs as well as the old ones. It gave the band something to work off of, play with. It was simply an honor (and a blast) to be part of this crowd.
"Hail Hail" is powerful but not manic. Controlled energy. Lots of eye contact tonight, Ed and Stone especially -- and here between Mike and Stone, these angled looks aimed across the stage. Stone smirks, Mike raises an eyebrow and twirls around.
"Grievance". It's at this show I coin the term "Mandatory Grievance" because it never, ever sucks, it's never ever bad, and it's ALWAYS a high point in the show. If the show is lagging, "Grievance" turns it around. If a show is good, it just kicks it up another notch. It should stay in the setlist FOREVER. This may sound odd but I really consider it the ultimate Ed-on-guitar song, mostly because he always seems so *there*, so confident. Audience goes nuts. I love this.
"It's nice to have a gathering like this in Albuquerque, New Mexico," says Ed, opening his arms wide in a gesture of embrace. "Thanks for being here," and the warmly familiar chords of "Corduroy" spill out into the air . The energy here is just -- thundering. You couldn't ask for a better version.
"Off He Goes," another number appropriate for the landscape. This song is particularly compelling tonight: the performance is passionate, introspective -- as introspective as you can get in public. Ed walks over to Stone at the bridge and they play to each other, there's this whole non-verbal dialogue going on.
"He could have tuned in, tuned in, but he tuned out/a bad time, nothing could save him... that's how I feel," interjects Ed. He seems overwhelmed by "Given To Fly" tonight, a bit lost in the song, folding his arms and resting them on the mic, eyes closed. Musically, it's still as soaring and -- dare I say -- anthemic (hey. I said I had to stop using that word in 1998. Statute of limitations has run out.) as ever.
"Thanks," Ed says, sipping some tea. "This one was part of the last bunch of recordings we did," and I swear to you, it is the most majestically pristine version of NAIS ever. Ed's letting the cigarette provide some smoky atmosphere (GET A FOG MACHINE! Quit smoking. Both of you. Public service announcement.); Mike is playing these little hide and seek games from behind his upturned collar, looking for all the world like Beaker from the Muppet Show. It's so disarming when he's engaging in these childlike antics and then in the blink of an eye, he drops the cigarette, hits an effects pedal, and rips your eardrums inside out with this scorcher of a solo, all the while never breaking a sweat, his hands seeming to float above the fretboard.
Ed, meanwhile, is back by those Jimmy Frog batwings, smoking away (see previous PSA) and the solo builds and builds and then crescendos, just fucking magnificent.
Wow. "Evacuation"! Hello, it's been a while. Never noticed that Matt (who I can actually SEE tonight, sans ride cymbals in the way) and Stone sing harmony. Mike drops back to his amps, while again keeping his sights on Stone. I love the little shrieking solo at the end of this song, it's so quiet you almost don't notice it's there. "Siren screams wanton attention," indeed.
Oh look, it's a mirror ball. "Wishlist". Wouldn't be "Wishlist," really, if Ed got the words right and he didn't, singing the "15 million hands upraised" lines twice -- no frustration, he just laughs it off, keeps going. But he does end with the extra verse, singing: "I wish I wasn't the one who forgot the words...I wish I wish I wish I wish...it could be much worse."
"Untitled," with special emphasis for this isolated locale: "Let's get the fuck out of here," sings Ed to loud cheers, "Can't find nothing to do...I can be there in 18 minutes or so... don't pack your things, just take what you got...no need to question, no need to ask why..." This cascades gently into a beautiful, driving version of "MFC," Ed playing with such an intensity that he breaks a string and has to switch guitars midway. After the change, he strikes this Springsteenian pose, guitar to the side and aloft, straight up.
"Habit" grabs me by surprise, it's even more noisy than usual but they're not fucking up, it's deliberate, it's controlled noise. "Speaking as...a child of the earth," says Ed, and they all bring it to a deliberately discordant close.
Those drumbeats. Matt. "In My Tree"!!! He's fucking *nailing* it tonight, helping to create probably the best Matt Cameron version of this song I have ever heard. You know that soaring, gliding note Mike plays on the record? Sometimes it's missing live, or you can't hear it in the mix? Well, tonight it's here, and it seems like it is this direct connection with my heart, it is just so pure, so true. Mike seems to be lost in it himself, arching his head back, eyes closed. It was so peaceful in a way.
"Daughter" is fairly standard. During the song Ed goes over to this young kid -- he's maybe 8 or 9 at the most. Security has allowed him to stand next to the disabled section (this is the first venue I've been to where the disabled section was at the front where people could actually see something!) and Ed comes over and parts with the infamous wristband. (He does this every night and he still has more. We joked on the way out that he must go to Costco and buy the TUB O' BANDS or the large economy size package of something, somewhere.) Anyway, the tag ends up being "WMA" and then Ed repeating "Love me two times" (like on the San Sebastian bootleg), Stone off riffing in the corner.
"Insignificance" moves into "Betterman," and it's during the latter that the local news helicopter decides to circle the venue a few times, spotlight shining on the crowd. Ed watches it carefully, waves and grimaces. "Black" starts, we sing the intro with Ed, and he starts singing -- except that all the while, he has the wine bottle behind his back, and he's uncorking it with one hand. "From the earth to the sun," he sings, and then he takes a swig; then recorks, again, all with one hand.
Ed then mentions that tonight is the last show of the season at this venue (this was the case for almost every outdoor venue I saw PJ at this leg of the tour); he invokes the traditional thanks to Supergrass. And then it's "Go," Mike soloing all over the place, bringing the show to this shimmering close.
They return for the first encore and you can tell by the guitars, it's "State," this mad pogoing lovefest. Ed walks over to Mike, while Stone and Jeff are making goofy faces at each other. "Evenflow" is this total fuckin' Stoney groove, it's just awesome, and to make it even better, there's a little bit of that call and response between Mike and Stone that they used to do in the early days but we really haven't heard this tour.
Ed intros "Elderly Woman" by saying it "seems fitting," and then the almighty "Whipping" (if you want to nominate Matt Cameron for anything, listen to his work on this song, oh my GOD). There are some minor equipment problems and the guys are hanging out up there, Mike's noodling, and then he hits this riff that causes every cell in my body to stand at attention and just SCREAM: "Ziggy Stardust"! AUGHGGGHGHGHGH! I am screaming so loud the people around me demand to know what it is. "DAVID BOWIE!" He hits it again. Oh man! (Can't you see it? Ed with this affected English accent? "Ziggy played guitar/jamming good with Weird and Gilly, the spiders from Mars..." Okay, maybe not, but it's a lovely thought. I'll keep it.)
We go from this into "Rearviewmirror" and this is once again one of those powerful, transcendent, almighty versions, this song has just transformed from this paean of escape and youthful liberation into something more. It's grown up. On an average night, it's a straight-ahead rocker; on a good night, it's a fascinating journey; and on the extraordinary nights, like tonight, they enter this fucking zone and it's just beyond description. They manage to join together and create this musical entity that is just something else. At one point during this jam, one of the guys in my row says, "I love you" with such conviction, and I understood exactly where he was coming from.
They're up there, it's this blue and purple jam, it's undulating, vibrating, like they're playing the colors. Jeff is playing this riff, and then Matt hits the cymbals, and then Ed looks at Matt, Stone comes in with his contribution, and then with a nod from Ed to Jeff, he starts that ending riff. Last verse, and then the final crescendo with the strobe lights, Ed is crouching down, he's broken a string, and it ends with this beautiful guitar toss by Ed, high in the air. Of course, he catches it. End of first encore.
After a short interlude, the guys come back out one by one, Ed last. He comes in from behind Jeff's amps, and clambers up on them and jumps off *backwards*. "This is the part of the show where Mike plays whatever he wants, because he's Mike McCready," and it's "Ledbetter." Mike starts soloing, and Ed decides to play. He grabs the tape recorder of a kid in the front row and with this wicked grin, talks into it. This finishes, and while I think it's the end, no, this audience deserves one more, and they break into "Rockin' In The Free World."
At some point during the song -- at this point I do not remember, and I no longer care -- Ed comes walking over to Stone's side again. I see the little kid from earlier (the wristband recipient). There is some quick negotiation with his mother, and then Ed's pulling him onstage, bringing him center, where he jumps up and down and makes the heavy metal sign with both hands. The crowd goes apeshit, freaking out like it was their kid or their best friend up there. This kid is the cutest thing you've ever seen. People are freaking out like it was their kid up there. Ed puts him on his shoulders, takes him around the stage, and in the end, takes him back behind Matt's drum kit. This puts him just above Matt's head. Matt gives him a drumstick and he starts hitting the drums. Stone and Jeff are smiling as big as we all are. At the end of the song, Ed brings him around and introduces him to us: "This is Jesse!" It was a lovely, endearing moment and a beautiful end to this show.
© 2000 Caryn Rose