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pearl jam fever, part three
one fan's journey to bellingham & vancouver

Warning: this is a long one. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. If you don't have the time or inclination to read it all - which would be perfectly understandable - skip down to the final section entitled "Final Thoughts." It tells you what you need to know.

The Trip

I didn't buy my plane ticket to Seattle until Saturday, May 6, 2000. There were many excellent reasons not to go, the three most important of which were: (1) the need to save vacation time and money for the upcoming tour; (2) ticket unavailability; and (3) the astronomical prices for the few available tickets. From a common sense standpoint, it was an easy decision to stay home.

But this wasn't a matter of the mind, it was a matter of the heart. The heart wants what the heart wants, and my heart very much wanted to see PJ in both Bellingham and Vancouver. For the obvious reasons. The first two full-length PJ shows since September of 1998. The first two PJ shows of the 2000 tour. The likelihood that the set lists would include substantial amounts of unreleased material. And, of course, tiny venues.

So I struggled with the question of "do I stay or do I go?" until almost the last minute. In the end, the heart won out over the head. I'm so glad it did.

It was, in part, a guilty pleasure. I assumed - inaccurately, it turns out - that because of the tiny size of the Bellingham venue, no tickets would be available for sale on the day of the show. Believing I had no alternative, I "danced with the devil" and obtained a scalper's ticket after I arrived in Washington from a couple who responded to my classified ad in the Bellingham paper. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…


My friends and I arrived early at the Mt. Baker Theater - around 2:00 p.m. When I first arrived, I was immediately reminded of La Paloma, the building in Encinitas, California where Eddie Vedder did his two marvelous solo shows in June of 1999. The La Paloma and Mt. Baker buildings are similar in appearance, specifically in color, material and (it seems) age.

My friends and I went and stood near the back entrance of the Mt. Baker Theater. A handful of people were milling around. Everyone chatted.

Between approximately 3:30 and 3:45 p.m., the band members arrived in three sport utility vehicles, the last of which was driven by Matt Cameron. The on-looking crowd of maybe 30 people - kept approximately 3' to 15' from the band members by yellow caution tape - was quiet and respectful.

The always personable Mike McCready and Matt Cameron voluntarily approached the crowd before entering the venue to sign a few autographs. Stone Gossard went directly into the venue without acknowledging the crowd. Eddie Vedder went directly into the venue, but looked towards and waved to the crowd. Jeff Ament signed an autograph or two by solicitation.

I'm not into autographs, but I was up for the idea of asking the band members a few questions. Of course, when the opportunity arose my mind drew a blank, except for a few negative questions which I felt were inappropriate for the setting (e.g., why ticket sales for virtually all shows were on sale on a single date).

The only appropriate question I thought to ask - and did ask - was whether there were, in fact, other completed songs that did not make it onto the new album. The answer, by Matt Cameron, was yes. 6 or 7. Would we hear any of those new songs on the upcoming tour? Maybe, he responded, sounding truly uncertain, not coy.

Sound check began maybe 30 minutes or so after the band entered the venue. It was a long one - maybe an hour to an hour and a half. The growing group of fans standing outside the back door could hear sound check fairly well - even better when someone opened the back door to walk into or out of the venue. Unfortunately, the open door moments were few and fleeting.

It was not my plan to listen to new songs for the first time outside a barrier wall during sound check, but when the moment arrived, I could not walk away. I was compelled to stay and listen. From what I could hear, the band sounded good. I became increasingly excited for the evening's show.

The magic hour finally arrived. Myself and my friends entered the venue and went to our respective seats. I was very "lucky" to have a 6th row ticket on McCready's side of the stage. (Yes, I realize this sounds stupid in light of the fact that I bought a scalper's ticket but, in my defense, many scalper's seats were located much further back in the venue).

I sat down and began to take it all in. The first place I looked was at the stage. I noticed that the candles, Mr. Pickles and the chandelier were missing, but otherwise everything looked about the same. I then began looking around the rest of the venue. Again I immediately observed that the Mt. Baker Theater is very similar to La Paloma, only larger. Size-wise, La Paloma is roughly as big as an oversized garage while the Mt. Baker Theater is roughly as big as a high school auditorium. Decor-wise, both La Paloma and the Mt. Baker Theater have ornate walls and ceilings, oftentimes with gold trim. The Mt. Baker Theater also has a large ball constructed into the center ceiling. Both places have Ed written all over them.

C Average eventually took the stage for a brief set. I had never seen C Average without Ed and wondered beforehand if I would be as impressed. I was. Brad and Jon are very good musicians/performers in their own right. And the fact that C Average does what it does with just two guys is remarkable. Notwithstanding, I frankly was surprised when the crowd gave C Average a standing ovation. It seemed that the reaction was one of politeness, not compulsion. And it certainly was unusual for a PJ crowd. But that's the whole point. The standing O for C Average was not a usual PJ crowd reaction because this was not a usual PJ evening. Everyone in attendance was keenly aware of the significance of what they were about to witness.

PJ was also keenly aware of the significance of the evening. They delivered, opening the show with seven consecutive new songs. It was sheer heaven. To hear their new music for the first time live was just an incredible experience. One I'll never forget.

I won't go into the detail of the Bellingham show - Caryn's done that already in her usual excellent manner - but suffice it to say that the band seemed as anxious to see our reaction to the new music as we were anxious to hear it. And if PJ hadn't already figured it out, the high decibel level of the small crowd before the first encore was a sure sign that the new album had been well-received.

One other note about Bellingham. I've now seen the first show of each of the last three PJ tours (Seattle '96; Maui '98; and Bellingham '00). Bellingham was the best first effort.

Before I ever got to Bellingham, I spent a significant amount of time and money making travel arrangements and buying tickets for the 2000 tour. As I walked away from the Mt. Baker Theater on the evening of May 10, I was very glad that I had done what I'd done.

Getting Into Vancouver

My friends and I arrived in Vancouver in the wee hours of the morning on May 11, 2000 after driving straight from the Bellingham show. I immediately went to sleep in a hotel room located approximately one block from The Commodore Ballroom and, in another direction, approximately one block from the cfox radio station. I woke up at 6:00 a.m. without the assistance of an alarm. I had a lot on my mind.

While my friends both had tickets to the evening's show, I did not. Not for lack of trying. I started listening to cfox online on weekends and evenings when the show was first announced. Approximately one month later, after many listening hours, I finally got through on the phones. What I learned was very depressing. My ISP was broadcasting cfox on a 10-15 minute delay. I had no chance of winning tickets.

While there were a few alternatives - winning the online registration contest, shamelessly e-mailing ticket winners to see if I could be their date, and writing a letter for the Larry & Willy Pearl Jam and pearls contest - the chances of winning were nil. For all intents and purposes, the game was over.

The weather in Vancouver on the morning of May 11 was cold and rainy. It was - I recognized - nearly as bleak as my chances of getting into The Commodore show. Before and after arriving in Washington, I'd called several ticket brokers. The great majority of the time, no tickets were available. On the occasions a ticket was available, the price was incredibly high. The day before the Vancouver show, a broker quoted a price of $2,500. I think the lowest price I was ever quoted by a professional scalper - and it was on just one occasion - was $350. More than I was willing to pay.

I'd placed an ad in the Vancouver paper, just like in Bellingham. While the Bellingham ad yielded approximately five calls before the day of the show, the Vancouver ad yielded no calls. I was screwed, and I knew it. In hindsight, and despite the fact that I managed to get into the show, I can honestly say that it was insane for me to have gone to Vancouver. It was asking for trouble. Emotionally, it is very difficult to want something very badly, to go to incredible effort and distance to obtain that something, and then to fail.

Even more difficult, however, is the waiting. Waiting to win. Waiting to lose. Waiting for the moment when you first know whether to cheer or cry. In this instance, and to quote Ed, the waiting drove me mad. I spent the entire day walking around the venue, calling ticket brokers, standing at the box office and holding up an "I need a ticket" sign, hoping against hope that I could somehow break through.

Things got worse as the day progressed. I learned at approximately 8:00 a.m., for example, that unless I got into the venue I would not be able to even hear the show. Unlike the Mt. Baker Theater, where fans had physical access just outside the stage door, the entire alley behind The Commodore Ballroom - located in the middle of a long block - was going to be closed off to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

The ticket broker situation - bad to begin with - was even worse on the day of the show. The ticket broker who previously quoted $2,500 quoted $5,000 on the day of the show. Another ticket broker, who previously quoted $650, called to say that he had another ticket for $850.

Worse, there were evidently a lot of people willing to pay a lot of money to get into the show. For example, early in the morning a security guard at the venue told me of an ad in the Seattle paper placed by someone offering to pay $5,000 for entry into the show. He also told me that four young men had come by minutes before to offer $3,200 for stealth entry into the show.

My personal experience was similar. At around 11 a.m., I was talking to one of my two friends, who was the first (and at that time only) person in line. A gentleman who appeared to be in the range of 50 years old walked by with a gentleman who appeared to be in his late 20's. Both were well-dressed but casual. The men could have been lovers and could have been father-son. I don't know.

In any event, the older gentleman asked what my friend was waiting in line for. She told him. The older gentleman then asked if she was interested in selling. She said no. Without skipping a beat, and in all seriousness, the older gentleman then asked if she would accept $1,000 for her ticket(s) (it was unclear if the offer was for one ticket or two). My friend again said no but told him about the ticket broker who quoted me the $850 that same morning. The men then moved on.

I can't tell you how demoralizing that moment was. There was a guy who cares so little about Pearl Jam that he didn't even know about the show - a show taking place in his own town, for heaven's sake - yet he was willing to pay $1,000 on a moment's notice for entry into the venue. Worse, there were evidently many others like him in and around the Vancouver venue. I felt sick.

Within a half hour after the conversation between my friend and the passersby, I walked to the Enterprise Rent-A-Car located just across the street. I just knew that I was never going to get into the show and wanted to avoid the intense anguish of standing outside the venue while the show was going on. I figured it was best to just leave, get home early and save a vacation day for a show that I could get into. Luckily, the surcharge for dropping off a rental car at the Seattle airport was too high. I was stuck in Vancouver for the long haul. I went back to the hotel for a while to regroup.

From approximately 3:00 p.m. until I got into the show (at approximately 11:00 p.m.), I remained at the venue trying to find a ticket. I spent most of the time standing at the box office, hoping that a contest winner, band guest or other VIP would not show and that their place in the venue would be distributed. I was third in the box office line until approximately 10:15 p.m., at which time two people left and I became first in line.

The conventional wisdom would be that the box office offered a glimmer of hope, and then some. After all, PJ history has proven that day-of-show tickets are commonly available, on a limited basis. Even at Bellingham.

None of the standard rules applied in this case, however. There were no "tickets" per se, only letters distributed to contest winners allowing entry to themselves and a guest. Furthermore, I was told at least ten times during the course of the day that even if one or more contest winners did not show up, no replacement person would be given entry. Two reasons were given. One reason given was that venue entry was strictly for contest winners. I was told this by security guards, cfox employees and PJ personnel. Another reason given was that there was no time deadline for venue entry. If a contest winner wanted to show up at, say, 11:00 p.m. instead of 9:00 p.m., they could do so without fear that their spot would be taken.

This presented a bit of a dilemma. The dilemma was whether to hold fort at the box office or, alternatively, to work the line looking for spares. Unfortunately, because of the physical setup, I couldn't do both at the same time. The entry line was located around the corner and down the block from the box office. (Did I mention that all odds were against me?)

I made the judgment call to remain at the box office. Needless to say, it was distressing and defeating when, on two occasions, someone who temporarily left the ticket line came back to report that someone convinced a contest winner to take them in as their guest for something in the range of $20. (More often, they'd return with stories of people getting in for something in the range of $400.)

It was also distressing - although for another reason - when I saw a young guy who scalped his guest spot leaving the venue, for good, less than five minutes after he got in. Earlier when I had a conversation with the guy to discuss whether I would pay his $300 scalper's fee, he told me that he was the first cfox contest winner, getting through on his first call. I got to hand it to the guy, he had foresight. On the other hand, so much for the notion that cfox contest winners would be PJ fans. (I saw another maybe 5 to 10 people who left the venue before PJ took the stage.)

In any event, according to the letter distributed to contest winners, the back-up band was to start playing at 9:00 p.m. PJ was to begin playing at 10:00 p.m. By 9:00 p.m., I was cold, tired and certain that I would not get in. Still, I would not leave before PJ took the stage. I did not know how long I would stay after PJ took the stage, but I definitely would not leave before. Seemingly to add to the misery of the day, technical problems delayed the onset of the C Average set for approximately one hour. I would have to wait longer.

Eventually I heard the very faint sounds of C Average on stage. Around or just before this time, I saw cfox employees closing and locking the doors where VIPs obtained their entry wrist bands. I also overheard someone say that, according to a security guard, 8 contest winners and 15 VIPs had not shown up. I crossed my fingers.

I continued waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Approximately 30 to 50 people were in the box office ticket line by this point in time, with the line curving around in the direction the front door of the venue (where VIPs entered). Security continued to tell us - on the rare occasion they told us anything - that no one other than contest winners would be getting into the show.

During this point in time, the situation was so bleak that the number 1, 2 and 5 people in line all left. I came so very close to leaving myself. More than once.

There were two security guards stationed at the front entrance, which was approximately 8' from the box office window where I was standing. Around the time of the break between the C Average and PJ sets, additional security and (presumably) cfox people started occasionally coming out of the front door and looking around. I thought that they might be out there to discreetly do a head count, or at least to get an idea of how many people were in the ticket line. On the other hand, I figured it equally possible, if not more likely, that I was just seeing a mirage, figuratively speaking.

Apparently others were sensing what I was sensing, because over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, those in the L-shaped ticket line began subconsciously inching closer and closer towards the venue entrance. Most of the time, everyone in line was either facing or at least very conscious of the activities at the front door. Those at the end of the line, who were located next to the front entrance barriers, stood inches to a foot away from them.

During this time frame, one of the two stationed security guards covertly told a guy in the middle of the line that they might be letting in some of the people who had been around the venue all day trying to gain entry. My heart raced when the guy passed this information on to me, but I consciously extinguished my feelings. If I'd learned anything that day, I'd learned not to count chickens before they hatched.

Hope seemed to be lost again when we heard the faint sounds of PJ starting its set. I figured that cfox had abandoned the idea of letting people in, presumably because there were more people in line than they had space availability. Also, some of the people who had been at the venue all day were in the middle of the line.

I kept waiting and waiting. Eventually I asked a security guard how far PJ was into its set. Five songs in, he replied. I almost left (again), but someone in line reminded me that I really had nowhere to go anyway, so I might as well wait a little longer. Yeah, why not, I figured.

Not long after, R.E.M. arrived. In shifts. First Peter Buck arrived with a friend or two. Then Mike Mills arrived, solo. Then Michael Stipe arrived, with posse. All within about 8 minutes of each other. The R.E.M. band members had to cut through the people in the ticket line in order to get in. No one hassled them.

A few minutes later, security started moving the barriers around, closing off all entry. I don't know what it was about that moment that led me to believe that this was a good sign, but that's what I was thinking. Everyone else in line seemed to think the same thing. A few seconds later, I started hearing movement of the door located in between the VIP entrance and the box office window. Movement as if someone was pulling on a locked door that had some give. I was so excited. I thought we were in. I put my hands over my nose and mouth and stared at that door, waiting for it to open.

It never did open, and I began to lose my excitement. If cfox was intentionally screwing with us - and at this point I began thinking they might be - they were doing an excellent job of it. I'm sure it was a matter of minutes, but it felt like hours. Finally and at long last, a security guard came out of the venue and told us to all please move along side the wall next to the VIP entrance. People immediately began complaining, because the movement inevitably meant that our places in line would be lost. The security guard responded with words to the effect that if we just did what he said, everything would be fine. We'd all be very happy.

I knew at that moment that I was getting in!!!!! Tears welled up in my eyes, and I hugged a guy next to me who I'd met at Bellingham the day before. Everyone in line was ecstatic. Numerous cfox employees then came out for a little promotional pep rally to remind us that it was them who was letting us in. "The Fox rocks," I remember one of them saying. Yeah, yeah, I thought. Just let us in already!

The line then started moving, and people ran up the stairs. Mandatory coat check was another unfortunate but tolerable delay. Once in, I could clearly hear the song in progress - Even Flow. It was the 9th song in what would eventually be a 22-song set list.

The Vancouver Show

I was surprised when I got past coat check to see that the bar was, at the very most, ¾ filled. I expected it to be wall-to-wall people. I still wonder why this was. I don't know if it was because the guest list was so large (reportedly 300 something people) and many guests didn't show or, alternatively, if it was because cfox wanted their contest winners to be in a very comfortable environment. Or maybe some other reason.

The closeness of the quarters, combined with the relative sparsity of the crowd, created a dream-like concert-going experience. With the sole exception - in my experience at least - of La Paloma, there is no more intimate setting to see the band or band members at work. I was always within approximately 25 feet of the stage, and easily could move in closer when I desired. If someone in the crowd was bugging me for some reason - like the screaming chick behind me at one point and the asshole who intentionally screamed directly into my crappy hand-held recorder at another point - I could (and did) move freely and easily to another area of the floor and have just as great a view.

The band members seemed conscious of the intimacy as well. Mike McCready, for example, was interacting with people on his side of the crowd both during and in between songs. At the end of the show, he took off his shirt and handed it off to someone in the crowd below. The other band members, although not quite as casual as Mike, seemed really loose and at ease as well.

Overall, the crowd was pretty good. They were loud at times, both during and between songs, but I guess this is inevitable in a bar setting. (La Paloma was the complete opposite and, for that reason much better.) Crowd-surfing, an annoyance as far as I'm concerned, was extremely limited and very brief.

The crowd was sometimes physically mellow but did really come to life during the band's rocker tunes. Insignificance, Not for You, Animal and Do the Evolution were set list and crowd-rocking highlights. There were lots of heads moving up and down during these songs.

Elderly Woman is the first song I was able to both see and hear in the entirety. Always a crowd-pleaser, there was much audible crowd-singing and swaying during the song. The song was played well by the band.

Thin Air came next. I'm really liking this song live. It has a different feel than the acoustic version played at Bridge. Not as mellow. And, for those who have been wondering (as I have), the lyrics are apparently "Byzantine is reflected in the home."

Of The Girl is not going to be my favorite song on the new album (Insignificance has the number one spot secured, I'm quite sure), but it is a good, sort of haunting song. And in a live setting, there's lots of room for improvisation by Mr. McCready. I think we'll see some good guitar work coming out of it.

Insignificance followed and - well - what can I say. To borrow from the song's lyrics, Insignificance is the "bomb." The Vancouver version will not be the best of the tour - the band stopped playing for a second in the middle of the song - but the song is just a powerhouse live. Love it, love it, love it.

Not For You is always a welcome addition to the set list as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing quite like rock-and-roll songs expressing anger and angst. They reach a pinnacle which songs expressing other feelings simply cannot achieve, no matter how well they might be written or performed. Not For You is a truly great song, and the Vancouver 2000 version of it did not disappoint. The band was really on.

Off He Goes followed. A solid version. The band seems to like playing this one live, which is fine with me. Eddie introduced Wishlist by saying that the song was originally titled House of Jazz, then was titled Revolutionary Hamburger, then became titled…. Ed trailed off, and the opening notes of Wishlist took over. The Vancouver was one of the few times that, at the end of the song, Ed sang that he wishes he was a radio song, the one you couldn't turn up. He then sang I wish, I wish, I wish, I wish three times followed by I guess it never stops. Nice.

Evacuation was the final song before the encore. Ed told the crowd that Matt had written the music and he had written the lyrics. This song hasn't grown on me yet. I need a few more listens before I decide what I think about it. Nevertheless, the band performed the song tightly.

The crowd was quite loud, particularly for its size, before the first encore began. Chants of Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam, Pearl Jam, etc. occurred. This was a welcome departure from the usual Eddie, Eddie, Eddie chants. This is a band, after all, not a solo act. The first song of the first encore was Animal, another song that is always a welcome addition to the set list as far as I'm concerned. A great version.

Do the Evolution. More manna from heaven. What's not to love about DTE? And as a follow up to Animal, all the better. Did I mention that I really enjoyed this show?

Daughter followed. Not my favorite song on a set list at this point, but I always look forward to hearing the tags. Eddie paused for what seemed like a long time before beginning this one, standing the entire time with his elbows up and fingers locked behind his head, looking downward. It seemed that Ed was trying to figure out what tag he wanted to sing.

I watched the lovers come and go, Ed began, repeating the verse a second time. I'm still not sure what he sang in the next line but, as an R.E.M. fan, I immediately recognized the lyrics which followed.

Jump in the tall grass...
Leap the sprinkler
Leap the sprinkler

I'll try to make a happy game to play
What can I say
What do I say
What can I say

I'm not supposed to be like this
I'm not supposed to be like this

But that's okay

Like it. It was a long, good tag. And it made sense, of course. After all, R.E.M. was in the house.

Last Kiss followed. Ed introduced it as being the in the category of famous car-crash songs of the mid-50's. A disappointment on any set list at this point, it was nevertheless a good performance of the song. The song's virtue, I suppose, is that it is a good sing-along (for those who care about such things). To that extent, Last Kiss works as well as it can work in a bar setting.

Ed returned solo for the second encore. He thanked everyone who was there, saying that he didn't know what it took for us to get in - if we were just lucky or if it was painful or what. God damn. Does Ed miss anything, I wondered. He still remembers, even 10 years later, what it's like to be a fan standing outside a venue desperately trying to gain entry into a show. And more importantly, Ed still pays attention to such things. Gotta love Ed.

Ed then segued into the next and final song, Soon Forget, by thanking the radio station for paying for PJ's equipment to be transported to Europe for the upcoming tour. He said that there was one piece of equipment which would not be transported with the rest, however, and at that moment he pulled a ukulele from behind his back.

Repeating what he said the night before, Ed cautioned that it was an oo-ku-le-le (as opposed to a u-ke-le-le). Ed then said that there was a little song that goes with it - with a little story in it - so we might want to be quiet and listen. The crowd didn't quiet down, so Ed said shhh after strumming the first couple of notes. The crowd then complied.

I'm liking Soon Forget. A nice little ditty with humorous lyrics. If nothing else, Soon Forget is illustrative the band's incredible versatility.

Unfortunately, "the show is over" lights came on almost immediately after Ed left the stage. I was disappointed that it was the end, yet elated at my luck in getting in and thrilled with what I had witnessed. I suppressed my emotion, however, because I needed to go on an immediate mission to obtain a show memento.

Tickets were never distributed to attendees, but laminated blue passes attached to a string were - at least to those people who made it inside before the 9th song of the show. I wanted one of those passes. I looked around and it wasn't long before I saw my mark. A middle-aged man wearing a t-shirt with a small cfox emblem in the upper left hand corner. I figured that he cared little about the pass and that he was at the show because he worked for the sponsoring radio station.

I was right. Thank you, Steve Dunbar, cfox afternoon d-jay, for giving me a Vancouver 2000 show memento that I will always cherish.

Final Thoughts

In the end, what was evident was that Bellingham was the show for preview of the band's new material. To that extent, it was the show to see. Vancouver, in contrast, was a true "warm-up show" for the upcoming tour. The set list at Vancouver was probably representative of what we'll hear at any given show in the upcoming tour. The band is seemingly in very good spirits and is definitely in excellent form. I predict some blistering shows in the months ahead.

It's gonna be a great, great summer and fall. See you on the road…

review submitted by anonymous