PJ Opens For Cheap Trick
The Crocodile Cafe, Seattle, WA
10 October 1998
This had to be the most painless "pop-up" in the history of PJ. At least from a fan's perspective.
I'd spent the last two nights perched up on a ledge with a great view of Cheap Trick and great sound, but from the outset, the original plan was to spend Saturday down front. That was the night I had no one originally scheduled to go with me, and the one night I could get there early and not have to run to the club straight from work. The definition of "early," however, changed drastically on Thursday night and then again on Friday: Thursday when everyone I know of the PJ and Cheap Trick persuasions made a beeline for me and said, "You know, right?" Yeah, I know, I'd been hearing whispering for two weeks, but rumors always abound with this band. By Friday, however, there was no longer any doubt in my mind about PJ being there, and there was also no doubt that I wanted a closer view of whatever little velvet outfit Robin Zander would wear that night and a better chance of catching Rick Nielsen's flying guitar picks. (Tally for the weekend: I caught four, gave three away.)
So as a result, I was wide awake at 9am Saturday morning and at the club by 11:30, trying to eat something; I'd been averaging one meal a day and my stomach was already in pre-PJ knots. I was not alone waiting on the line; other three-day pass holders who'd been down front the first two nights showed up at the same time, since they figured the club would be mobbed by PJ fans trying to get in, or who'd gotten their hands on tickets. This, too, was my thought; as I rounded the corner of Third and Blanchard I had my fingers crossed that I wasn't going to be walking into a mob scene.
Aside from some vulture-like autograph hounds (I'd say wait for this stuff to show up on a certain online auction site next week, except that neither Stone nor Eddie would cooperate), there was NO ONE there. There were eight of us waiting in the three-day pass holders line all alone until about 4. We watched the PJ crew arrive, we watched them bring the equipment in, we watched Cheap Trick crew arrive, we watched Cheap Trick themselves arrive (and sign things and take pictures and talk to us, they were just so gracious and so nice!), and we watched Stone, Mike, Jeff and Eddie (Matt went in the side door) arrive - Eddie even arriving on foot, strolling down Second Avenue, guitar case in hand. (Later, the guys would walk in and out of the building repeatedly, with no one but the autograph hounds bothering them [and chasing them down the street - Stone took off to get some food or something, and they followed him down Second Avenue - and then they called him an asshole for not being willing to sign the 50 items they had in their little cases]).
We did not think that PJ would soundcheck, but sure enough, eventually we heard music filtering out of the club and I walked inside to try and hear as much of it as I could. The club was open; they were still serving food, and anyone could have gone inside. So, taking my own advice from this summer, I just opened the door, walked in, and sat down. I got to sit in there and listen to an entire soundcheck (I could only see Matt on the stage through a slit in the curtain), and glimpses of things like PJ and Cheap Trick standing around in a circle talking. It was the first full soundcheck I've ever gotten to hear, and to me it was fascinating from the mechanics of the thing, how it works: it sounded to me like all the guys were up there, playing bits and pieces of various songs. Obviously it was Eddie noodling on "Naked Eye" and equally obviously McCready hitting the "Angie" riff. The pieces got longer and longer, until they broke into a full version of "Leatherman," but with very faint vocals; it was as though they were waiting for the soundman to get the various levels for the instruments before finally doing vocals. Thinking it was over, I walked out after "Leatherman" to call the setlist in to Jean, only to hear a fantastic full version of "I Got Shit" begin, so I just walked back in with the phone still connected. (They start "MFC" and Jean caught it before I did - "Oh, good! Shhhh!") During "Leaving Here," Tom Petersson walked out into the cafe area, bopping his head and clearly enjoying the music. For some reason, that made me really happy to see.
At 6pm, one hour early, they opened the doors to let the three-day pass holders in (the $80 three-day pass entitled you to get in the club half an hour before single-day ticket holders, as well as a laminated pass, a cool poster, and a question and answer session with the band after the first night's show) and unlike the previous nights when the opening band was still soundchecking, we got to walk straight into the show room and grab our places at the very front of the stage. Matt Cameron's trademark Ayotte drums were within arms length, almost; I can see the e-bow sitting on Eddie's amp, I can see that the blue-and-red target button on his black Telecaster guitar strap is a Ramones pin (I had been wondering about that during my East Leg shows, thinking it was a Who button). These people behind me are still mumbling, "Well, it's still not sure that Pearl Jam is opening up" and I finally lost it and said, "LOOK! That's Eddie's amp. That's Stone's amp. That's Matt Cameron's drum kit. Look, that beat-up brown Strat over there, that's the guitar Mike McCready uses on 'Evenflow'." George brings out this 12-string bass and rests it on Eddie's guitar stand and my friend and I look at each other and say - what? Another person behind us informs us that it's the bass used on "Jeremy" and I say, "That is NOT the bass Jeff Ament uses on 'Jeremy', that's Eddie's guitar stand, Jeff's 'Jeremy' bass is nowhere in sight and lord I HOPE they are not going to play that tonight." (And before the flames fly, c'mon. A 40-minute set, and you want them to waste a precious song on "Jeremy"? More importantly, I hoped they would have enough confidence in their catalog tonight, and after this incredible tour, to not feel like they had to rely on the obvious songs that everyone would be familiar with. That is my reason for criticizing them when they tend to over-populate setlists with the tried-and-true. It's easy to get a crowd response from a song that everyone, including my mother, recognizes; it's much more of a challenge to get the crowd to respond to unfamiliar material which is just as strong, if not stronger.) A few minutes later George starts bringing out setlists and we are reading Matt's upside down and sure enough, no "Jeremy" - it is hard to read in the dim light and the distance but sure enough, almost all songs with Eddie on guitar (as Mike had mentioned to me outside when I'd asked if he knew what they were going to do tonight).
And then there was Mister Pickles. I was wondering how much, if any, of the guys' stage props would be there tonight; no gold bat wings, no rooster, but there, splayed out on top of Mike's amp, was none other than Mister Pickles, looking very sad. I point him out to my friend and we both "awwwwww" at the sight of him. Jeff Ousley walks across the stage and we yell, "Jeff, what's wrong with Mister Pickles??!" He looks behind him and yells back, "He's sleeping." "FIX HIM!" we request. People around us are going, "What? What are you talking about?" When we explain it, they look at us funny - which is weird considering that Tom Petersson has a full array of Pee Wee Herman memorabilia on his amp, and they don't find that strange. Anyway, shortly before the crew finished up getting the stage ready, Ousley walks back out, grabs Pickles, and props him up against the far speaker column. We felt much, much better. =) (He didn't last more than three seconds into the set up there, and I didn't see what happened to him, but when I looked later, he was gone.)
George tapes another setlist down right in front of Eddie's mic, asking everyone around to please not touch it until the show is over (and I nicely ask my compatriots from the line outside to please guard it for me). One of them looks at it and says, "I only know two songs - 'Corduroy' and 'Evolution'." No, I say, that one's from the new album, you don't know it. "Oh, yeah, I do, they made a really cool video for it." Oh yeah, I forgot. lol =)
Next thing we know, Rick Nielsen steps out onstage and welcomes us (and I don't remember exactly what he said, it was all a bit of a blur, and I wasn't going to take notes standing five inches from Eddie) about how they had the great experience this summer of opening for Pearl Jam, and when they heard they were coming to play in Seattle, they asked if they could open, and "the answer, of course, was 'yes'". (Oh, and before the great mindless hordes start throwing out that Cheap Trick let them open to make sure the shows sold out, every set of shows around the country sold out pretty much right after the tickets went on sale, including Seattle). And then Matt steps out onstage, followed by the rest of the band, Eddie straps on the Telecaster, and before we know it, it's "MFC". There are three of us down front who are huge fans and we're all in a row, no longer caring what anyone thinks, and we totally freak out as the band kicks in. Eddie's eyes are half-closed, Jeff is looking down, Stone is looking to the side, the only eye contact was from Mike (who was jumping up and down and up and down, since he was stuck in the far corner, wedged in behind Jeff and behind Rick Nielsen's guitar platform), and Matt. When we got there, I mentioned - hey! No Matt Cameron Viewing Trajectory [tm] problem tonight - he's right there! The only problem being, of course, that Vedder guy, who had to stand right in front of me. (He very thoughtfully did move to the side from time to time. Yes, I know it had nothing to do with me, but you know, it was funny, because every time I was dying because I couldn't see Matt, Ed would move out of the way.)
"Habit" was one of the surprises on the setlist, at least to us, something we never would have thought of (though we were wracking our brains thinking of all the Eddie-on-guitar songs). We get to the "Speaking as..." line, and we don't get anything, Eddie's just got his head tilted to the side, eyes closed, holding the moment and I think I stopped breathing. It was TOO close, almost. (I had to lean out of the way when he reached down later for his beer, resting between the two monitor speakers on the platform in front of him.) "Corduroy" next, almost too big for the fucking room, and this song everyone recognizes. Jeff's using that 12-string bass from earlier, and they don't even have to introduce it, everyone knows who it belongs to. =)
However, it was "Immortality" that was the standout, the song that caught everyone's attention, where Mike McCready tore the roof off the fucking club, and where Matt Cameron totally took over and owned the song. Now, I know that I have gushed about Matt Cameron all summer, and it is hardly a secret that he is my favorite drummer who is still alive, but goddammit, that man practically led the band tonight. And ya know, I am as tired of the fucking 'drummer situation' discussion as the rest of you, but tonight I got my answer, and I don't need a press release from the band to make it clear to me: this man is PART of the band now, the vibe was totally different, his presence onstage was totally different. It was no longer drummer-for-hire, it was, this is my band, these are my fucking songs, get out of the way. And if that wasn't enough, there was one moment during the end, where he looks up and his face is just beaming up at Eddie, who is standing to the side looking at him, and that was when I just - knew. I just knew. (And hell, I could be wrong, but this is my OPINION. Life is short, have a fucking opinion. If I'm wrong - so what? I'm wrong. Postcards and letters to the usual address, please.)
The song ends, the people around me are asking me what album the song is from and what it's called, and of course it's at that moment that Eddie chooses to drop his guitar pick into my hand (hell, it's not like he had a lot of choice up there, and I was the closest of the three of us). No guitar, time to cut loose, and Mikey charges into StBC and it is a fucking blur, guitars racing, Eddie doing the best he can to shimmy around in the limited space he had, Mike running up on top of Rick Nielsen's guitar platform (it's this platform with stairs leading up to it, with a clear plexiglass top and spotlights underneath it). He gets up there, and then comes back down, and then someone in the back catches on and turns the lights on so he runs back up. Jeff and Stone are laughing their asses off. (Oh, and the blonde hair is gone, it's still spikey, but it's now jet black.) He's wearing the same Van Halen shirt he was the first night at the Garden, even. (And for the rest of you who care about these things, Eddie was wearing the shirt he had on at Red Rocks in 95, his hair's much shorter, and he looked SO rested and incredibly relaxed, Jeff was kinda scruffy, Stone had on a black turtleneck and navy blue jeans.)
The song finishes, and Eddie finally looks at the crowd and grabs the mic: "That last song was about vinyl ... remember vinyl?" (Well, this is the right crowd, ya know, we all still have our Cheap Trick albums in the original vinyl pressing, as well as the re-released vinyl.) The crowd cheers loudly. "Imagine how different it would be if all of Cheap Trick's records were..." and he outlines a cd-sized square with his hands. "'Got my Kiss cd's out' doesn't have quite the same ring..." and everyone laughs. And I don't remember what he said next, but there were those notes and we're going into "Yesterdays", his voice rich and warm and just perfect, the whole song was just perfect, I was holding my breath as Stone went into the solo (remembering, again, MSG I) but there was nothing to worry about: Mr. Gossard delivers, it was right on, and Matt is, once again, a standout. Absolutely the best version of this song I have heard this year.
Ed puts the guitar back on, and here's "Leatherman". "This is a b-side," says Eddie (and thank you, again a crowd of people who know what the fuck a b-side is. And if you don't like that statement, I don't care, all I know is that I'm writing for some people who probably were mindless enough to boo Cheap Trick this summer when they opened for PJ [and probably bragged about it]. Were you people smoking CRACK? Man, I know I love that band, but they kicked serious ass three nights in a row!). "Leaving Here" next, we knew that this one would definitely show up, and I'm waiting for the solo order: Stoney hits his, it goes to JEFF next (on regular 4-string bass), and his face breaks into this grin, then Eddie, nailing the thing to the WALL, and then Mike wails on in. At one point during the song he goes to the side of the stage, and grabs a handful of Rick's guitar picks and comes back out and flings them out at the audience. God, we were laughing our asses off. This is one of the many, many reasons that I love Mike McCready so much, he just pulls the band together in these kinds of situations, there was a bit of that Oakland-nervous vibe up there, and he was just making eye contact with everyone, and he never ever lets that kind of situation get to him - in fact, I'd say that it challenges him to even greater achievements. And the man always, always delivers, in these cases more so than he regularly does.
Guitar off, and I catch my breath and prepare to dance my ass off for the next one, the end of this wonderful, beautiful, perfect, razor-sharp set, and here's DTE, like a long-lost friend, some of my favorite moments this summer were just dancing around like crazy to this song and here's one more chance (not that I think it's going away, but DTE will always be the 98 tour for me). And Eddie's dancing, and Mike's jumping, and Jeff is standing there in that Jeff-lunge, and it's time for Jeff to do that jump at the end and I'm thinking we're not gonna get it, and he gets this really fierce look on his face and Eddie screams and then Jeff launches himself in this ENORMOUS jump and the place just goes bananas, while Stone careens into the solo.
Wow. Wow wow wow. We're all catching our breath, and that is supposed to be it, but we can see that Eddie's not ready to go and he grabs Stone and starts talking, and Jeff strolls over, and I am so close I feel like I'm sitting inside one of the scenes from SVT (and no, I did not yell, "I'll be there for ya, baby," although I did think about it). Matt starts this drum beat and I look at my friend and say, "It's 'Last Kiss' or - 'Soldier of Love'!!!) and sure enough, "Soldier of Love," absolutely one of my favorite PJ covers because it is just this fabulous showcase for Eddie's voice at its best, it's just perfect for his range, his voice just nestles right into the song, especially:"There ain't no reason for you to declareAnd it was a great choice for a song that this older crowd would know or recognize (after the set, there was much discussion about how the Beatles had covered the song, and when I was asked who did it originally, everyone knew who Arthur Alexander was!), people are singing and clapping along, big smiles on their faces. Sometimes Eddie just has these great instincts; DTE would have made a fine closer to the set, but "Soldier of Love" was just the most perfect, fitting icing on the cake.
War on the one that loves you so
So forget the other boys
'Cause my love is real
Come off your battlefield..."
And that's it. Wow. Everyone around us is really impressed and asking us questions about the songs, and saying how they really did not expect them to be that good - I am sure there are quite a few members of the audience who will go and pick up "Yield" now or at least take PJ a helluva lot more seriously than they did when they walked in the door that night. The women next to me even made a grab for his empty beer bottle! ("It's not for me....it's for this friend of mine that I work with...")
A final note: the bands had to walk through the audience to get to the stage, and where I was standing the first two nights, it was fun to see the crowd cheering and congratulating both the openers (Young Fresh Fellows Thursday, Supersuckers on Friday) and Cheap Trick. I was really happy to hear from a friend later, who took the exact position I had been in those nights on Saturday night, that he took on the role of cheering the guys when they walked out of the backstage, and he was the only one, since the crowd largely ignored PJ. They certainly deserved it. They filled their role tonight with love and dignity and almost a certain humility - not that PJ are ever ego-ridden monsters, but instead of the sheer nerves of the Oakland shows, there was a quiet sense of self, that they knew they were the guests here but that they also had something to say, and they were going to play the best they could so as not to embarass their friends.
We had hoped for a guest appearance later on during Cheap Trick's set, but nothing materialized (and the only thing towards the end of the setlist that looked promising as potential duet material - "Anytime At All" -- was removed right before the band came onstage). Not that this was a disappointment, it was as kick ass and strong as the previous two (and that little purple velvet suit Robin Zander had on was - delightful). And Robin changed the end of "Surrender" to name each of the members of Cheap Trick and then added, "Eddie's all right" at the end. Rick and Tom kept waving at the guys, who were sitting up in the tiny VIP area above the soundboard, and at the end of the show, when they were thanking the crowd and the Croc and the rest of the openers, they thanked PJ really warmly and specifically. There's a definite friendship that's sprung up here, and I see only good things in the pipeline for both bands as a result of it. And as a fan of both bands, I am nothing but pleased as all get out.
Thursday and Friday were incredible beyond belief - Friday especially, "In Color" was the first Cheap Trick album I ever bought - and even without PJ showing up, it would have been a weekend to remember. But now, I am in such a daze I am not sure that Saturday night really happened. And what's really funny to me in all of this is the fact that these shows were important to me beyond the fact that I love the band and the music, I anxiously bought that three-day ticket back in August so I'd have something non-PJ to look forward to after the tour!
It always pays to follow your heart. =)
November 1998 Song of the Month
10/10/98 - Crocodile Cafe: Seattle
(sound files removed)
Review copyright © 1998 Caryn Rose