Legend Series: Pearl Jam – The Away Shows in Chicago (Night One)
First of two sold-out nights at the famed Wrigley Field
Photographer: Ricky Thigpen
Pearl Jam blasted through a 32 song setlist over three hours, that included several heartfelt, strange, bold moments – we were enamored from the opening note.
The 90s were ablaze with Vedder and crew giving light to social injustice, a not-giving-a-shit aura, visceral vocals, flannel t-shirts, and a fuck-em attitude. This past week they made headlines for an interesting piece of artwork: their latest tour poster.
In the news:
The poster is a collaboration between bassist Jeff Ament and artist Bobby Draws Skulls. Which presented the President’s rotting corpse being eaten by a bald eagle on the lawn of a burning White House with the Illuminati, pot smokers, and much more involved. Republicans lost their minds.
Ament made a statement on the poster:
“The role of artists is to make people think and feel, and the current administration has us thinking and feeling,” Ament said. “I was the sole conceptualist of this poster, and I welcome all interpretations and discourse. Love, from the First Amendment, Jeff Ament.”
Trumping up its invisible charges were the The National Republican Senate Committee who compared it to the now-infamous Kathy Griffin photo holding a fake decapitated Trump head. Is there such a thing as art being too political? Freedom of Speech and all.
The band paved the wave for angsty youth and seasoned veterans in the music industry. Their stamp on the world was not just musical, but politically worldwide. They had a platform to reach the masses and, unlike many in their position, they took full charge of it. Press was never much their favorite thing, unless you were a balls-to-the-wall, let it all hang out, truth or be damned kind of establishment. Pearl Jam (Monkeywrench Records) defined 90s grunge and forward thinking entertainment, and had exactly zero moments for your bullshit. It was that realness, that rawness, that touched you and drew you in.
MTV to now:
You have to understand the times where they became popular, we were still living in the times of $1 texting fee and T9 texting. We picked up phones that connected to walls and told humans what to type into a contraption that sent it to another beeper on someones hip. We communicated mainly in person or through recorded messages left on our answering machines. We texted PJ related content constantly as they were always doing something to piss off officials or break a boundary and get away with it. We stayed up all hours of the night hoping to see them on the TV on this once mystery-clad channel called MTV and moved on to Fuse and other alternative stations. They saturated the airwaves with hits like 1991’s “Jeremy” and “Even Flow” off Ten. You could not escape them, and what music fan would want to!
Every girl was trying to find a way to crack the code on Vedder’s cool calm collected demeanor of not caring for groupies or fame but wanting to tell the story of how the man was sticking it to America. Every dude from here to Istanbul was donning the Vedder sloppy bob hairstyle, flannels, and Doc Martens. In the era of pristine pop-acts finding ways to put glitter on every orifice more nights than not the guys looked like they rolled out of bed on a small tour bus, drank their breakfast and lunch in the bottom of a tequila bottle, and saved the worm for stage. It was that grit, that realness, that made them relatable and helped their popularity soar.
Prior to the first shows of this tour, PJ released a new song, “Can’t Deny Me”, co-produced by the band and Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Rage Against The Machine, Neil Young), from their forthcoming 2019 album.
It was evident throughout the night that this was a once in a lifetime experience. They felt the need to bring out songs that have never been played live, instrumental gold, and celebs who surprisingly do not hold their same political views, all for a night of unique-elongated badassery.
Fans had lined up the as early as 6am to jump the lines and storm the venue to get to the barrier front stage as soon as gates were open.
We spoke to them while standing in the photopit listening to their excitement in their words. They made it front row for this truly unique event.
Opening the set were three melancholy songs from their catalog “Wash”, ”Low Light”, and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.” A one-two-three punch to the heart, leading into a barrage of covers. A highlight of the night was when the band presented a cover of “Missing”, written by a long time friend and travel mate Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell. The band debuted this tribute during their Home Shows in Seattle a few days ago.
Vedder and company were akin to the likes of Soundgarden (Chris Cornell), Nirvana (Kurt Cobain), Alice in Chains (Layne Staley), Stone Temple Pilots (Scott Weiland) and the other anti-the man movements political megalodons Rage Against The Machine. If you were alive in the 90s they were a staple. With the disbandment of RATM, and death of all pioneers in the Seattle grunge movement, but one, Vedder should be taped up in bubble wrap just to keep him safe. It takes great perseverance to hold the crown high and play on, create, and still inspire. Like tonight – there was an air of heaviness, a feeling he knew his place in this world still not veering much from the 90s-era material, grasping onto small memories of his friends, comrades in the business.
On Cornell and Vedder staffer Andy Frisk once lamented:
Many of his peers are, or were, gifted lyricists as well, but few were as poetic as Cornell. Eddie Vedder is powerfully poignant and political. Kurt Cobain was anarchically sober, and Layne Staley was supernaturally sublime (many of his lyrics-as well as his vocal delivery-sounded as if they were already from the other side of the grave).
Throughout the night they honored their memories and we heard quite a few covers. Halfway through the main set, they paid tribute to Tom Petty, and to top it off, the band brought out a guitar gifted to Vedder by the late legend. “Last summer, when Tom played here, I know how important that was to him,” said Vedder, leading into a sing-a-long of “I Won’t Back Down” strumming the treasure solo for the entirety of the song.
Other notable moments included some heated words to a main-floor concert goer holding a sign with less than positive wordage directed at the lead singer. In addition to this, Vedder spoke directly to the men in the crowd about an alleged assault at the ballpark a few weeks earlier at a Foo Fighters performance, saying there was no place for that here, or anywhere. It was an uncomfortable moment and noted as such, but if no one speaks about them there is no way to help protect those around you. It helped the crowd to be hyper-aware and lend a hand if need be. Commend them on being such a bold crew, with big hearts. Speaking of the heartbreakers….
A weird yet not unexpected appearance by Dennis Rodman:
Wearing a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers t-shirt, Rodman emerged from side-stage to present Vedder with the ukulele that was going to be strummed during his solo original of “Sleeping by Myself” from the 2007 film Into the Wild. He decided to stick around and play the instrument that looked adorably tiny in his massive palm. He quickly jumped into a speech on Kim Jong Un and split the crowd a moment before diffusing it with some kind words thanking Chicago for always having his back. “I know one thing: On the day that I die, I’ll make sure I’m buried in Chicago,” Rodman told the crowd before his exit. This isn’t the first time the unlikely bromance between Vedder and Rodman has been portrayed at a PJ concert. In 2016, the star carried Vedder onstage at this same venue during a performance of “Black, Red, Yellow”. Another time in 2007 at Lollapalooza, Vedder crooned a cover of “Rockin’ in the Free World” while sitting on Rodman’s shoulders.
During the next encore Eddie talked of how he found joy coming to Wrigley Field when he was a kid with his friends. PJ welcomed Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts along with the World Series trophy onstage. Then the video screens behind them showed rookie infielder David Bote’s now famous grand-slam. It was talked of how David Bote rhymes (in some strange way) with David Bowie, which sprung them into the spur of the moment surprise rendition of “Rebel, Rebel”. A first time ever!
The last cover and second to last song of the performance at Wrigley Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. As expected, people started to just lose their minds. They were climbing on top of dugouts to dance, security was tackling concert goers that jumped from their seats and hauled ass across the field. The crowd sensed it was almost over and had to get out those last bits of energy full-well knowing this concert wasn’t coming back for years and years. Notoriously, the band doesn’t tour as much.
To stay with the theme of the band’s legacy they wrapped up the night urging us to vote:
“It doesn’t matter the size of your hands or how big your bank account is, get out there and vote this coming November. “
They closed with “Yellow Ledbetter”, the lyrics ending on a bittersweet note. It felt as if Eddie was aware of time being so precious, like he carried an era upon his shoulders but knows all good things must fade. Oh yeah, can you see them, out the on porch? Yeah, but they don’t wave. I see them ’round the front way. And I know, and I know I don’t want to stay at all.
Currently the band has three more shows left on this tour, and we are left to anxiously await the new 2019 release. You can also catch Eddie Vedder solo for two nights September 29th in California at the Ohana Festival, and again on December 2nd at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa.
If you take anything away from this show, this band, this era, let it be the Pearl Jam philosophy/legacy… Speak your mind bravely, be a kind, thoughtful person, and pioneer for truth, and, most of all, simply be a decent human being. Vote.
Only thing missing on the setlist: “Immortality.”
Remaining Dates: SOLD OUT!
|Aug 20||Chicago, IL||Wrigley Field|
|Sept 2||Boston, MA||Fenway Park|
|Sept 4||Boston, MA||Fenway Park|