Pearl Jam Live In Chicago
Wrigley Field – Chicago, IL - July 19, 2013
No one who entered Wrigley Field last Friday to see Pearl Jam imagined they would still be listening to live music at 2am when every neighborhood bar around Wrigleyville closed. However, no one could have anticipated that a thunderstorm that burst through the area would delay the concert for nearly three hours. Pearl Jam had booked this show back in February and it was the fastest non-sport sellout in the stadium's history. When I arrived to pick my tickets up at will call on Thursday, one day in advance of the concert, I was shocked to see the lines of fans stretched around the park attempting to buy merchandise. I would dare to venture that at least a third of the 40,000 crowd had travelled to see this show because with Eddie Vedder being a hometown boy (he spent his childhood in north suburban Evanston) one could have only imagined the epic potential for this show. One look at the 40 song set list the band envisioned and this could have potentially been one of the longest Pearl Jam shows ever but the rain delay hampered those changes. Regardless, Pearl Jam poured their heart into a show that had huge obstacles but never lost the crowd and for hometown boy Eddie Vedder, he gave one of the greatest performances of his life and that this ballpark has ever seen.
When Eddie Vedder appeared with Bruce Springsteen last September at his two-night stand at Wrigley Field in Chicago, it was a dream come true for the Evanston native to play on hollowed ground. On each night, Vedder did more than simply show up but provided startling profundity to Springsteen's songs. "Atlantic City", "Darkness on the Edge of Town" and "My Hometown" was sung in a voice not heard since they were first recorded- the anxiety, desolation and fear that made them Springsteen classics were on full display partially because Vedder tapped into the voice of each song. Fast forward ten months and Vedder was at Wrigley headlining the friendly confines. What was initially announced as a one-off date is technically the beginning of their campaign in honor of their tenth studio album Lightning Bolt, which will be released on October 15th. The band performed three songs from the record, including the live debuts of two. First single "Mind Your Manners" flexes the band's punk muscle with some striking harmony vocals from drummer Matt Cameron and a scorching speed train guitar solo by Mike McCready. "Lightning Bolt" is radically different and is big on melody as bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Matt Cameron forcefully driving the band with fast and hard rhythms. The first encore opened up with the premiere of "Future Days", a dramatic ballad performed by the band sitting with their longtime producer Brendan O'Brien on keyboards. All three of the songs feature the band in a different light and yet all of them find the band playing to their strengths. "Future Days" demonstrates the bands continued growth as songwriters. Instead of singing to the crowd, they performed with them rather than to them; as they age Pearl Jam continue their awareness and acknowledgement with their audience that we are all on this journey together.
Pearl Jam hit the stage at 8:20 with a slow building set list that opened with "Release", their most cherished opener from their Ten album with 40,000 sets of arms in the air singing along. Vedder's voice was in prime form and you could hear the emotion, notably on the lyrics of "Oh, dear dad, can you see this now". Not knowing who his birth father was until after the man has passed, Vedder struggled with this as a young adult. Under the blue Chicago sky a sense of peace overcame him. For the next forty minutes, the band delicately performed a slower set pacing themselves. The 1996 cut "Present Tense" was another song the fans raised their voices for while "Come Back" from their 2006 self-titled release was dedicated to a woman named Sarah who died last year at the age of 30. Her husband Andy was in the crowd and the band's performance on this particular song was an emotional highpoint. Guitarist Stone Gossard's blues fills paired marvelously with the swelling organ overlooked by the magical Boom Gaspar. Mike McCready closed the song out with a devastating solo that left me wrecked. "Come Back" is a treasure of a song not every one knows, but no one will soon forget.
After "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" was performed, Vedder told the crowd they would have to empty the field because of an impending storm that could be dangerous. It was anticipated to last an hour, instead the show was not able to recommence until everything was clear which was at 11:50pm. The time was spent in the stadium's concourse where the merchandise stands were emptied and several vendors ran out of food, ice and even beer. The merchandise, most of it designed specifically for this show, was a huge hit with every stand having a few dozen people surrounding it wanting a piece of memorabilia. When Vedder reappeared close to midnight, he performed a song he wrote for the Cubs five years ago, "All the Way" which Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks, followed with an appearance to the delight of the crowd. Banks told Vedder the Cubs needed a song a number of years ago and when Vedder was on a solo tour in 2008, the song made its debut at the Auditorium Theatre. Playing it amongst the scoreboard and ivy was a warming moment; I just hope he is able to perform it one year when the hope of the Cubs winning is a reality.
Vedder spoke of playing a double header before he proclaimed "Well, tonight I think we can say we'll play till two" and the band did just that performing until 2:05 where the neighborhood curfew could not be overlooked any further. However, until then, Pearl Jam meticulously drove home a powering set. Shifting between anthems, album cuts, covers and rarities the band did not hit a bum note. In a shocking display of affection, no one left the stadium in anticipation of the band's return. "Do the Evolution", the rarity "All Night", "Even Flow" and the Singles soundtrack cut "State of Love and Trust" were explosive with the band segueing from one song to the next. Highlights included a full band workup of "Setting Forth", a Vedder solo song from the Into the Wild soundtrack and a extended jam of "Corduroy" which found the six musicians onstage capturing rare magic in a bottle that found them ascending to new musical heights towards the song's climax. Vedder needed a few minutes to collect himself and handed the stage over to guitarist Mike McCready who spent the next few minutes tearing through "Eruption", the classic opening cut from Van Halen's first solo record. When Vedder returned, he had an accordion around him which meant the Vitalogy song "Bugs" would get its third airing ever. By no means is it a great song, but considering how many Ten Club members (the band's fan club) traveled to see this show, this was Pearl Jam's way of giving them something special.
The encore featured a solemn and acoustic cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother" which Vedder owned along with the Mother Love Bone classic "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns" which only receives rare airings. His vocals hinted at past pains with an acute awareness of the world at large. He always embodies the song in live moments, but for the entire Wrigley evening, Vedder went into a different expressive neighborhood. He was more than a giddy schoolboy reliving childhood dreams in the world's greatest ballpark, but a man who fought long and hard for not just his place in this world, but for his own peace of mind. When I heard him sing key moments of "Darkness on the Edge of Town" last September with Bruce Springsteen I became acutely aware that he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Success and money may have made his life easier, but it has not put his thoughts to rest. However, at Wrigley he was able to match the intensity with the most physically pushing performance he has given in two decades. During "Porch", Vedder left the stage and even entered the crowd for a brief crowd surf. After the unforgettable death defying antics that defined his career early on, he's take a more reserved stance in the decades since, but he was a man not possessed but one embracing the full degree of his gifts as a front man. From soul baring vocals to the playful child inside who has been reborn, Eddie Vedder gave one of his greatest performances under the Wrigley Field lights. As the band was finishing "Black" Vedder told the crowd they had 5-minutes to finish everything but promised they would be back before a fist-pumping rendition of "Rockin' in the Free World". While the proposed 40-song set list was derailed by the rainstorm, Pearl Jam still delivered a 3-hour show with 32 songs. Each song was performed with the passion of a up and coming artist wanting to make their mark on the world. However, what always has differentiated Pearl Jam from other acts is their ability to relate to their audience. For most bands, their music is therapy to their fans, whereas for Pearl Jam, the performance is therapy that they share with their audience in the hopes to provide a tonic to out tragedies and triumphs. There is no divide between the band and their fans; their journey is one in the same.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Pearl Jam Live In Chicago
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