Thursday, August 23, 2018

It Doesn't Get Eddie Vedder Than This: Pearl Jam Powerfully Celebrates Heroes Across Two Winning Nights at Wrigley -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Pearl Jam
Wrigley Field, Chicago 
August 18 & 20, 2018
(both shows attended)

In life, the way I try to live it, experience and enjoyment and enlightenment and memories and music are more important than numbers, statistics and database entries.

So in reviewing a concert--or in this case, a pair of concerts by the same artist--I try to gauge and share my admiration and appreciation at face value, in the here and now.

But in addition to saving all my ticket stubs, and writing reviews to post here, I keep track of all rock concerts I attend in a Filemaker "Shows Seen" database, as well as (less comprehensively) on (I also have a Shows Seen database for theater performances, which lumps in opera, classical & jazz concerts, comedy, ballet, dance, circus and other live art forms.)

So I can readily tell you that the two Pearl Jam concerts I attended, last Saturday and Monday at Wrigley Field, represented the 19th and 20th times I'd seen the Seattle band live.

Coming just days after having seen the Smashing Pumpkins for the 20th time--albeit with a far less consistent lineup--Pearl Jam is the fourth rock act I've seen this often, following U2 (22) and Bruce Springsteen, far in the lead with 50 shows.

Even more pertinent to this review, this was the fifth time I'd done a Pearl Jam double, meaning back-to-back shows.

So while I thought the band sounded great both nights, it especially didn't matter to me that Saturday's pacing wasn't idyllic and Monday was 1/2-hour shorter due to a thunderstorm delay. (Unlike in 2013, the band didn't take the stage until after the storms came and cleared.)

And although, in the universe of Pearl Jam concerts, Saturday night's show might have only merited @@@@1/2 (on a 5@ scale), I relished the band digging a bit deeper into their catalog, for songs like "Breakerfall," "Present Tense," "Can't Deny Me," "Footsteps" and "Alone," even if none rank among my top PJ tunes. (See the 8/18/18 Pearl Jam setlist here.)

Of 60 songs played across the two nights, only six were performed on both.

I don't believe anyone attending either of the shows got gypped, but have come to appreciate that--with heavily revised setlists night-to-night--a pair of Pearl Jam concerts can be appropriately viewed as companion pieces.

Monday's show, which didn't get underway until 9:30pm due to the storms, skipped to the band's typical low-boil start to open with more fervor--"Given to Fly," "Why Go," "Go," "Last Exit," "Mind Your Manners"--and would include "Jeremy" and "Black" (neither played Saturday) as well as the live debut of a Ten-era outtake, "Evil Little Goat." (See the 8/20/18 Pearl Jam setlist here.

Even from Wrigley Field's upper deck, Eddie Vedder's voice sounded as good as ever on both nights, and now into their 50s, the band--Stone Gossard, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron and touring musician Boom Gaspar--remain musically agile and sonically ferocious.

Adding significantly to both shows was the sense of occasion, for me personally as well as--from all
observations--for Eddie Vedder, an Evanston native and fellow lifelong, diehard Cubs fan.

After Pearl Jam played two shows at Wrigley in August 2016, the Chicago Cubs would win their first World Series in 108 years, with Vedder on hand to celebrate. A concert documentary, Let's Play Two, intertwined the Wrigley gigs with Cubs championship footage.

To be honest, the sold-out shows this time around weren't seemingly filled with Cubs-obsessed fans, as a number of mentions by Vedder didn't elicit the kind of roars one might expect.

Sure, when Cubs owner Tom Ricketts brought the World Series trophy onstage on Saturday there was substantial applause, but otherwise I had the sense that there were many out-of-towners, White Sox fans and others who didn't care much about the Cubs gathered at the Friendly Confines.

But although there were no musical guests as at Pearl Jam's recent Seattle ballpark shows, Vedder found many friends and heroes to celebrate.

Ex-Bull Dennis Rodman was on-hand Saturday, bringing a ukelele to the singer and making a brief speech somehow referencing North Korea.

Blackhawks legend Chris Chelios appeared Monday, giving Vedder a jersey memorializing another, the recently passed Stan Mikita.

Saturday, Pearl Jam performed "Missing," a Chris Cornell solo song (drummer Cameron was his Soundgarden bandmate) and Vedder led the crowd in a massive phone-light singalong of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," after sharing that Petty had loved playing Wrigley last summer.

Other cover songs over the two shows included "Leaving Here" (Eddie Holland), "Know Your Rights" (The Clash), "Rebel Rebel" (David Bowie), "Rockin' in the Free World" (Neil Young), "Rain" (The Beatles)," a truly blistering "I Am a Patriot" (Little Steven), "We're Going to Be Friends" (The White Stripes) and, wrapping up Monday night, "Baba O'Riley" (The Who).

Vedder mentioned and thanked many Cubs players, manager Joe Maddon, the Ricketts family and team president Theo Epstein, donning a shirt in the latter's honor on Monday. And as he was in 2016, former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, now stricken with ALS, was on hand, at least on Saturday. (Let's Play Two nicely chronicles his friendship with Mike McCready.)

And lest I'm making you think these were mainly nights for paying homage, pure joy was had in hearing Pearl Jam blast through "Rearviewmirror," "Porch," "Corduroy" and everything else, while singing "Alive" at the top of your lungs with 40,000 others never gets tiresome.

I can't deny being mildly chagrined at how few young people I saw in the crowd. I would like to hope some teens and twenty-somethings still love rock 'n roll, but at Pearl Jam and a recent Wrigley show by Foo Fighters, youth was rather scant.

Hopefully, any teens there to "check it out" despite only knowing a few Pearl Jam classics would have been dazzled by Vedder's voice, the musicianship, energy, many superb songs and tributes to musical & baseball heroes.

Given some of the setlist choices, they may have occasionally had their patience tested, and though a bit shorter, I think Monday wound up being the better show.

I even think I enjoyed the Foo Fighters' latest Wrigley show--they played two in July, but I only attended one, as they don't mix setlists up much--a smidgen more than either Pearl Jam concert, despite liking the band itself a bit less. (For the record, I've seen Foo Fighters 14 times, my fifth highest tally.)

But as I tried to establish above, loving these two Pearl Jam shows wasn't only about loving each of the Wrigley performances.

And having been a fan since shortly after the band's debut album, Ten, was released in 1991, it really "doesn't get Eddie Vedder than this."

From Monday, a clip of the rare "U" as posted to YouTube by PearlJamOnLine.

No comments: