Sunday, July 21, 2013

Let's Play ('til) 2: Weathering a Long Delay, Pearl Jam Reigns at Wrigley -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

Pearl Jam
Wrigley Field, Chicago
July 19, 2013

Pearl Jam playing at Wrigley Field held the spectre of being an unforgettable night, even before the show was scheduled.

Not only is the band one of the best live acts in rock history, but singer Eddie Vedder was born and raised in Evanston, and seemingly remains a rather rabid Cubs fan.

He has conducted the 7th inning stretch a number of times, is supposedly good friends with Theo Epstein and Kerry Wood among others (including, who knew, Jose Cardenal) and wrote a diehard Cubs fan's ode in "All the Way" (as in "someday we'll go...") that he'd previously sung at solo shows in town.

Last September, when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played two awesome shows at the Friendly Confines, Vedder made guest appearances both nights. 

So it wasn't hard to imagine him coming back with his own band, which I predicted just a few days later. (I think my guesses on who might play Wrigley this year were pretty solid, given that other than PJ, country star Jason Aldean--who I hadn't even heard of--was the only other concert (held on Saturday night) booked this season and that among my other imagined possibilities, The Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Phish, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles all will play to enough fans in Chicago this year to fill the park or come close.) 

As Eddie said during the show, he--like me--considers Wrigley Field the best ballpark in the country, and it's likely my favorite venue of any type, anywhere. (Vedder offered no opinion on the changes coming to the landmark at Clark & Addison, at least not that I could hear.)

So although I'd been to 14 previous Pearl Jam shows, most outstanding and several memorable for the location and/or occasion--Summerfest (rather than Soldier Field) on their mostly abandoned (due to the Ticketmaster battle) 1995 tour, New York's Madison Square Garden in 1998, Cincinnati in 2000 just months after the band faced the tragedy of fans dying at a show in Denmark (like The Who had in Cincy), the 2004 Vote for Change tour at the old-school Toledo Sports Arena with Neil Young showing up, Lollapalooza 2007 in Grant Park, Alpine Valley for their PJ20 celebration in 2011--this one promised to be even more special. 

And from the moment the band took the stage around 8:15pm, it was pretty clear that this one meant a lot, especially for Vedder. But somewhat curiously, and/or admirably depending how you look at it, Pearl Jam--early on, but also late in the show--didn't seem to play to the likelihood that the Wrigley setting brought out a greater preponderance of casual fans. (To be fair, given that until a fall tour was recently announced, this was Pearl Jam's only 2013 U.S. show, a great number of hardcore fans likely traveled from out of state.)

After opening with "Release," a slow building song off their 1991 debut, Ten, they continued in a relatively mellow and obscurer vein with "Nothingman," "Present Tense," "Hold On" (a song I didn't recognize) and "Come Back," before engaging the crowd in a full-throated singalong to "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town."

I didn't take this photo but don't know who deserves credit.
After which, at about 9:00pm, Vedder announced that they'd been alerted to serious weather due in about a half-hour, thus they would need to start clearing the field and wait out the storm, predicted to last 30-40 minutes.

Fortunately, the $52 seats I had with 3 friends were in the stands down the right field line and under cover. When the rain came--which despite some scary lightning strikes nearby supposedly wasn't as bad as the storms that forced the early end of shows by Phish at Northerly Island and Bjork at the Pitchfork Festival--we got wet but not too much.

By around 10:15pm, it seemed like the rain, thunder and lightning had stopped, but fans weren't let back on the field. Though I feel that pausing the concert--and even canceling it if need be--was the prudent thing to do, unless the PA system was turned off there should have been some announcements made, especially for the sake of fans waiting on the undoubtedly stuffed and steamy concourse. Of course, everyone who had a smartphone was likely checking the weather reports and Twitter, where the band posted this:

Although I had some concerns about the last Purple line train being scheduled to run north to Central--where I was parked--from the Howard Station at 1:55am, I wasn't going anywhere. And from the looks of things when the show resumed at 11:45, neither did about 95% of the crowd.

Vedder came back on by himself and donned a #1 Cubs jersey, spoke for a good while for his love of the ballpark and relayed the scenario behind his writing, "All the Way," which he proceeded to play. He then brought onstage 82-year-old "Mr. Cub," Ernie Banks, who along with Jose Cardenal had been featured in the story Eddie had just told. Ernie spoke to the crowd and a strange night got that much cooler.

By the time the rest of the band--still comprised of original members Stone Gossard, Mike McCready and Jeff Ament, along with drummer Matt Cameron, who is also in Soundgarden but has been part of Pearl Jam since 1998--came back on stage in full, it was about midnight.

They launched into the all-the-more topical "All Night," from their rarities collection, Lost Dogs.

This, and the also rather relevant, "Why Go" (...home?), made me guess that Vedder had re-drafted the original setlist for the show's resumption after the 2hr45min delay.

And especially as I doubt Ernie Banks would have been brought onstage eight songs in--to accompany "All the Way"--had things gone as planned, I am skeptical that the image below represents a setlist that was written up pre-show (rather than a revised one).

But with Vedder announcing that they'd been cleared to keep playing, to their great credit--if to the ire of Wrigleyville residents and babysitters across the land--they wound up going until 2:00am, at which point Eddie cited it as their curfew. This seemingly restricted them from playing big favorites like "Daughter," "Better Man," a cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley" and, most notably, "Alive"--they also left out "Jeremy"--but I have no real complaints about the setlist (you can see what was actually played on

I did, however, think the sound was atrocious, as the music seemed to reverberate off the grandstand giving me an annoying sense of hearing double drumbeats. But it's not like the band got to do another soundcheck after all their equipment was plugged back in after the storm.

No, I won't pretend I wouldn't have rather heard a couple of the missing hits mentioned above than "Leatherman" or especially "Bugs" (a weird song off Vitalogy with Vedder playing accordian).

But Pearl Jam previewed three songs off their rather coincidentally named forthcoming album, Lightning Bolt, including the title song (video below), and they also went way back to Gossard & Ament's Mother Love Bone days for "Chloe/Crown of Thorns." (These tunes are on Singles soundtrack, and though I haven't heard them recently enough to be ravenously appreciative, I thought it was cool they were included.)

Other post-midnight highlights included "Corduroy," an extended and phenomenal "Even Flow," "Rearviewmirror," a cover of Pink Floyd's "Mother" (seemingly slated to be followed by "Daughter"), "Black" and the show-ending "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young.

In sum, though the rhythm of the show seemed a bit askew (with and without taking the delay into account), the acoustics were substandard to the point of annoyance and some cherished songs were omitted or dropped, there were enough great musical moments to remind me why I love Pearl Jam, abetted by their playing 3 hours on a night when they easily could have pulled the plug a good bit earlier (or even not plugged back in at all).

To be honest, when they came back after the delay, I was expecting them to rip through perhaps an hour of greatest hits. Though I certainly wouldn't have minded hearing a few more, not only have I've heard them all before (this personal song history is pretty cool), I actually admire Pearl Jam even more for staying iconoclastic at such as populist venue.

This wasn't the best show of theirs I've ever seen, but nonetheless it will definitely stand as a night--and morning; I got home at 4:30am--I won't forget as long as I'm still "Alive."

Appropriately, here's a YouTube clip of their new song, "Lightning Bolt," posted by VideoGremmie, followed by a couple more of my photos: 


Noah McKelvie said...

I love your concert reviews and this is another good one! I finally saw Pearl Jam for my first time myself in Milwaukee last Monday and they were amazing! Are you planning on going to Foo Fighters concert at Wrigley Field on August 29 of next year? I would love to see a review of that show of your quality.

Unknown said...

Question - What section are your photos and videos taken from in 2013 at Peral Jam Wrigley? Trying to make a decision on buying tickets on that side near right field foul pole. You have a view that would help me decide asap.

Please and thanks


Seth Arkin said...

237 row 4

Seth Arkin said...

The video included in my review wasn't shot by me. The photos were.