Very few bands from my college years unlock the emotional key into my soul the way Pearl Jam does. The only others that come to mind are Soundgarden, Guns n Roses, and to a lesser extent Stone Temple Pilots and Smashing Pumpkins. Surprisingly, Nirvana is not on that list. (I just don’t find them as talented as the others, and in my opinion overrated – though without argument from me, admittedly quite influential.) These bands rose to prominence in the early 90’s, when I was in college at Purdue University, a time when I was experimenting with all sorts of things.
In 1992, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers headlined Lollapalooza, the second of its kind, back then in many major cities, but this one a day long affair at the then-named World Music Theater in Tinley Park, south of Chicago. I played hookie that day from college, driving up from West Lafayette, IN with my friend Seth and meeting our friends Fritz and Katie there. I still remember that day and those shows like it was yesterday (impressive given the haziness of those days in my life), in addition to the headliner, the others included the following list; and my favourites were Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Eddie was actually 15 minutes late to Pearl Jam’s set, Chris Cornell I remember asking into the mic, the crowd and Eddie, “Eddie, where the fuck are you?” and the story goes, Eddie had to tell security that he was the lead singer of the band before they let him on stage to sing for us. Awesome.
Dates: July 18, 1992 – September 13, 1992
- Main Stage: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush
- Side Stage: Jim Rose Circus, Sharkbait, Archie Bell, Porno for Pyros, Basehead, Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Sweaty Nipples, Arson Garden, Seaweed, Seam, Green Magnet School, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., The Look People, Stone Temple Pilots, The Vulgar Boatmen, Truly, Skrew, Tribe, The Authority, Samba Hell, Café Tacuba, Rage Against the Machine, Ice T & Body Count, Luscious Jackson, Shrunken Head, Sometime Sweet Susan, L7, Dahli Llama.
In addition to the rain of a particularly wet day, and the ensuing black night during it because of people ripping sod from the lawn and throwing it back and forth blackening the midday sky, and all those shiny, happy people I met that day, I randomly ran into my youngest brother George’s best friend Tad, still in high school. I had known Tad since he was nine years old, and as time passed, would a few years later realize he’d be one of the most significant persons in my life. It was then, just a passing moment on that day, saying hi then bye to Tad. I was with my college friends and we were just loving the music. We listened to Pearl Jam and Soundgarden the entire way back home to Indiana.
Who knew it would be 21 years later when I would see Pearl Jam again, this time with their biggest fan, my friend Derek (who was also by this time a friend of a grown up Tad)? Last night, they played an epic show at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Derek and I sat on the bleachers just off the floor of the first level, nine rows up to the left of the stage about a hundred feet back. And for three hours, we were carried on a ride of musical perfection.
Highlights included, I’m sure more to be added later:
- Eddie angrily had security kick out an obviously belligerent fan who it seemed was unruly to the people around him “Get out! Get the fuck out! …seriously! You had a chance to be cool and have a good time, but you fucking blew it!”
- Eddie acknowledged his sound engineer, a woman who had been to literally every single Pearl Jam show, with them from the beginning. It was heartfelt. The crowd gave a roaring applause of approval.
- Eddie several times acknowledged a fan in crutches having a grand time amongst general admission.
- A man somehow got past security to get on stage and went right up to Eddie. Eddie immediately diffused the situation by slow dancing with him. If the fan remembers, he’ll remember what could be the highlight of his life, at least until that moment. Hopefully, a friend of his got it on video.
- The cameras several times highlighted a ten year old girl sitting on the shoulders of (presumably) her father amongst general admission near the very front. Eddie had a soft spot for her and him, obviously a father-daughter moment that will carry through both their lives.
- Mike McCready’s guitars were a close second to stealing the show from Eddie. The entire band was tight but McCready’s guitars and Matt Cameron’s drumming elevated the game to exceedingly higher levels. The first set and the first encore ended with Cameron’s drums killing the arena, especially Porch (as Eddie was swinging on the lights) when I thought my heart would happily explode. Anyone who knocks McCready’s guitars have never seen him. When he was shredding Eruption, I turned to Derek exclaiming in amazement, “Eddie Van Halen would be proud!!”
- However, no matter which way you cut it, the true star of the show was Eddie. At one time, Derek and I exchanged “This must be what it’s like to be a god.” He literally had us hanging on every soulful word sang, every note danced, and every movement in between. I had chills come down my entire body when the first notes to Release played that only got higher with Eddie’s moans lilting atop those first notes. When he sang Sirens, a tear was fighting to get out. While I mistakenly (and unforgivably) thought the opening to Footsteps was Black (which I had not listened to in years and was beyond ecstatic to hear it later in the show during the second encore); as the song progressed, I heard my favourite Temple of the Dog song, Times of Trouble, in my head. And I was happy.
- And then when Black segued into Alive, I really thought I was 22 again, transported back to college and to Chicago, Lollapalooza and when Pearl Jam Ten was first released. The chills enveloping my body and the 21 year high that I’ve felt since was all captured in that moment and carried through their rendition of The Who’s Baba O’Reilly. In a bold move, they turned all the lights on, and we could see each other, we could see everyone, and the band seemed to rise above, floating, and all of us were jumping up and down in pure ecstasy. I didn’t want the night to end.
End it did, but not without constant remembrances of two shows book ending 21 years of my life. My memories went from seeing Tad in my head then my little brother and my little brother’s best friend all those years ago, to my times in San Francisco later in the 90s when we would become best friends too and later when I first met Derek and knew without a shadow of a doubt that when/if I ever get married, he’d be my best man, to now at that moment when the show ended with the biggest Pearl Jam fan I know – Derek. Ending with the band – Eddie, Stone, McCready and Ament – was a truly epic night. And that’s why, among many reasons why l love Pearl Jam; listening to them always reminds me of two of my best friends.
PostScript: night two may have been even more epic, as Derek went again, this time to even better seats directly to Eddie’s left just a few rows up. I was jealous, but in a good way.
- Long Road
- Corduroy (threw a fan out)
- Lightening Bolt
- Mind Your Manners
- Why Go
- Getaway Simon Says
- Got some
- I Got ID
- State of Love and Trust
- Eruption-McCready solo (awesome)
- Spin the Black Circle
- Rearview mirror