The story of Pearl Jam is the story of friendship. It’s the story of love. It’s the main reason why they have been among my favourite bands as they have spanned my college years thru young and old adulthood in Chicago. They have spanned my high school friends, among my best friends to my post-college friends, among my best friends.
Today is January 14, 2017 — Derek’s birthday. He’s in Iceland now, on an epic adventure starting in Los Angeles — that has already taken him to San Francisco, Sausalito, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Atlanta, London, and Dublin — taking him all over the world. For his birthday, he watched the Northern Lights in a van (down by the river) in the middle of nowhere. It was listening to the song “Society” that Eddie Vedder sang in the movie “Into the Wild” where the seed for minimizing one’s life and traveling the world was born.
While today is January, 2017; yesterday was August, 2016.
And so I find myself at Wrigley with my best friend.
And Eddie, Jeff, Stone, McCready and Matt.
A little over three years prior in June, I moved to the Bay Area, settling in Sausalito. I had planned to be back in Chicago the middle of July to see Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field with Derek, their number one fan, who had also bought a ticket. He’d fly in from Santa Monica. We had been looking forward to it for months. Besides being his favourite band and being one of mine, there was the added appeal of Chicago where we had met in 1999, as well as being the home of the Cubbies (at that time going thru a terrible year except for the games I attended, sitting at my season ticket seats). But that trip never happened. Two of our best friends — my brother George and our buddy Tad, themselves best friends — were celebrating co-bachelor parties in Los Angeles that weekend. So of course, we went. The story of that weekend is yet to be completed, but I believe that weekend — the weekend we didn’t see Pearl Jam — will end up being the most important weekend of my life.
That show we missed in July 2013 became a memorable one, a raging storm sweeping through Chicago after only a few songs were played. The concert was delayed by almost three hours. Inspired by a Bruce Springsteen concert Eddie had attended four years prior to that night that was also hit with inclement weather, he remarked “Even God don’t mess with the Boss. There’s God, then there’s the Boss.” The band stayed. The fans stayed. And both the ballpark and the city were still standing. Pearl Jam rocked that night playing till 2 AM, but we missed it.
So on August 2016, I found myself back at Wrigley Field with my best friend.
“I change by not changing at all…
“My God, it’s been so long,
Never dreamed you’d return!
But now here you are and here I am”
There were so many iconic moments during the show. From a wheelchair and using a speech machine, Steve Gleason (a former safety for the New Orleans Saints famous for blocking a punt on the night the Superdome reopened for the first time after Hurricane Katrina, and friend of McCready) introduced his favourite song “Inside Job” to all of us after giving us his thoughts on Wrigley Field (“If you want my opinion, this field is sacred ground”), pointed out the central theme to the song (“Everyone with a heartbeat faces adversity”), and despite the fact he suffers from ALS he exclaimed “I feel fucking awesome!” to all of us. Lou Gehrig would have been proud, even if he would have never dropped the F-bomb.
Amidst the music, Derek and I talked a lot. It was like an old movie reel. I remember so many things; and of course, I’ve forgotten a lot too. More than anything, he advised me.. “Love ain’t love till you give it up, bro! Why wait to tell her you love her? Better now before it’s too late.”
She loved him, yeah, she don’t want to leave this way
She feeds him, yeah, that’s why she’ll be back again
Can’t find a better man
Can’t find a better man
Can’t find a better man
Can’t find a better man
In an era as politically charged in the history of our country, I love how Pearl Jam respects the military. Eddie invited US Army Sargent Kyle Johnson and his girlfriend to the stage, who had surprised her boyfriend with the tickets, when he serenaded them with “Just Breathe”, after which Johnson immediately got down on one knee to propose to her. I think even Eddie’s jaws dropped. Ours certainly did. She said yes. It was awesome.
Pearl Jam rocked six songs from Ten, their first and in my opinion, still their best album — “Even Flow” rocked showcasing the awesomeness of Mike McCready, the most underrated guitarist in rock music. McCready’s done it over a hundred times before; and I hope he does it a hundred times more. Pearl Jam also performed “Alive”, “Black”, “Jeremy”, “Porch”, and “Release”, my favourite song from the album, but one of my favourite lines of any song in the history of songs is the closing to “Black”:
“I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life
I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky
But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?”
I get a tear every time I hear it, cos I’ve lived it so very many times before.
They would end up playing nine covers among their 34-song epic set, including the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Cheap Trick. And while crowd favourites “I Believe in Miracles” (by the Ramones) and “Baba O’Reilly” (by the Who) brought down the house like they always do, it was Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that took everyone on a ride. Derek had told me they would play the classic, and throughout the night, I waited in anticipation song after song. They did not disappoint, McCready paying homage to Gilmour note for note in a classic rendition. Before the song, Eddie commented upon listening to the during his younger days, “It was like heading into the sky and seeing a whole world of possibilities.” At that moment, my world of possibilities contemplated what a Cubs’ World Series Championship mean to me and the city. I was most definitely by that point, comfortably numb.
After two encores, the lights came on at Wrigley at 11:00 PM while the energy the crowds remained a fever pitch. And though curfew was about to be broke, no one wanted to leave. I looked all around me, a massive smile broke out as looked at all the people in the ballpark, for this lovefest of song and music. Derek and I gave each other a massive bro-hug. There was no one else on the planet I wanted next to me with Eddie, Jeff, Stone, McCready and Matt, not to mention thousands of our fans. “I know we have to leave, but I really don’t want to.” Rock on, Eddie.
All of a sudden, the big screens changed to a video of the Chicago Cubs. An Evanston native and lifelong Cubs fan, Eddie wrote a song about our favourite team, at the behest of Mr. Cub Ernie Banks. Written and sung in a singalong fashion, “Go All the Way” brought many to the brink of tears envisioning something that has never happened to anyone attending the concert.
“We are one with the Cubs
With the Cubs we’re in love
Yeah, hold our head high as the underdogs
We are not fair-weather but foul-weather fans
We’re like brothers in arms in the streets and the stands”
Of course, Pearl Jam closed with “Baba O’Reilly”, with the lights on like they were in Los Angeles when Derek and I first saw them together three years ago.
And then we saw DaveRisner.
It’s January 14, 2017 again. It’s your best friend’s birthday.
SET LIST — 20 August 2016 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL
Rain (The Beatles cover)
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Do the Evolution
Amongst the Waves
I Got Id
Surrender (Cheap Trick cover)
All the Way
Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)
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ALWAYS BE EPIC.