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present tense

"Present Tense"
Live in New York City, September 29, 1996

Do you see the way that tree bends? Does it inspire?

September 29, 1996: I'm driving through my old home turf, the place I more or less "grew up," on my way to see my homeboys, PJ, play at Randall's Island. Wonderful timing in the form of a business trip put me in the right place at the right time; I never would have gotten on a plane to see the guys this year, or so I'd said. The whole Showbox debacle, missing out on the tickets, standing in the rain in the alley behind the club, trying just to hear a few notes, getting abused by security, combined with the horrendous pit at Key Arena and having to watch the show, full of all old songs and few new ones, very predictable, from the second-to-last row of the 100 level after 11 hours waiting on line, put a really bad taste in my mouth. I loved the band, but was tired of the shit.

Leaning out to catch the sun's rays...a lesson to be applied...
Are you gettin' something out of this all-encompassing trip?

Or maybe I was just plain old tired. Worked through the summer, barely enjoying it. Worked through the fall, barely feeling the time pass, barely enjoying it. Lots of other things starting to fall apart. Turning off the emotions, not letting the music reach me the way it usually does. Not wanting to hear a lot of truth in the lyrics, in the sounds. Getting to go to the Randall's Island shows ended up being a real gift. I got to connect with old friends -- people I'd never met in person before, but old friends nonetheless -- who had never seen PJ. Getting to share their joy, their enthusiasm, their trip, standing in the pouring rain, watching Pearl Jam being Pearl Jam. Saturday night's show was great; tonight was just dessert, or so I thought.

You can spend your time alone, redigesting past regrets
Or you can come to terms and realize
You're the only one who cannot forgive yourself

What a night. What a show. Watching Pearl Jam in the company of some of the best people one could ever hope to know. Despite my fear of the horrendous, horrendous pit, where people were getting very badly hurt for no good reason whatsoever, I watched the band I love rock out, stretch beyond the confines of what the audience expected and fulfill their promise. It was one of those amazing never-ending shows, the setlist bringing surprises, old songs delivered with new intensity, as well as new songs that hadn't been played live yet.

Have you ideas on how this life ends?
Checked your hands and studied the lines?
Have you the belief that the road ahead ascends off into the light?
Seems that needlessly it's gettin' harder
To find an approach and a way to live...
Are we gettin' something out of this all-encompassing trip?

Earlier in the evening, PJ played the best version of "Porch" I have ever seen them do. I have trouble with that song's place in the setlist, it seems forced sometimes, but tonight they redeemed it tenfold. That alone would have sent me home, my head spinning. But the absolute best moment had to be, when they came back out for yet another encore, and just as I'm ready to start heading home because they have slunk back into predictability with the tiresome chords of "Yellow Ledbetter" -- I'm burying my face in my hands in agony -- and then my friend Eric taps me on the shoulder and gestures at the stage. They've stopped! They're conferring center stage! Oh, thankyouthankyouTHANKYOU. Finally, some songs from the NEW album. I let out a sigh of relief.

But I was utterly unprepared for what came next: "Uh, at this point, Michael and I would like to serenade you with this one here," and we hear the amazing chords that open "Present Tense," (On the tape, I can hear Al go "oh my GOD!" Heh. Three tape trees later, and I still end up with Eric's tape of the damn show!) I remember wanting to scream the chorus, I remember wanting to go completely nuts, but while the conscious part of me knows to keep my mouth SHUT because Eric's taping, my subconscious is completely entranced, out there in the zone with Ed and Mike, floating along on the music and the lyrics. It's like I've never heard the song before, never heard the lyrics before. All this is going on while it's still Eddie and Mike, before the rest of the guys have kicked in.

You can spend your time alone, redigesting past regrets
Or you can come to terms and realize
You're the only one who cannot forgive yourself

Second chorus, and there's Jack and Stone sliding in, Eddie's voice warming into it, and as we go into the bridge I know I am about to lose it, to go into that complete and total PJ zone, there's no stopping me now. And when that bass line kicks in my head rears back and my hair is flying everywhere. I remember leaning on Mari, in front of me, as the two of us had the quietest freak out in the history of concert going. It is at that instant that I know that this song is Pearl Jam's finest moment thus far. This was probably the highlight in my career of live PJ experiences to date. I don't expect them to ever top it; hell, I don't want them to ever top it!

And by the time they got to "Yellow Ledbetter," I didn't even fucking care. I even walked out of the stadium (in an attempt to beat the traffic -- yeah RIGHT), singing along at the top of my lungs. It wasn't even so much about wanting to beat the traffic, but wanting to cement what I'd just witnessed in my brain hard enough that I'd never, ever forget it. I didn't want to see anyone, I didn't want to talk to anyone, just get in my car and start driving and keep replaying that moment in my head on an endless video loop. How many bands can do that for you?

I found my car, jumped in, and started to make my way out. As I sat in traffic, I had this sudden moment of realization, like I'd found the answer to a question I didn't even know I wanted to ask:

Makes much more sense to live in the present tense...

in the present tense

"Present Tense" was debuted live at the club-that-shall-not-be-named. However, I don't think that counts, since there were probably a grand total of 25 real PJ fans inside the Showbox that night. (Are you LISTENING, PJ? Don't EVER play there again. Send out fucking tickets to the fan club, okay? It works just fine! Or, if you have to play there, send out tickets. I'd rather take my chances than watch fashion victims step out of limos to go to that show.)

Anyway. PJ played this song 19 times during the last tour, 6 times in the US, and those lucky Europeans got to hear it at 13 shows. However, it was on 10/5/96, in Charleston, SC, when Ed chose to share with us a little bit about this song:

Well, OK, settle down ...

So anyways, Mike has this great music & I ... he asked if i wanted to put words to it and i just needed anything ... anything to make me think ... just anything to make me think of anything ... just a starting point, where to begin so I thought of Pete Townshend, I took his initials and this one is called "Present Tense."

past tense

The full story: Caryn's review of 9/29
Vedder For President!: yet another review

the song

This is a very enjoyable audience recording from the Randall's Island show.
To hear it, you'll need:

a copy of "Present Tense" in MP3 format [mp3 - 4,721K]

If you are unfamiliar with the MP3 audio format, please visit our helper applications page, which includes specific assistance for MP3 players and downloading tips.

photo courtesy of Chris H & Quayle Hadok
original graphic by Caryn Rose for Five Horizons