The first review of the Millenium has almost as much pressure & expectation as the first Pearl Jam show of the Millenium. It was wonderful and exciting beyond belief to be at this show, at a lovely little jewel of a theater hidden in this Northern Washington town, mostly known for being the home of Western Washington University. When this show was announced, we were all kind of scratching our heads and saying, "Bellingham???" I mean, Ani and Sleater-Kinney is more their speed, ya know? Who up there cared about PJ?
Well, walking into the theater tonight, it because obviously clear. Everyone was thrilled & excited to be there, while in Seattle, they're too busy pretending that they really could care less about Pearl Jam. These were people who yes, wanted to say they saw Pearl Jam, but they actually cared about the music. They didn't go get a soft pretzel during the new songs (actually there were far more walkouts during, say, "Daughter" than there were for the new stuff). The energy level was great; really warm and enthusiastic. The reception for the boys was likewise.
It's always my theory that you can gauge the quality of an audience by their reception of the opening band. C-Average (who got called on Tuesday to open these shows, or so I heard) were greeted with polite applause. There was much buzzing and talking during the first few songs of their 30-minute set, and even though people cheered the "legion of darkness" (instead of booing!) during "Green Mountain Airwaves," by the end they'd earned the standing ovation they got from the audience. It's too bad they aren't opening any other shows for PJ; in my mind, they're really an ideal opener in a lot of ways. Short yet powerful sets; not a lot of down time for idiots to yell during; they're loud, and they kick ass. =)
I can't believe it was only half an hour from the time C-Average ended to the time the stage was ready for PJ; it seemed like FOREVER. Much bustle and hustle onstage. This was a full dress rehearsal; they'd trucked up the lights and the sound. (New lights and new sound; if you've been to even a few shows before, you'll notice the difference. I liked it.)
The first song of the setlist presents us with our first challenge, in that I DON'T KNOW ANY OF THE SONGS BESIDES THE SINGLE AND LETTERMAN. I had printed out lyrics to refer to (like that would have worked in practice, and anyway I left them sitting on my desk at the office); I ended up writing the song titles in my notebook and foolishly thought that would help. I settled for jotting impressions and intelligible lyric lines here and there, and hoped I'd get a setlist or access to one later. Anyway, it starts kind of unfocused, like "Who You Are" in feel; the choruses seem to focus a little more; it's a little dark, Mike's wailing gently, bluesily. I wrote down "Credence" (as in CCR); it had that kind of feel, if that makes sense at all. (Later I see on the setlist that it's "Of The Girl".)
Second song. HEY! I know this one! "Grievance"! I get to jump around and it was here I had the OH MY GOD I AM SEEING PEARL JAM moment. This song is a million times cooler live than it was on Letterman. Mike's solo just screams. He just nailed it. Stoney is doing the duckwalk. (And he combed his hair! Never fear, fashion report below.) Next one is another rocker... uh.... (frantically consult notes) okay! Yes! (listen to lyrics) "Breakerfall!" Now, this one is a killer tune. Opening album track. Jeez, that must kick some serious ass. Mike's working the feedback, we got a mid air split, Ed's doing some gentle Townshend arm motion.
Slow blues, and it's "Nothing As It Seems". Stage is bathed in bright white light. I see the differences between this version and Bridge; it's more confident, the guitar sound is more robust. Mike nails yet another solo, feedback and all. The sound is great. It dawns on me that this is the fourth song and they've all been NEW songs.... this from a band who (as we know) seems to avoid playing their new material like the plague. It's almost happening too fast. Ed's delivery of the lyrics is poised, masterful; he's racing McCready in the coolness contest, short black leather jacket and all, but he's a distant second.
Okay, another new song... ergh... list. This is not helping. Now I know it was "God's Dice," although I guessed "Parting Ways". It's a pleasant enough ditty, expansive and lilting, but it's the only one I'm not completely nuts about so far. [Please note italics. SO FAR. Please hold your cards and letters.] There's an interesting bridge with some harmonic guitar interplay; can't tell if Stone or Ed took the solo but I'm guessing Stone. Mike's got the Flying V, yay! Nice to see it back. Oh, and this one had some very cool lighting, this neat green/blue pinspot thing going on. (Or was it varilites? Like I know much about this stuff anyway, I'm guessing. Again, cards only, usual address.] "Thank you Mount Baker...what a fucking dump." (Let me close Ed's sarcasm tag for you.) "This is the nicest practice place I've ever had." "Thin Air" is next, it's a relief to know this one and not play 20 questions. Nice harmonies from Stone; I mean they weren't just incidental, they were nice. It, too, is much more solid than the Bridge version.
"Okay, those were all the good songs," says Ed. I snap out of my revierie to count back and realize, oh my GOD, SEVEN NEW SONGS IN A ROW. Thank god I am here. If I had been sitting home reading this, I would have died. This is the kind of show I would have killed to be at... not just because it's the first show, or a small theater, but so far this is already near the top of my all-time Pearl Jam shows just from the freakin setlist, and we're not done yet.
Here's our old friend, "Do The Evolution". Mike back with the flying V. DTE is, surprisingly, a little rough around the edges, and not the tightest version I've ever heard. Ed's not quite doin' the DTE shimmy [tm], but he's back there, grooving a little, looking at Stone; Mike is running around in circles. "I am the first man to wet my pants," Ed shares. Nice Stoney moments in this song.
"Black," and I'm looking for some place to sit down (hey. I haven't been breathing for the past 8 songs, I realize, gimme a break.) Big cheer, the audience sings the intro, there's some nice lighting reflecting on the crowd. Ed does not let us down by fucking up the words in the second verse. (You want a sign campaign? Bring the man some cuecards.) Mike's leaning backwards, eyes closed, cigarette in mouth. Entranced. Doesn't miss a cue, a total Keith Richards move, taking the cig out of his mouth to strum the notes. Matt's toned down the fills at the end but they're still Cameron fills and they seem to fit now. Or maybe I'm just used to them. Hi, Matt. At the end, Mike is just totally lost, sideways, swaying, adding some nice little fills at the end. Ed's off on Stone's side of the stage, watching Mike as usual.
There's a little conference midstage, everyone busily chatting. Stone comes over to the mic and gripes, "We're already fucking up the setlist." Ed counters, "Stone, it's okay to fuck up the setlist, it's just the songs you can't fuck up." "Red Mosquito" roars in, I know if I mention Mike McCready one more time you will all go leave and find the Unofficial Creed Web Site or something, but I don't know what I can say. I went through a period where I really found this song borderline annoying -- it's the time signature, I figured out that was my basic dislike -- but something about the song stablized in 98 and now it's an undeniable great.
"Daughter," and I swear the woo girls were running down the aisles. That's fine. It's a really solid version, though; one of my problems with it is that sometimes, it's too slow and kind of sloppy, not sharp enough. None of that evident tonight, it moves well. Ed goes into this weird noise zone during the tag, he's almost yodeling at one point (Really. I'm not kidding. I know it's 2:38am. That's what the notes say!) and just when I think we're NOT getting a tag, we get one that I don't immediately recognize, but it sounds familiar. (Tom Waits. Doh!)
So Ed makes some kind of acknowledgement along the lines of, we know we've been doing the very quiet songs, it just sounds so great up here, I hope it sounds as great out there. And then - blastoff! Okay, the first seven songs knocked me over, I just got to catch my breath with the war horses, and now - YES! Thank you! "Faithfull"! This is clearly not a crowd of Yield owners; you can see random people in the audience freaking out; but it doesn't matter. I'm just loving this. This is my moment. Big smiles. Huge grins. "The woman upstairs," Ed sings pointedly (either he's petitioning the Goddess or Beth was sitting in the balcony), and another gender change at the end, "what's a human to do?"
Ed on guitar again. Another conference. Everyone except Ed does something with their instrument. Jeff returns with the stand-up bass -- and a bow??? Wha????? And I'm sorry, I have NO idea what Ed said next, something about trying something and not playing this very much, but once he started playing -- and I think, NO FUCKING WAY -- and then YES, it is, and I'm not writing a fucking thing, thank you, I have to hear this - "Dead Man"! Just Jeff and Ed, Ed's guitar rough, dirty. Ed has said this is one of his favorite songs and I can understand that, totally. I am bowled over. (And just last month, I went to see Springsteen in Portland and he pulled out "Dead Man Walking" which he had yet to do on tour. Both of them within a month. Whoa.) There's a tiny flub on guitar at the end, I can see Ed grimace, he's not happy, wanted this to be perfect. It was close enough. It's very presence on a setlist is pretty damn close to perfection, thankyouverymuch.
Band returns, "Sliding out of reverse..," and it's another big, huge favorite, it's a masterful transition. This really struck me here, going from "Faithfull" to "Dead Man" to "MFC" - this is a challenging segue. I want to say "mature" but that's way too judgemental - I mean, this is the kind of thing that I want to expect from PJ live but they usually don't take these kind of chances. They did. It worked. (Now they just have to keep it going!) I mean, I had goosebumps during "MFC" and it wasn't just the fact that it was a flawless version and that I love the song, it was where we came from, how they led the audience down a certain path. (Okay, I'll shut up now.)
"Matt Cameron wrote the next song and it's called 'Evacuation'." (Gee, Ed, you couldn't have done that for every song earlier? How about subtitles?!) White/blue lighting. I know I'll get shot for saying this, but I have to say that one of the first things I thought of was, hmm, I wonder how Soundgarden-ish this song is, could I hear Cornell singing it (and the answer is: yes, I could). I'm NOT saying it's not a Pearl Jam song, I was just playing with the perspective. Stone sings harmony. Ed is really pushing it vocally, and even comments at the end, kind of breathless, "Great song, bitch to sing." And then he asks us to thank Matt for playing with them (ya know, Stone can tell us a million times that Matt's in the band, but if you're going to keep thanking him, we're never going to end the damn drummer situation).
Ed grabs another guitar..."I'm fine, I'd be fine if everyone would stop asking me if I was fine.... you know, we'd ask how you were doing if it wasn't such a cliche!" (In my mind, I see Ed raising a fist and yelling, "How ya doing Bellingham!") "Immortality" gets this huge scream from some girls in the balcony. This is another nice, solid version; nothing to write home about, that is, until we get to the end. Mike takes my breath away, and the jam at the end has to be the best I have ever witnessed. It's tight, disciplined; it usually meanders a little, but now it's flowing but not aimless. Matt brings it home at the end, and they're off. End of set.
I'm happy to hear a crowd chanting "Pearl Jam" instead of "Eddie," ya know? And then Eddie picks up a guitar, Matt's back at the drums, and here we go, "Corduroy". It's funny, because in recent discussions about the setlists in general, someone said "I wish they'd stop opening with 'Corduroy'" and I never really thought about it (I find it kind of sweet and endearing), but coming back and opening the first encore with it just made sense. It's time to move this song to the back burner; it doesn't need to be a staple any more. (I'm not saying get rid of it, just rotate. That's all I ever ask for.) "Wishlist" is next (no mirror ball), and I'll just relate my notes: "I'm sorry. I have nothing else to say about this song, ever."
Ed then goes into this rap about how, well, they've played almost the entire album, and that if you taped the show, well, you wouldn't have to buy the album, you could sell the tape "for free" to someone - and then he kind of yelps, "NAPSTER!" sending us all into convulsions. This is why I didn't really get what he said to lead into "Insignificance". It took me about 7 listens of the single before this song grabbed me by the throat and throttled me silly, and I have to tell you that live, this song is literally going to make your hair stand on end - because that's exactly what happened. After the "Dead Man" segue - no, I take that back, this probably beats that moment. I can't explain it because I don't understand it enough yet myself.
Okay, another little band powwow. (Forget mic'ing NBA coaches, let's try to mic PJ members when they're having these little interludes, since they always seem to be laughing during them.) Another setlist change. Ed mentions, "I haven't had a drink in a while, and I've got a little buzz from this half a bottle of wine... god, the last time I had a drink was... 1:30 last night," and says something about being on the phone with someone (Lou? Lou REED, I think???). Then the usual speech about how this would seem to be a good song to play when you didn't want someone to go.... except that Jeff would seem to be going over to the side with instrument problems. So somehow they launch into this improv, which turns into a full scale jam, with a melody and lyrics with a theme, it's reminding me of "Roadhouse Blues" (personal to Mike from Ohio - oh nevermind), and it's fine until Mike takes a solo, which he can't get through without completely cracking up. Then a rockin' "Go," complete with funky cool strobe light. Bye bye!
Here comes Ed, something behind his back. The last time Ed came out with something behind his back at the first show of a tour, it was a Michael Jordan bong, so I have to say I have somewhat grandiose expectations as to what's lurking back there. When I realize it's a UKELELE, I want to mow down everyone in my path to get to the front (because I also didn't realize until 40 minutes ago when I sat down to write this and got some mail telling me the song is indeed on the album). I think this is some grand moment and it is a great moment. It's Ed, completely disaffected (not that he ever is affected, that's not what I mean; it was kind of a really intimate moment, which is a tribute to this audience. I don't know that he'll be able to do this many more times) with this ukelele, asking us if it makes him look taller. "Soon Forget" (as I learn it's called when I get home) is unbelievable. (I'm really in shock it's on the record! How cool.) It immediately reminds me of "Blue, Red and Grey" from The Who By Numbers (you know, it is a rule that I have to have at least one Who reference in every Pearl Jam review I write. Really. It's in my contract). I just have this smile on my face.
Band returns, I'm wondering what the hell could possibly be next (I was ready to go after the first encore), and although I have my mandatory wince at the opening chords to "Yellow Ledbetter," it's such a joyful, celebratory version, and the guys are just so tight (again, this can drag sometimes, which might be why it gets to me) that you'd have to be dead to not sing along.
That's it. The guys seem happy. The crowd is happy. I can't believe I just saw this show - I am beyond happy. If I compare this show to the 98 opener at aro.space, we're talking night and day - even though the 98 tour was in my humble opinion amazing. If this show is any kind of barometer for the 2000 tour, hang on, it's going to be one hell of a ride.
3:09 am, your humble correspondent, C. Rose, signing out.
Stats & Facts!
1. No Mr. Pickles! Bring back Pickles!
2. No amp toys, aside from Ed's gold bat wings.
3. Ed: leather jacket, cargo pants, black shirts.
4. Jeff: maroon tshirt. couldn't see the pants. No hat.
5. Mike: Turquoise sweater, orange shirt underneath (it worked). Don't remember the rest.
6. Stone...looked really thin.
7. Cameron: white tshirt, shorts. Not very memorable.
8. Tshirts (sold out), no posters. just one style of shirt. event-specific.
9. I paid face value for my ticket. The person who sold it to me rules. Oh, and the theater had the seat numbers of the tickets that were auctioned on eBay, and were going to revoke the tickets. SCALPERS SUCK.
10. anything else? =)