Night two of the long-awaited New York three-night stand. We could not be further away from Madison Square Garden in atmosphere and feeling, or in heat and bugs. I'm not able to be here for the first show, but fly all night, rent a car, and drive straight to Long Island from the airport.
Anticipation runs high tonight; while the first night sported yet another excellent setlist, common consensus agrees that the crowd was apparently way dead. JB is a hard venue to play; the inconvenient location shapes the audience, for good and bad. Tonight, however, is another chapter of Pearl Jam taking over the airwaves (with the show being broadcast on location station KROCK). The radio broadcasts are always legendary; we don't expect less of tonight's show.
I chose to miss Sonic Youth's set (having had previous bad experiences with their music in such a large outdoor setting) but reaching my seat with two songs left in their set, I decide this was a mistake and plan to be there the next night. I sit there, kinda worn out, looking at my watch, and then there's that orchestral "Baba" and I just spring to my feet, all fatigue forgotten, as they walk out onstage. I've got this great dead center view and life is going to be very good, I think.
Ed's holding on to the microphone, grooving already, as they slide into "Of The Girl". This is a challenging opener for a radio broadcast, you gotta give 'em that. The general mood onstage seems to be good, no noticeable nerves. Love this song as an opener, it just sets a great mood, and Ed's voice is just wonderful and warm.
Ed takes a guitar, I say "Breakerfall" to my companion (like it was a hard guess or something) and sure enough, crash, bang, boom, this is an in-your-face version, powerfully energetic. Mike's doing mid-air splits while Ed's swinging his arm in those windmills on the bridge. Stone on the Rickenbacker is still something I need to get used to. Mike's in a Clash t-shirt tonight, thus answering my question about who's most likely responsible for that pre-show tape once and for all.
Still a guitar. Well, doh, even my mom could have guessed "Corduroy" next. It's here I finally reach the verdict that the sound is weak; not the performance, the p.a. I don't know if it's the venue or what, but dammit, it is not loud enough. There's some nice vocal modulation on the last verse before the bridge; Ed sounds great tonight. Mike's solo at the end is quite different, the notes say "Tayloresque" and it was definitely more free-form bluesy than usual.
"Grievance," followed by "Last Exit," which Mr. Matt D. Cameron just rules. Matt's live consistency is something that by this point we seem to have gotten used to, but he never ever seems to have an off night, and when the rest of the guys are in synch with him, you stand there with your mouth open.
"Do The Evolution". NOW?? I count. Six songs in??? Okay, this is early. "I'm not a republican, baby," Ed growls at the end (before the "this is my church" line). In case we didn't think Ed was going to use the platform of several hundreds of thousands of listeners in an election year... nah :-) They're definitely finding their groove now, loosening up, Jeff and Mike playing to each other.
"Alright...Thank you very much, good evening," says Ed, taking a deliberately dramatic swig of wine (it's a PROP, people, a gnat consumes more wine onstage than he does). "Hello, New York," and the lights come up. "Actually, it's not like we're in the middle of New York, but we are, this show is on the radio tonight, so, hello New York, and we should tell everyone at home tonight, on the couch with a joint, or their girlfriend, or a beer, or a wine, no matter how comfortable you are at home, I still think it's nicer out here tonight," and the crowd cheers their agreement. Ed then thanks Sonic Youth as he has been every night, "for playing first and best." (Hey, it is a hometown show for them!) "Now that being said, we're just gonna keep on and play this next song, which is called 'Dissident'."
Now, something is dreadfully out of tune in the first riff (and thanks to the wonders of the encoded radio broadcast, I see it's not just me hating this song). My fan club ticket benefactor tonight is an old, old cyberfriend who I am just now meeting for the first time, and one of the things we have in common is that we both would rather hear just about any song in the entire Pearl Jam catalog except this song. I don't think it's exceptional or that it adds anything to the setlist (and yes, I'm sure there are people reading it for whom this is their favorite song, and good for you, that's fine, it doesn't change my mind). Anyway, we both laugh and decide that it's our fault, it's our collective Dissident-hating energy in one spot that caused it to be added to the setlist.
Speaking of energy, this was definitely the point in the setlist where they totally lost all the momentum they had generated thus far. (This is another reason I dislike the song, I think it always brings the energy level way down.) Mike hit some bum notes, Ed hit some bum notes, and it's just one big mess and now they have to gather it up again, which is no easy task.
"Rival" next, and GOD this is one song that has just floored me live. On the album I admit I was somewhat underwhelmed, but live it's a powerhouse, it's got a whole new life and purpose and power (and no that's not just Ed patting his pocket during the "well hung" line). It's got that great, crunching guitarwork I love so much from this band. But, again, it seems to be floundering somewhat, lacking the focus of the earlier part of the set. Even "Given To Fly" is slightly lackluster, and this song usually never fails to raise the dead.
"Nothing As It Seems". This is another song that just seems to grow in stature with each live playing, and tonight is no different. There is a weight and a command and a solidity behind it that just cannot be denied. A highly pleasant "Light Years" follows, with a small lyric change suitable for a late August day: "The days do disappear." "Evenflow," notable for no lyric fuckups is next. It's an extended, but fairly standard solo (with a reference that I don't recognize, but think Jeff Beck), and yet another lyric change: "the weather of the summers on its way."
Just when I'm despairing that they'll be able to revive the energy they had earlier, we get to "Daughter." Now, I am not that huge of a "Daughter" fan, I mean it's fine, the tags are the most interesting thing about it, but people love the song, it's a great get up and dance song, everyone's familiar with it. But, still, if you asked me to name 10 songs to put on the setlist, this would not be on it. Having said that, tonight this song completely changed the energy of the show, and revived it.
A few days before the tour started, I went to see Dead Moon play at the former Off Ramp. There were about, I dunno, 30 people there. They were the first band I ever saw play live when I moved to Seattle five and a half years ago, so they always hold a special place in my heart. Anyway, when I heard about the "It's Okay" tag in Virginia Beach, I was just thrilled, and floored. So tonight, here we are, it's "Daughter," okay, this is fine, and then I hear those guitar chords and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. OH NO, it CAN'T be... but it is.
Ed comes to the front of the stage, and just like in Virginia Beach, Ed explains, and requests: he sings "It's okay," and we answer: "IT'S OKAAYYYYYYYY..." Once again, "It's okay..." "IT'S OKAAAAAYYYYYY", and then a few more times, and then Ed goes into the last verse of the song, reading from a lyric sheet. By this time I can't stop crying, and I sing along with him at the top of my lungs:This is my chance, this is my lifeAnd then we all sing "it's okay" with him again on the chorus:
And my opening hour
This is my choice, this is my voice
There may be no tomorrow
This is my plea, this is my need
This is my time for standing free
This is my step, this is my depth
In a world demanding of me
But it's okay...It's okay, we've all seen better daysAnd - GOD! IS THIS FUCKING AWESOME OR WHAT?!
It's okay, you don't have to run and hide away
It's okay, yeah we love you anyway
(or as Ed sings it, "Yeah I love you anyway")
I'm shivering. I'm just overwhelmed emotionally. It's a tremendous, tremendous moment. It's so powerful. It's so meaningful. It says everything without needing to say anything. I'm just speechless.
Energy regained, we collide into "Lukin," and before we can catch our breath, it's the moment I've been waiting for (and was worried wouldn't happen tonight): "Insignificance". A friend commented recently that he could see them play this song 30 times and never get tired of it; I think I could hear it 1,000,000 times and never get tired of it. It is different each time I hear it, it is better each time I hear it. Sometimes it comes close to reaching its promise, sometimes it falls short, but no matter what, it is still one fucking incredible MONSTER of a song. It's EPIC, I tell you, epic.
That lovely little intro to "Betterman" precedes, well, erm, "Betterman," and this is my usual test for how Ed's voice is. Verdict: incredible. This song was just made for his vocal range, and he holds the last note for what seems like forever. Sadly, no "Save It For Later" tag.
"1-2-3-4" and I think, "ALREADY??!" and check my notes, count the songs (17) and I can't believe that we are indeed this far into the set. The front of the crowd is pogoing wildly. This is once again a heavy, bluesy porch, closer to, say, Bridge 96 or Melbourne 98 (see Song X) than the random freneticism of early years. That's okay; this is better, this suits them more now.
So Mike is soloing, and Ed drops back, and puts on his jacket. That's odd, I think; then he zips it up. Then, he realizes his shirttails are still hanging out, so he tucks them in. I turn to my companion and say, "oh my god he's going IN" (shades of Randall's Island II 96), and sure enough, he's at the front of the stage, in the crowd - who are unfortunately not respecting the dynamics of what is supposed to happen, grabbing him inappropriately, pushing. He's clearly annoyed and at one point took a swing at someone (who, I'm sorry, deserved it; there's an element of trust here and it wasn't respected). We end with some Daltrey mic swings and this major, enormous JUMP from Jeff, bounding across the stage.
First encore. God it took them forever to come back out. Not good. What are you doing. Come BACK here, there are people on the radio waiting! :-) There's a handful of people with "Leash" signs (here's a hint: for a sign campaign to work, people have to actually want to hear the song!). Other random signs down front.
The band return, and Ed speaks: "Alright, this is a callout to 92.7 [getting the station wrong - that was another very cool new york station years ago] ... and a request for them - it's a reasonable request -- for them to go back to playing vinyl, and only vinyl, on the radio," which of course leads to, you guessed it, "Spin The Black Circle," followed by "Hail Hail".
"A while back there was a record made with Young Neil, and this was off the small single, which was two songs - one was the Long Road, and this one was, I Got Id,' Ed shares. [I kept finding it so touching how he kept referencing Neil at all these shows, their tour schedules were criss-crossing and they were just missing each other by a day or so.]
Ed: "Two nights ago we were in Columbus, I believe, Columbus, Ohio? And I told them we were going to New York and they booed...I thought you were gonna be bigger than that (the crowd boos)... but after they booed loudly, to appease them, we said, this next song we're not gonna play in New York, but of course we're gonna play it, and we're not gonna be back there for another two or three years... so it's not really about New York City proper, or Manhattan or anything like that, more like Ithaca, or Utica, or Rochester; anyways, it goes like this," and he counts it off and swings into "Elderly Woman," a nice singalong as usual.
If you'd told me before this tour started I was going to see "Crazy Mary" played twice, or with anything resembling regularity, I would have honestly looked at you like you were totally and completely insane. I would give anything to find out what prompted this song's sudden revival and with such prominence, but I am sure as hell NOT complaining! (Although it does mean people start doing that annoying Grateful Dead dance, which I could do without.)
A gorgeous, soaring "Black" follows, and then Ed calls out an audible, there are some guitar switches, a few notes and oh YES, "Rearviewmirror" cranks into gear, this time generating pogoing everywhere. The bridge is great, it's this weird pulsating noisefest, owing more to Sonic Youth or the "Black Angel's Death Song" than anything I've heard before, yeah, it's a bit uneven and definitely experimental and not quite as unified as anything I've seen, but still ultimately triumphant in the end. They leave the stage once again to loud cheering.
Some clearly bored guys on the other side of my friend lean over and ask us, "So how many more songs are they going to do?" "Two," I say. "Two if we're really lucky," she says. "Well, what are they going to be?" I think. Hmm. Radio audience. "'Last Kiss' and 'Yellow Ledbetter'," I say, really just randomly guessing. Or maybe jinxing? Because guess what!
Ed comes back out and leaps over Matt's drum riser from the back. "I just want to make sure you're all fully aware that's Matt Cameron on drums," Ed mentions, and then thanks people for registering to vote, and once again goes through the patter from the night before, we wouldn't tell you who to vote for [Green Party], etc etc etc. And then, I could kick myself, "Last Kiss". If you weren't sure that the band found this song as silly as we do, watch Mike and Jeff sometime. Ed completely fucks up the words, and I dunno that anyone even bothered singing them back to him!
A nod to Michael, and here we go, a slightly more lively "Ledbetter" than I've heard, but it's all good, it really is. (Honestly. I've accepted it. There's a 12-step program.) Just to make sure we're all paying attention, and to get people heading for the exits to run back frantically, Mike gets us by throwing in these blatant licks from "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Substitute" (the latter prompting me to scream "oh my god, what is this???" only to have the bored guys next to us start giving me lessons in the Who. Thanks!)
The meeting place was outside the will call gates, and you could see how everyone had a different show experience by looking at their faces as they walked out: Jessica and Paris clearly looked like they'd experienced the second coming (well, they were front row, and Paris had one of Ed's picks clasped tightly in his hand); I'm going on about how I thought it was "inconsistent energetically," Eric affectionately throws back "fuck you and your fucking editorial!," while Glen jokingly yells at me for (still) not liking "Dissident". It's hard, ya know; part of me is the person who is genetically programmed to go out of her mind at the first notes of that orchestral "Baba" (or "The Color Red," or what have you), and the other part of me sorts of stands outside of that irrational love and tries to maintain one tiny little objective part. This is how I think about them; this is how I think about music. I can't help that.
Having said all that, though, I still felt like there was something elusive missing in tonight's show; can't quite put my finger on it yet. But anyway, if you were there, and you loved it, and you thought it was the greatest show you ever saw: to you it was. Doesn't matter what anyone else thinks, now does it?
Night three awaits us.
POSTSCRIPT: For everyone wanting a copy of that orchestral "Baba O'Riley," there are a few places you can find it: it's primarily from Pete Townshend's Lifehouse Chronicles six-cd box set (which is only available from eelpie.com), or you can buy the one-cd Lifehouse Elements [which I personally think is a lame compilation, but there you go]. There is also a 99 cent cd single with this arrangement on it that you can only get from Best Buy; I don't know anything more about it than that, so please don't write and ask. =)
Copyright © 2000 Caryn Rose