"maybe it is stone's fault"
Velodrome Anoeta, San Sebastian, Spain
26 May 2000
This is crazy. All of us running on no or very little sleep are making our way from Barcelona the night before, to the exact opposite side of the country. I am supposed to drive but decide to get a plane so I can get a few extra hours' sleep. The airport is in France... the concert is 30 minutes away in this sleepy little seaside town in Spain. To make matters worse, there is a film festival in town, meaning there is no accomodation for anyone who didn't make arrangements in advance. My hotel is in the middle of nowhere, not near the center of town or the venue. By the time I get to the venue, I am grumbling that this gig is the Boise, Idaho of the European tour.
Then the rains and wind blew in, and I might as well have been waiting in line to get into a Seattle show in November. It's cold. Torrential rain. They finally let us in (about 10 minutes earlier than scheduled) and I keep saying, "Why am I doing this? Why am I here?" "You'll remember in about two hours," said a friend. Well, they were more than right.
The venue is a velodrome - an indoor bicycle track, complete with banked sides. I had planned to find a seat and sit in it tonight (or at least park my bag on it while I stood in front of it). Not here; the seating is too far away. They have carpet on the sloped track on the sides, and people are perched on it. We grab spots on the rail directly in front of the speaker stacks on Mike's side; there's about a dozen of us by now, of various nationalities, who have been travelling, waiting and seeing the shows together. At this point, we're a family, and the family is going to watch the show together, dammit. And, we succeed; the crowd is boisterous in the center but just fine where we are. (Even when it wasn't, it's one thing when some dorky amateur crowdsurfer kicks you in the head during "Jeremy"; when someone is pogoing into me during "Insignificance," singing every word, it's kinda hard to get pissed.)
So there we are, waiting. The backstage is really under the stage, and simply due to our vantage point we can watch various band members come up and down the staircase next to the stage. No one paid much attention until the Vandals came out, standing there, ready to go on. I have not talked much about the Vandals because, well, there wasn't much to talk about. In Lisbon, we were so excited we could have watched a trained seal and applauded enthusiastically, so the Vandals were fine: like a punk rock trained seal, really. In Barcelona, when the stage patter and routine was identical, it was a little tiring. By this show, we are all in agreement: we do not want to see the guitar player's penis tonight. (He had taken his clothes off during the last song two shows in a row.) We are all joking we should have brought signs that read "NO PENIS". So the Vandals are standing there, and some of the Portugese contingent starts screaming at them, "HEY! I DO NOT WANT TO SEE YOUR PENIS TONIGHT!" "I have seen your penis for two shows in a row, NO PENIS!" (Okay, it sounds really stupid and childish now, but standing there, sleep-deprived and on edge, it was the funniest thing that had happened all week.) No, it didn't work, but I think they realized that some people had been at every show, and they changed the stage patter. A little.
Finally, PJ time. No idea where we're going with this tonight. They had been playing this spacey kind of music before the first two shows; they manage exactly 30 seconds of it tonight before Stone's onstage and plugged in. We're hoping for "Of The Girl" but instead...holy shit! "Release," performed to a sea of outstretched hands. Ed is intense tonight; is it the lighting? Is it our vantage point? Probably a combination, but there's something incredibly focused here.
"Given To Fly" up next; was there ever a more perfect sequence? The sea of outstretched hands is now a bouncing, writhing mass, singing along at the top of their lungs even louder than they did for "Release" (if that was possible). Any fears that this would be a repeat of Barcelona's crowd have vanished; they care. They know the songs. They want to be here. The ending of GTF extends out a bit, ending gracefully. "Do The Evolution" follows and we're all hanging on for dear life, this is just too great. "Corduroy" closes the sequence, and it seems like nothing has ever sounded better. The solo is different, my notes say "slow and hollow".
"San Sebastian..." says Ed. "Hi...I remember... the same place, right? 2, 3 years ago?... I was so much older then...I'm younger than that now," as we slam into "Insignificance." This song, this SONG... this song is going to be a monster, I have yet to finish my review of the album so I don't want to give the whole thing away but this song is just one of the band's finest moments, ever, and it will be one of the penultimate moments this tour. We're getting close, but we're not there yet. YET. It's just a matter of time. Someone tosses a banner made out of a sheet onstage, and Mike puts it on his head. And keeps playing. "Of The Girl" comes up next, this song is such a quiet powerhouse. It seems slight, it seems minor, but it is anything but that. Ed has this little dance he's doing during this song, not the DTE shimmy but he's definitely feeling the blues here.
The highlight of "Jeremy" is Mike hopping up and down, exhorting the crowd in front of him to join in. We oblige. It's scary watching Ed; this is a vintage 92 performance here. It's the headshakes, the jerky movements, all of this accented by the new lighting (which we're all in agreement that we like, because we can see the band!) Ed picks up the microphone and lets us sing the last "oohhhhhhs"; Stone behind him, frantically strumming, matching Ed's intensity. Jeff shakes his bass for some distortion out of the last notes at the end.
"Light Years" follows; it's a big lighter song. Ed's playing so hard he breaks a string; Matt adds some drum rolls right before that great, soaring instrumental bridge - that's such a great moment live, it's like that moment in "Corduroy" before the "everything has chains" line, just a moment where all five of them gel so well. Song finishes, Ed grabs the wine bottle, takes a swig, gargles. NAIS up next; someone tosses another Argentinian flag onto the stage. Ed catches it, and carefully ties it to the mic stand while singing, not missing a moment; Mike tips his head back and exhales a plume of smoke. He's playing the "Evenflow" strat on this one, and tonight the solo is intensely polished. Ed's off on the side of the stage, facing Mike, eyes half-closed. A powerful moment.
"Evenflow" tears in, and it's once again retro time - Ed's doing the butterfly motions with his hands on the choruses. There are some drum sound problems so this isn't as crisp as we'd like it to be. Mike's jumping up and doing splits mid-air. They finish, and a friend declares it the best version of EF he's ever heard. Perhaps, very possibly, the way we're going tonight. Ah, here's "Faithfull," and what a great live moment this has evolved into. I look sideways and there are about three-five guys perched on their friends' shoulders, playing air guitar - I mean to "Alive" you would expect it, but to "Faithfull"? They're singing along, too, so it's not an empty gesture. Ed cups his ears, listening to us singing the "echoes" lines, and later gestures specifically and deliberately during the "me/you" lines.
Stone seems to have some trouble getting "Daughter" started; sounded like guitar trouble to us. He makes about two or three false starts - Ed shakes his head, laughs (Stone of course is smirking away, oh to be listening to that conversation onstage) - "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Stone Gossard," and finally we get this song going. Tom Waits tag tonight, and then Ed starts repeating "Love me two times" over and over again, which I guess is going to qualify as a Doors tag (as much as we would like that not to be the case). "Breakherfall" rescues us from this dilemma, oh so delightfully. Everyone keeps saying, "I Can See For Miles" and yeah I'm gonna hear a Who reference in anything with a Rickenbacker, the 12-string twanginess says R.E.M. to me more than it does Who, although you'd have to have gravel in both ears to not hear a Who reference lurking in there.
I'm changing the film in my camera when I hear the first few notes of "Rearviewmirror" and I scream, oh NO, because I'm not hanging on and I know I need to be hanging on or I will end up on the other side of the venue. Mike is blowing kisses at someone down front. We get to the bridge, and I have this great angled view of Ed and Stone, playing, crouched, strumming frantically, Ed looking to Stone - for cues? for guidance? for solidarity? By the time the five of them bring the song to this precise, crashing close, I am now saying that this version of RVM was the finest I have ever heard. I am not a disciple of this song, but tonight in San Sebastian I was definitely a committed believer.
"Betterman" next is slightly disappointing; no tag, either. "Go" following, signalling the set's close, was even more disappointing; the crowd was so great, 15 songs in the main set seemed like not enough, they deserved more. But it's GREAT, it's just torrential - and then Mike leaps up on the stacks in front of us, laying on his guitar - I mean full body laid out on his guitar - he holds it out to us at one point and then takes it back and is manipulating these incredible sounds out of it. He hops back down and the song comes to a close. That is indeed it, end of set.
The band quickly returns for the first encore - Ed: "What a day, what a place. I have to admit.... we went surfing earlier today... as soon as we got in the water, this tornado came - from Seattle, it was lookin' for us..." and explains how he got lots of saltwater in his head (hits his head a few times the way you do when you're trying to get water out of your ears), and thanks us for singing so well earlier. Then, of all things, he proceeds to introduce the band, ending with Stone: "This is Stone Gossard; he'd like you to know that it was his guitar that fucked up earlier, NOT him; he's a professional, he came to San Sebastian to rock you in a very professional way," and we are falling over laughing, although Ed is trying to manage a straight face. So is Stone, who comes to the front of the stage to crank out "Last Exit," Stone and Ed sharing various looks later on during Mike's solo.
"Hail Hail the lucky ones, I hope you are in love," more wonderful crunching guitars, Mike once again running around the stage, behind Matt, coming up behind Stone and surprising him. Ed is moving the mic across his mouth, back and forth, like a kid would do with his hands? Okay, it's hard to explain. "Immortality," and Ed's getting the words from us - but it doesn't matter, this song is just so powerful, has such a presence now. I mean it always did but they are just so much more together as a band now and even the smallest detail is that much sharper. The chords for "State" ring out and the crowd is singing louder than Ed, before the song even starts. I turn around and see about 10 tape recorders being held aloft, waving wildly. Another great moment.
"Alive" next - Ed misses a verse here, too, and lets us sing it, holding the mic out, letting us finish things. This is fine, except somewhere towards the end the song completely falls apart, whether there was a sound problem, a guitar problem, or someone missed their cue I don't know. "So much for being a professional band," says Ed, "Well, we *did* smoke a lot of hash last night..."
Second encore. Another football chant, Ed singing along. "Well, since we fucked up so badly before, we're just going to keep playing, as long as you don't tell anyone..." No, Ed, and we wouldn't put it on the internet for everyone to read about, either. He asks us to vote, between "Whipping" (although honestly we all thought he said "Lukin"; it didn't matter) and "Last Kiss". (We are not the only ones booing LK, either.) Mike has taken off his tshirt and throws it into the crowd as they start "Whipping," which was a fantastic surprise. (The song....NOT McCready taking off his shirt. At least not for me. I can't speak for everyone else there, lol.)
Then those familiar chords, and some people I know (heh) were involuntarily, automatically, yelling "NO! NO!" - but it's "Last Kiss," and yeah we gotta remember that Europe didn't get to hear this live (well, it's not like they played it so much during 98 that the entire U.S. got to hear it either). Honestly, the *band* looked bored. Really, they did. They finish, and we are now screaming en masse for "Soon Forget" - what the hell, let's give it a try; but no ukelele is in sight.
But they make it up to us; Ed's talking, I don't remember what he was saying - oh yeah, something about playing this the last time, and it ended up on the fan club single, and I see Stone and Jeff changing sides - "Smile"! Okay, I can live with this! Except Stone is having bass problems - "Maybe it *is* Stone's fault," jokes Ed, as they launch into another little blues improv, just like in Bellingham, except far less amusing. Bass problem fixed, and it's a lovely, crunchy version of "Smile". "When the sun don't shine," Ed growls, raising both arms, middle fingers aloft.
Which would have been enough; but house lights on, Ed points to Mike, and Ledbetter ends the show once again. A great crowd; a great show, with some really sublime moments. Enough to hold me until I see the boys in August.
copyright © 2000 Caryn Rose
Special note: At this point I claim editor's prerogative to thank everyone responsible for making my little European tour so fantastic: Rodrigo, Monica, Sandra, Jorge, Catarina, Olivier, Kate, Danny and Bjoern, and everyone else in the first three shows contingent. You all rock Portland.