The anticipation culminated for my friend Laurie and I once we had our tickets in our little hands. Front row. Mike and Jeff's side. Could it get any better than that? Six months agonizing, wondering where my seats were going to be, and the best possible outcome occurred. I had spent my morning in line with a bunch of really wonderful people. We all shared stories and memories, and our nerves (constantly checking our bags for our IDs and confirmation numbers). It definitely made the 5 hours seem like a lot less.
It turned out that the entire front row was fan club members. So was the second row. We had met most of them in line during the day, so it was great seeing familiar faces. We all talked amongst ourselves, I couldn't imagine what people who aren't aware of the fan club were thinking: why do all those people in the front row know each other?! They're definitely missing out!
Supergrass were adorable. They're typical English popstars that can belt out great tunes that filled a half empty ACC. They played 'Moving', my favourite song of theirs, and I was the only fool at the front totally dancing away to the music. They also played 'Mary' and 'Pumping On Your Stereo', but denied requests from the front to play 'Alright'. It was great, but we also used the opportunity to use the facilities when they played a song we didn't know. When we returned we noticed Jeff sitting quietly, watching Supergrass, directly in front of us. Considering getting Supergrass on the bill was partly Jeff's fault, it was only natural to expect him to check them out from the sidelines.
Orchestral 'Baba' as the other music faded away. I hadn't heard it yet, but it wasn't hard to recognize. It took forever for the band to get on stage, or so it seemed. The lights just would NOT go out. And then finally they did. I was overcome with emotion, to the point where my reaction was blank. I put my camera aside to soak up the first song. And then they appeared. From this point on I was aware of what was going on, but at the same time it felt almost as though it were an out-of-body experience.
'Sometimes'. Sometimes I wonder why they begin with this gentle, swaying song. This was the second time I'd seen them open the show with this song, and it was a wonderful way to let Toronto welcome the boys back. Jeff was hidden from us for the entire song, an amp was blocking our view. But that was alright, our eyes were fixed upon the middle of the stage anyway.
Quick change of pace, the band literally rips into 'Breakerfall'. A new song early in the show definitely set the tune for the rest of the set. The crowd is loving it, dancing, singing madly. Mike playing with members of the front row... Pointing, waving, nodding. The interaction between the band and the first few rows and the band within itself was so unbelievable.
How appropriate that 'Corduroy' was next. "The waiting drove me mad.... You're finally here and I'm a mess..."... My sentiments exactly. Six long months of anticipating the one show we would get to go to. No better words could describe what I felt like when Ed belted out those lyrics, I just turned to Laurie and gave her a big smile.
'Grievance'. How could you not love this song? It's raw power and incredible lyrics are just awe-inspiring, and this song definitely whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Arms were flailing, people were screaming and loving it. The fury they play with is insurmountable, no other band can produce so much energy at once.
I can never recognize 'Brain of J' for the life of me. What's with concerts and not being able to recognize songs that you've listened to hundreds of times? I'll never understand it. I showed symptoms of 'song amnesia' when 'BofJ' began, eventually slowly but surely, as I sang, I remembered exactly which song it was I was singing. I could literally feel the adrenalin dripping down the ACC, no one could deny that the band was tearing up the place.
Were they trying to kill me? 'Animal' is hands down one of my favourite live songs. It just does it for me. Laurie knew it, and when the first few chords were struck, we just screamed our heads off. It's scary being down in the front, you can actually hear yourself, unlike when you're in the middle of a crowd! At every show I'd been to they'd played 'Animal'. Intensity was key here, from the hand gestures from PJ veterans to hollering aaaaaannnnimallll!, this song is quintessential live Pearl Jam.
'Dissident' was the perfect way to mellow it down a bit after a string of rockers. Needless to say the energy was still there and the guys were so into it, enveloping the ACC with melodic goodness.
Hmm, Jeff sits down at this point with the bass. 'Daughter'? Ed entertains us with a little speech about the venue, commenting that the last time they were in Toronto (Barrie, actually), they had played to the same number of people, but spread out on a big hill. He wondered if the ACC was also named after a beer company, and had to ask the guys (Jeff, sitting behind him, listening) which venue this was... "No... This is named after an airplane... I guess that's good since things are really starting to take off." The crowd erupted with cheers, but soon were calmed by 'Nothing As It Seems'.
At this point time slowed down for me. The first handful of songs flew big without a wince, it was about time I got a chance to soak it all in. 'Nothing As It Seems' is stunning, gorgeous. Lighters were ablaze, and the crowd was entranced with this hypnotic melody.
'Given To Fly' is another song that just defines Pearl Jam as one of the greatest live bands out there today. It flows like a river... The calm moments are wonderful and soothing, and then the current lifts you up and takes you away... Ed's voice was gorgeous, the guys were totally into the song and we all felt every note that was hit. Breathtaking.
'Insignificance'. In my books it's very similar to 'Grievance' and the crowd absolutely loved it.
Now the sit-down bass was back. It had to be 'Daughter', and of course it was. A huge crowd favourite, everyone singing at the top of their lungs. The second they started playing I wondered what the tag would be... "It's okay..." Yeah, it definitely was.
'Better Man'. I tried calling my mother to let her hear it, but of course my phone was crapping out as I had mentioned before. Oh well. Another crowd pleaser. They were solid, very on tonight.
Stone's turn! Again, tight version of 'Mankind', a true treat to hear live. Ed turned into a dancer for the song, swaying back and forth in front of Matt, occasionally helping out Stone and Jeff on vocals. Laurie was beyond ecstatic, continuing her reign of terror at the centre of the front row. The girl was possessed, and couldn't refuse a good photo opportunity. Needless to say, this was her song.
'Immortality'. Emotional. Moving. Sad. I just leaned up at the front barricade and soaked it all in. No pictures. My eyes focused on the stage, watching the epitome of live bands. Complete admiration, wonder, and respect flooded through me. This is why I love them so much. They are true to themselves and to their fans. Having fan club members in the first rows might have helped, but the entire crowd proved how much they loved them during this song. It was special.
Talk about polar opposites. 'Even Flow' was tight, aggressive, and commanded that all our energy and attention be focused on the stage. Classic Pearl Jam at its best. Mike's solo was gold, being right in front of him truly made me revel in his talent, and I don't even know the first thing about playing guitar. The guys also showed their awe in their fellow bandmate, stepping back to savour the solo.
At Montreal '98, I thought that I would cry if they played 'Black'. They did play it, but I didn't cry, instead I gave Laurie a big kiss on the cheek. As the song began and before my partner in crime took off, I gave her a big smooch on the cheek, and then we turned back and watched. The song was trance-like, I just closed my eyes and let the passion of the song take over. The tempo of the show, once again, seemed to slow down. This was fine by me, the longer I could stay where I was, the happier I would be.
'Rearviewmirror'. I love this song because it is both powerful and overwhelming, while angry and in your face. The band hit us with this one, and practically knocked us all down.
The band disappeared. No worries. The crowd would not let them get away so fast and cheered and cheered like I've never heard a crowd cheer before. The place was LOUD.
And then they reappeared. Ed said it was time for some request, and naturally the crowd loved that idea. Someone in the front had made a simple sign for 'Sleight of Hand', where the word 'hand' was replaced with a drawing of a hand. Ed agreed to that and the band tore into it. This song is a descendent in the lineage of other anthemic rockers like 'Alive', or 'In Hiding'. It was tenfold better live than the recorded version. It was clear, crisp, and compelling.
I would never have guessed in a million years that 'Crazy Mary' would be played. The whole thing too. At other shows I'd heard a teaser of it, but not the complete song. As I sang I stumbled through the words, not actually believing what I was hearing! But hearing is believing (ooh that was bad)... The song was perfect and everyone loved it. "Take a bottle, drink it down... Pass it around..." was what Ed did at Stone's side of the stage, passing it down to someone in the front and taking it back to finish the song.
The band wanted to leave us all worn out... 'Once' pounded away at our ear drums. It was at this point that I noticed that they had only played a few songs from 'Ten'... No complaints though, the mix in the setlist was really refreshing.
Time to get your dancing shoes on! 'Do The Evolution' was up next... The lyrics in this song are just brilliant and are so true. I was looking forward to the 'Hallelujah' part to see the guys with their arms in the air... But the only people who's arms were waving in the air at that part were the thousands of arms in the crowd. Oh well! It was still a kick-ass version of the song.
The guitars were ready to go into the next song of the encore, but wait, Ed had something to say. Seems like every time he's in Toronto he has something to say about the end of the world. In Barrie he mentioned how the Doomsday clock was pushed ahead, and that "...we're all gonna die, fuckers." Tonight, after either reading in the paper or seeing it on the news, Ed told us about how physicist Stephen Hawking came up with the idea that the humans had only about a thousand years left on the planet, and that this was a good thing for the planet, to which we all roared... And the mirrorball was lowered and 'Wishlist' began. Ed changed the lyrics to "I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as Geddy Lee" (of Rush fame)... And then, changed the end of the song to "I wish that it would stop after a thousand years..."
'Leatherman', another freak out song for Laurie and me. Ed said it was time for a b-side, and when they ripped into this tune, we just lost it. We belted out the song, screaming out "covered with leather but it wasn't tight..." (I have feeling that's Laurie's favourite PJ lyric of all-time!)... You just can't go wrong with this song...
'Baba O'Riley' proved to be the highlight of the night for me, and for a lot of people at the show. I thought it was cool when I got to see it at Montreal '98, but I had no clue what I was in for on this night. Before grabbing his tambourine, Ed comments that they're recording the song tonight (umm, like all the other songs too...!)... And that they're also going to record it in Chicago... And whichever one was best would be included on an upcoming Who tribute album. This whipped the crowd into the frenzy, as I'm sure everyone thought, there's no way we're going to let Chicago beat us! The boys were unbelievable, not a mistake was made. The energy was overwhelming and Ed's singing was absolutely flawless. The house lights were on and the entire crowd was loving it. We were loud, singing at the top of our lungs. I have never experienced anything like this before and I was shocked by how many people were singing. Ed even let us sing an entire chorus by ourselves, and I think he was impressed by the emotion we returned to him. And then came the tambourine part.... Where 20000 pairs of hands all, in unison, turned into instruments. The crowd was perfect, and knew exactly what to do. It was such a phenomenal rush, and a special moment.
The band thanked us again and left the stage. The crowd was so incredibly pumped, people were stomping their feet, cheering, clapping, making as much noise as possible. We needed more! It would be oh so cruel to leave us hanging there.
'Indifference' would prove to be the perfect way to end a magical, special evening. The third 'I' song tonight. A good way to mellow out the crowd, and we all appreciated it. Ed's voice flowed through the arena and everyone was engulfed in the song. There is no other way to describe it but perfect.
The band left the stage and we all knew in our hearts it was over. But it's okay, I am beyond thankful for the experience I had. Without the Ten Club this would have never happened and for that, I am forever in debt to them. I can't even express my gratitude.
Thanks to Laurie for keeping my nerves in check, and everyone else I met in line: Carolina, Deanna, Marguerite, Nancy, Jordan (who kept on disappearing!!!)... And thanks to the folks at the ACC for keeping the front of the line indoors :)
© 2000 Carolyn Richter
photos © Carolyn Richter