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"well, fuck you, we're gonna play it"
Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
11 September 1998


Friday night in NYC, and excitement and anticipation is just bubbling over. Ben Harper once again takes the stage and delivers yet another powerful performance, telling the audience that he couldn't believe that he was onstage opening for Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden and asking someone in the front row to slap him. =) (The person who did slap Ben, by request, happened to be someone he knew.)

A quick changeover and now it's just a matter of time. There are many repeat offenders from the previous nights, but, again, it's Friday night in NYC, Friday night at MSG, and people are expecting a lot. We were discussing opening possibilities before the show tonight, and a friend said, "Tuesday we got Oceans, last night Long Road - tonight it'll be 'Release'". Sure enough, Eric was right, and this tremendous roar rises from the audience when those opening notes cascaded off the stage. Were they going to be able to stand and deliver tonight? Well, if you took one look at Eddie during the song - lights down, standing almost completely still, his eyes half-closed, it seemed like every ounce of his being was totally focused on the song. It was concentration, but more than anything else it seemed like determination. The song ends, and he falls back from the microphone, drained, but with a small smile of satisfaction on his face - he knows he done good. The crowd down front is just ecstatic.

Here we go, "Hail Hail," we're revving the engines now and they were all just completely focused and totally on, working like five well-oiled and completely integrated gears; they each had their part to play and each of the members just seized their individual responsibility and ran with it. Of course, the fact that the crowd tonight was absolutely magnificent had a lot to do with it. EVERYONE was standing up, you could see people dancing in the luxury boxes and the 400 levels, behind the stage, along the sides of the stage, and the floor down front was controlled lunacy. "Hail hail the lucky ones, I refer to those in love - that's me!" Eddie shares.

Those grinding chords, "Animal" and oh my god, get out of the way, coming through, we came to ROCK tonight. Okay, that is totally fucking cliched but all my notes say is "jesus h christ" and I remember standing there open-mouthed at the amount of raw, driving, intense energy just POURING off that fucking stage, while jumping up and down and going just this side of insane. This continued well, well into "Evenflow," and even Eddie fucking up the lyrics in the exact same place as the previous two nights (and reacting the same way, with this frustrated, i-can't-believe-i-did-it-AGAIN "Fuck!!" while charging back into it). "Tonight feels better already," Eddie acknowledges at song's end. See, it wasn't just us that thought something was amiss last night. The usual get comfortable, we're gonna be here for a while, and an amazing, absolutely roaring GTF is up next, people jumping and screaming and throwing their arms up in the air. I don't have to convince you that I don't think of PJ as "Eddie and the pearl jams," but at the end of the day he's the one at the front of the stage, he's the one who has to lead the show, and if he doesn't take charge it's just not gonna happen. He's the one that is going to channel the energy from the crowd and back again, he's the dude up there singing. Tonight he held the crowd in the palm of his hand, it's not that he was manipulating us, or lying to us, or acting, it was absolutely and totally genuine, but there's no way around it, he just commanded that stage and made no bones about it. At all. (And good for him!)

"Corduroy" and "MFC" were next, and I hate to say it, but I missed most of each of those songs because of charming discussions with security guards and people who showed up late and erroneously thought we were in their seats. (And these same people left by 10pm, after we moved over just to get them to shut the fuck up.) I do remember Eddie's eyes just rolling back during the jam on "MFC," and it being delirious and ethereal and something I did not want to be fucking MISSING, but there you go.

"Habit"! Well, we're even getting a different setlist, a different approach, tonight. We're at the "Speaking as...." line, and I'm waiting to see what we're going to get and instead, Eddie just - works the silence. He stands there, hands frozen on the guitar, eyes closed, and holds it there. It's wasn't "what am i going to say" or "I don't know what to do so i won't say anything", this was deliberate and powerful. And Mr. Cameron, well, Matt just brings the whole thing to a crashing, banging, drum-driven close at the end, the closest thing to a drum solo I've seen from PJ, ever, and it fits, it's not bombastic, it works just fine to me.

"Like echoes nobody goes, it goes, IT GOES LIKE THIS" oh YEAH, it is "Faithfull" once again, and jesus but they are working it up there, Vedder once again particularly in command. "Daughter" singalong hour next, but it is so incredibly fucking loud and joyous, the audience echoing louder than the band again, and when Eddie goes into the "shades go down" line right before the usual place for a tag, the audience surprises him (and us) by singing the line back to him without prompting. He lets us go back and forth for a while, and then it's "wine in the morning/fancy breakfast at night/oh man, i'm beginning to see the light" (okay, so i was thinking "Lou Reed" about as hard as I possibly could - Eric was hoping for "Sweet Jane" and so was I, but this will do) and then we careen into "WMA", followed by something I categorized as "weird noise shit". "Good singing, New York," Eddie comments approvingly at the end.

"Wishlist" continues this whole audience-band groove some more. Eddie grins really big at the "50 million hands" response line, and it's "I wish I was the full moon shining on Beth's camaro's hood" (and we think she was there tonight, at least someone thinks he handed her a "Breath" sign, lol) and "I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as you," and at the end, e-bow time, and my notes say it all: "Ed, you nailed that solo's ass!"

Jeff and the stand-up bass, we know it's "Nothingman" time, and Ed prefaces the song by asking, "Who was here last night... we built the wall up here, Kenneth Starr's version of Pink Floyd's The Wall... talk about hypocricy, they're complaining about pornography on the internet just the other day..." Mikey (who was way too far away from me for my liking, grrrrrr, or rather that I didn't stand a chance of getting a glimpse with Mari next to me, hogging the McCready perspective all to herself) doing that wonderful 'into the sun' gesture at the end, Stoney ripping into those chords for all he was worth.

"Immortality," and probably the best instance so far of the band all coming together as a unit, working together, while still very much shining as individual musicians. We're in the jam, Ed falls back, he keeps glancing at Stoney, Mikey is wailing and wailing and wailing, and jesus christ but does Matt fucking Cameron bring this baby home, he is just nailing it, yet another instance of the many, many, many moments this summer when the McCready/Cameron combination brings the house down. And Stoney, Stone is just bouncing everywhere, everywhere. Just when you'd caught your breath from that, it's really drive time with RVM, and the whole place is cooking. Someone down front even manages to get himself up and crowd surfs over the barrier, where he's caught by Pete and escorted out ("Easy!" Eddie interjects, "That's a paying customer!"). We go into the jam, Ed drops back looking for an e-bow, his eyes are closed, they are working the guitars, the sounds, the noise, it's got that pulsating, "Won't Get Fooled Again" feel, and we come out of it and Eddie starts us clapping really fast (like he's also been doing during "Hail Hail" at least these past few shows), and I'm suddenly standing there, almost detached, definitely part of this audience but suddenly almost on the outside, watching what he's doing, not that he's manipulating the audience but he IS working the audience, and it's so perfect and so masterful and the look on his face is so triumphant (and so relieved, I'd bet) that I just wanted to yell, "Eddie, you got it! you got it!" or something stupid like that. You know how you feel as a fan, you do kind of take it personally when they fuck up, or when they're not having a good show (well, I fucking do, anyway, it's personally painful when I watch them get pissed off or frustrated) and when they manage to get past that and pull it off and fulfill the promise that we know that they have in them (and we as an audience very much have a part in that, we really do) that many of us do unconsciously think, *whew* when they pull it off.

"Brain of J", yet another verse to the well-deserving folks behind the stage, and right before the "Soon!" line, instead of singing it, Eddie asks us - "When?" and we all screamed the answer back at him. Stone is way up front on this one, about eight of us down front are screaming "Go Stoney!!!" and it's once again, organized insanity.

Spotlight on Mr. Gossard, and it's a 18,000 person singalong for "Black", so loud that they're hearing us in fucking New Jersey, big grin on Eddie's face as a result. Mike goes into the solo, Ed moves out of the way, and time just stood still. The whole band is watching him, Stone is standing absolutely still and completely entranced in the sounds Mike is getting out of his guitar. And, and, we got a variation of the Unplugged "we belong together" last verse.

"You take time plus mankind, and you get..." "EVOLUTION!!!!" we scream! And no fucking shit did we get DTE, we're talking Pearl Jam transformed into liquid nitrogen rocket fuel, every last person in the Garden is dancing their asses off, Mari and I are doing our little corny 60's shimmy together, Ed does his little DTE dance, Jeff is just bounding EVERYWHERE. Fuck! Aughhghghghghghgh! Craig Wedren, the vocalist for Shudder to Think, comes out and does the "Halleujah" chorus with the boys (no, that was NOT Michael Stipe).

And that's the set. Whew! Lights go down, I turn around and people already have their "Breath" signs up. I reach down and find the envelope with the extra signs and yell, "Who needs a sign?" and people grab them and start passing them back. It's our last try and I'm going to make it a good one if it kills me. After what seemed like an interminable wait, they walk back onstage to a loud roar and there are signs absolutely everywhere, every single level of the Garden had signs everywhere you looked. And Eddie walks up to the mic, hands on his hips, just oozing loving attitude, and says, "You cocksuckers! [Shakes head] You bitch! [pause, surveying the crowd] This is the third night in a row, right? [loud, loud cheer] What, is this some kind of organized religion or something? You know, we come up here as a collective band, and we give and give and give, and you just want more? Do you think you deserve it? Well, I think you do. Fuck you, we're gonna play it!"

I cannot even scream at this point, I am just frozen, eyes wide, I cannot believe they are really going to do this, after all the work that EVERYONE did, and at the end of the day, this song is my favorite, it is the song that saves me at 3 o'clock in the morning when the world has collapsed under my feet, it is the first song I play each new year, it was (was? IS!) the song that I have dreams about being in the front row (or hell, being in the fucking building!) and seeing them play. I have dreamed about seeing this song live since the first moment I heard it, and right now I'm in the fucking front row of Madison Square Garden (thank you, Eric!) and they are going to play this song that means so much to me and I don't know exactly what this is going to do to me. I did have the presence of mind to not put my cell phone away before the show started and I have Jean's phone number in the memory and I dial and it connects just as the song starts and it's all I can do to hold the phone as far away from me as I can so that she can hear this.

The first notes hit, and the Garden absolutely, completely, totally erupts in the loudest, most ecstatic, most incredible cheer I think I have ever heard there, have ever heard at a Pearl Jam show, ever, the energy is just unbelievable, put your arms up in the air and you can grab some of it with your hands, it's that palpable. All I can think is, damn, this does NOT sound like a song they haven't played for four years! Damn, this sounds really fucking incredible and why on earth don't they play this? It sounds fresh, it sounds new, and unlike some of their other older material ("Leash" comes to mind), it fits who they are now just as much as it did when it was written. Eddie lets the crowd sing a line, and when he gets to "All those reaching hands, grabbing things" he steps to the front of the stage and we are reaching and he is reaching and Pete is running over there in case he decides to take another little trip into the audience (god, that would have just been too much!). And on the "If I knew where it was, I would take you there...there's much more than this" line, everyone is just screaming, this is not singing, this is screaming the lines with every ounce of conviction you have in your body. People behind the stage and on the sides of the stage are smiling so big I can see them in the last row, they are jumping up and down, people are hugging their friends and waving their fists in the air. No matter how hard I try to describe it, I don't think I can come close to doing justice in words what it was like to be there at that moment; I can only try.

"Same album, different track," and it's - "State"! God, is this cool or what? And now everyone is just going nuts, there are people running along the seats behind the stage doing goofy little dances of celebration, and it's just the most perfect thing that could have followed, McCready doing these beautiful scissor kicks. "Off He Goes" next, out of nowhere, and it's beautiful, even if the words do get a little messed up, it doesn't matter. =)

"Leatherman" once again, god they are goofy tonight, Mike and Stone meeting and doing this silly little thing with their heads, lol. And then "Betterman," another city-wide singalong. We get to the end, Eddie is playing the "Save It For Later" music in counterpoint, and I am singing the chorus along as loud as I can, waiting, hoping, and he goes into it right from the very beginning, it's nearly the complete song, Eddie enuciating the words clearly, deliberately, and he ends it almost the identical way Pete Townshend himself did at his most recent solo show in Chicago!

"Well, since we're playing the entire catalog tonight..." Stone says, and woo hoo! It's "Mankind"! Eddie's moving to the side of the stage with the tambourine, and there's a nice eight-person cheering section going "Stoney, Stoney" right in front of him (countering the idiot screaming at Eddie). Ed walks to the front of the crowd on the side at the end, and gives his tambourine to a woman who had flowers for him. Awwwww. =)

Unfortunately, this was a bit of an error in judgement, because he needed it for the next song - Eddie says something about the MTV Awards that were on the night before, and about "corporate cocksuckers trying to play a REAL rock song" and before I know it, it's motherfucking "BABA O'RILEY" and I'm about to break down and start crying because this is really, really, REALLY almost too much, too perfect. Vancouver was incredible, it was the first time, Seattle it was half-hearted and I was too far away, but I am here and there they are and I don't know where to look first, Mike and Jeff jumping and leaping, Stoney doing that Pete Townshend duck-walk circle around and around, Eddie running over to the side to get that damn tambourine back, and it is classic, it is damn well as close to perfect as you could ever get (besides seeing the Who themselves play it), I am just jumping up and down, the crowd is singing every single last word so loudly they are once again almost outsinging Eddie.

And they walk off the stage. I'm convinced that that has to be it, it's 11 o'clock again, but no, Ted is tightening the cymbals and Smitty is dealing with Eddie's microphone again (and I can't remember when it was that Eddie realized that there were somehow two mics out there and tossed one dead at Smitty, who pretended that Eddie hit him in the eye and fell backward - god did Ed have a look of panic on his face until Smitty started laughing at him), and they are back! Again!!! Eddie introduces a very very nervous and excited Ben Harper, who is hugging every member of the band and going over to Stone and imitating his little roadrunner circle that he was doing during "Baba", and we know it's gonna be "Indifference." And it is, and Ben is so nervous, Eddie takes the first verse, and he stands there gently encouraging Ben to sing the next one, and to keep going, and the crowd just ROARS its approval. I had so wanted to hear this song this leg, and when Ed got to "I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room" and we scream it along with him, his face just lit up so wonderfully.

House lights, "Alive," and this is definitely the home stretch, but there was no other way they could have possibly ended this show. One more singalong-with-PJ, smiles everywhere, Eddie surveying each and every part of the Garden, arms in the air everywhere in salute. And during the bridge, Eddie decides to start playing his little toss-the-microphone game, and he gets it up over the monitor rig after about the fourth or fifth or sixth time, and this time, I'm watching him, what is he going to do now? And he proceeds to CLIMB UP THE MIC CORD and just hang there, spinning ("like a disco ball," Andrea commented later), the whole band just watching him in total disbelief, laughing their asses off.

And before we know it, it's really and truly over. I stand there, catching my breath (lol), I'm thinking about fighting to get a setlist from this show, and all of a sudden it hits me like a dead weight: "I'm going - I don't need anything more from this show than what I already have," I tell Mari, and I start making my way out of the crowd. Once I get there, I stop, turn to Mari, hug her and I just start crying my eyes out, the enormity of what I just witnessed on that stage only hitting me at that moment. And then Jessica and Paris run up and start hugging me, and I start crying harder while at the same time smiling and laughing so hard it hurts.

We walk out of MSG in this triumphant crowd, it felt like we had just won the playoffs or something, it was jubilant and celebratory, and we just start singing at the top of our lungs:

"If I knew where it was
I would take you there..
There's much more than this
Much more than this...."
As long as I live, I will remember this night.

footnote: the real "breath" story

copyright © 1998 Caryn Rose