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MFC: Matt Fuckin' Cameron
Rose Garden, Portland, OR
DISCLAIMER: I will start off this review by telling you upfront that this is absolutely not an objective review. I had FRONT ROW fan club seats, dead in front of Michael McCready. PJ could have walked onstage and burped collectively as their entire offering for the evening and I would still think it was the best thing that I ever saw.

I have had a lot of perspectives of the live show on this leg of the tour, and I've enjoyed every single one of them. I knew that being in the front row for a reserved show, legally, was going to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life. However, I do not think I was prepared for just how incredible this truly was. Unlike Kansas City, the stage was level with my chin, so I got to see EVERYTHING that went on. And thanks to the excellent Rose Garden security, there were no seat-crashers, so I wasn't continually worried about my space. It was like it was just me and the band there.

Thanks to the Ten Club, as usual, for taking care of the fans. Everyone around me (many of whom I knew personally) were just thrilled out of their minds to be sitting where they were.

I knew we were in for one hell of a show when the band walked onstage and Stone started bouncing up and down before they even started playing. =) First up was a classic version of "Corduroy," the cheering and screaming from the audience building as the music built up and exploded into the song. The next sequence of tunes was equally classic for this tour: the "Hail Hail"/"Brain of J" duo, Stone wailing away on the solo.

"Spin The Black Circle" next, Mike just flailing away like crazy. And then, then, a wonderful "Red Mosquito," and I am just entranced by being able to do nothing else but just watch Mike McCready play slide guitar. I have mentioned how completely inspired I have been by Mike's guitar playing this tour, and how I have really felt honored to be able to focus on the mechanics of watching him play, but after this show and these seats, I was nothing less than inspired. I wanted to come home, pick up the guitar I have sitting in the corner (and haven't touched for at least five years), and just PLAY. And that I think is probably the biggest compliment I could give him.

"Given To Fly," and this song has not failed to give me goosebumps for the last three shows I saw. We went through kind of a rough patch with it, Matt still feeling his way through it, but I can say with all certainty that the end of the West Leg of the tour delivered some of the most definitive versions of this song you have ever heard. Again, McCready details: watching him alternate playing with his fingers, not using the pick, and then switching to the pick. I am out of my mind at the fact that I am close enough to be able to watch these little details. I am feeling bad that my friend Chris, who thinks that PJ should be called "The Mike McCready Experience" is sitting up and behind the stage, and not in these seats.

"Evenflow," and as much as I have always loved this song, PJ continue to deliver night after night after night on this one. There is one little part of the song, right after the guitar intro, when there are five little drum beats, I got so used to them being played differently, and Matt Cameron just nails them every single time. Five little beats, and the whole song changes. Mike and Stone are looking at each other across the stage, doing matching bounces on purpose; and Mikey broke into this solo that I think is Hendrix, but could also be Jeff Beck (I need to go research this).

"In Hiding," and I know we're not going to get "Faithfull" tonight (and the setlist I got after the show confirmed it). While nothing will ever compare to the first time I heard this song, Eddie tonight is just so completely in command, so focused, so on; his voice is as usual beautiful beyond belief, but it was his presence onstage and his vocal delivery tonight that struck me the most, and this song was the first instance that drove this home. I don't want to say "poised," because that sounds like he went to charm school or something, but one thing I have been saying over the past few weeks is that this band has grown up. I've been watching a lot of 1992 videos lately, and I used to watch them somewhat wistfully and think, god, look at all that energy, look at how happy they are; what happened to that? I watched some vids earlier this week, and I am telling you - it is the same feeling, exactly, the difference being that instead of the music controlling PJ, they now control the music.

Back to "In Hiding". I think about this song a lot; this, "Nothingman," and "MFC" are probably the three lyrics that are always uppermost in my mind. And tonight I am really struck by this theory I voiced a few months ago, how "In Hiding" to me is PJ's version of "Behind Blue Eyes":

"When my fist clenches, crack it open
Before I use it and lose my cool
When I smile, tell me some bad news
Before I laugh and act like a fool
If I swallow anything evil
Put your finger down my throat
If I shiver, please give me a blanket
Keep me warm, let me wear your coat"
and then pj: "I swallowed my words to keep from lying
I swallowed my face just to keep from biting
I swallowed my breath and went deep, I was diving, diving
I surfaced when all of my pain was enlightened.."

Then, 12-string bass and Mr. Ament, and I get to do nothing but watch him play it during "Jeremy". I had this list of things I always wanted to watch, and this was one of 'em. Say what you want about this song, yeah, I do think that they do play it too much sometimes, but I cannot remember the last time I heard them play such a tremendous version; the Oakland shows, for example, it was on the setlist for obvious reasons, but they even admitted themselves that they had managed to reclaim it; but the Portland version is the best version of the song I have ever heard, it just grabbed you by the throat and made you pay attention, total utter conviction, like they were playing it for the very first time.

The Portland show was a show that was driven by the drums. I mean, we're talking MFC, Matt Fuckin' Cameron here, and as the tour went by, he just got better and better and better; by the time we reached Seattle he was actually SMILING onstage, thank goodness.

"Daughter," the Pixies tag, then there's the SG and yep, "In My Tree," once again, and this time, this time, it is the version we all know and love, adore, dance around and sing to, fierce, shouting, triumphant. All I managed to scrawl was "AWESOME!"

Mirror ball time as we slide into "Wishlist," I'm noticing the amazing moving crows, this time on the frame holding the mirror ball itself, the spotlights moving around the mirror ball, transformig it. "I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as you," Ed walking back and playing to Matt like he always does for this song, we're back to Ed saying "living being" (after a few "alien"'s), and he just held the last note of the song forever on the guitar, working the ebow, facing the front.

I've gotten really good at being able to id songs from guitar changes, and so I am confounded when there's something I don't recognize; like Eddie walking to the front wearing the Rickenbacker, making some joke about Willamette ("Ok, this next one isn't necessarily for you if you're from Portland, it's for you if you're from Willamette.  Something like that."), and it's a great "Elderly Woman," the whole arena screaming "HELLO!" Stone and Eddie had this little debate before the song began, Eddie started it, and then stopped, and it was one of those, "who is supposed to start this one, and what's the count?" conversations, the two of them laughing their asses off.

And then somehow everyone's gone except Mike and Ed, and before I know it there are those notes and - "Present Tense". Remember what I said about Ed's command of the stage and the lyrics and the music tonight? Well, this song was the ultimate example of that. He's relaxed, but totally focused, and the lyrics are delivered with such precision and conviction. Ed stretches his arm out, reaching for the spotlight shining on him, as he sings, "Have you the belief that the road ahead ascends off into the light?" and I am lost, transfixed, as I hear the best version of this song I have ever heard. Matt's work on this song, again, expands above and beyond what we get on record or what we got live before; it's delicate, textured, building layers of drumbeats.

It was that kind of show.

The perfect transition, next, into "Rearviewmirror", Ed using the ebow at the end of it (as he has at a few other shows this tour), and another perfect segue, this time into "Alive", the whole arena on its feet yet again, bringing the set to a perfect, climactic end. Yes, they played this song at every show this tour. But why not? I do believe that there probably need to be some constants, and if I had to choose, I'd pick "Alive" and "Evenflow," because they're never tired, they're never boring, and something always happens, either in the crowd/band energy exchange during "Alive," or during the groove or solo in "Evenflow".

A long break, and Eddie comes out and asks Keith to bring the houselights DOWN (what the fuck..?) and we are treated to a super version of "Do The Evolution," with an amazing cartoon-like film shown on the backdrop, no lights on the band at all. Of course, we come home later to learn that there's all sorts of chat about PJ doing a video for MTV; there are some parts of this film that they will DEFINITELY have to edit out (and I have to confess I wasn't going to waste too much of my time that close to the band watching a movie, but other friends at the show picked up on it).

"Black," I'm preparing myself for another legendary McCready solo, and that's exactly what we got, Eddie so into it that he went over and sat down with his ear pressed up against Mike's amp. Out of nowhere, "Leatherman," and then "Betterman," (Matt Cameron singing BACKGROUND VOCALS on both, reason #4,560 that Matt will join PJ as a permanent drummer) and I'm betting on a "man" trilogy (and it was on the setlist, so I wasn't too far off); instead, crash, bang, boom, and it's an inferno onstage with "Leaving Here," (once again true to the Pearl-Jam-As-Speed-Metal-Band tradition started in Australia: "Hey can you all tell that we smoked pot while we went back there earlier. Are we a little slower than we were when we started out?  I guess not.  You're not paying attention," says Stone) followed by "Go". The whole place is on its feet, no one in their right mind is sitting down, and they walk off. But that can't be it.

And it's not. "The last time we played here was with Neil, so we're going to end with Neil too.  Sing along because I know that you've all done it ... fuck up at least." Once again, I get to hear the best version of "Fuckin' Up" I have ever heard, it was the first thing I asked to hear on the way home in the van, complete with someone's dog (not Mike's, although we thought so at the time; it belonged to a small boy who was obviously a friend of PJ's, or whose parents were friends of the band and were side-stage) brought out onstage during the "dogs that lick and dogs that bite" verse. And again, it's that command, that precise delivery, that kept striking me all night: "Mindless drifter on the road/Carry such an easy load/It's how you look, and how you feel/You must have a heart of steel..," all sung with passion, with emotion, with love, with conviction. There was not one vocal flub all evening, not on "Wishlist," not on RVM (the usual offenders); this was a strikingly perfect show.

A conclusion with which everyone seems to concur, from the fans spilling joyfully out of the venue, to our entire contingent; everyone without exception says that this is the best show we've ever seen them do.

At least, until Vancouver. But that's another story.

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Copyright © 1998 Caryn Rose