Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver, BC
A Sunday show in Vancouver. It's pretty much the same driving distance from Seattle that Portland is, and I have this rule that if one of my favorite bands is playing within "speeding distance" (thanks, ++Tony), well, then I have to be there. I'd called and bought myself a halfway decent single seat the day the tickets went on sale, and ended up upgrading and sitting in a row of excellent seats with five friends. So the context was already set for this to be a great show.
After the Portland show the night before, from which we were still recovering, it was going to be hard, very hard, for PJ to beat themselves. We figured that the audience would be fantastic; every time I've seen a show in Canada the audience has played a not minor part in making a great show even better. Tonight, however, things started out a little sleepy. There were pockets of fans going insane all over the arena, but it took a little effort on the band's part to get people moving.
And this was a good thing; PJ couldn't just get up onstage and drive the audience crazy from the sheer power of the fact that they are Pearl Jam, they had to really, really work. I'm not saying that they don't play their asses off onstage every night, but there are nights that one note, one movement, and the crowd goes nuts (and equally, nights where Mike McCready excels and people are going out for a soft pretzel during his solos).
But I digress.
So I'm sitting in a row with members of the faithfull, the communication is almost on a non-verbal level at this point, we don't have to explain, we can just smile, point, comment and we know what the other is talking about. So we are confounded beyond belief when they walk out and Jeff's got the stand-up bass? WTF?! (And goodness was this a show for the stand-up bass.) Out of nowhere, "Sometimes," none of us have heard this song on the tour yet; it's delicate, tentative, yet strong and sure. We've barely recovered from delight when - "Go"! Now?! Second song in the set?! Oh my god, what are we in for tonight! The song ends, and someone comments, "Thank god for Matt Cameron," and he is so right. The Portland show was truly driven by the drums, but tonight he is the rock to which the band is anchored.
The "Hail Hail"/"Brain of J" combo next, Mike doing mid-air splits during the latter, and then a fine, soaring version of "Dissident". One of our party commented on the ride up that the reason he likes this song so much is the interplay between Mike and Stone, and so this is what I focus on tonight. And he's right, and it totally changes my perspective on the song forever.
"Evenflow," yep, once again a rocker, it's just bubbling tonight, Eddie introducing the solo with an understated "Michael..," and once again, Matt Cameron. His rolls at the end of the song, before the last verse, were nothing short of spectacular. We are speechless.
Here we go, it's time for the launch pad, and "Given To Fly," once again raising goosebumps on my arms because it is so anthemic, so soaring, so strong, Jeff pointing at Matt (like he did the night before in Portland) towards the end.
"Here we are, Vancouver, Canada," says Eddie. [*major* applause] You're giving yourselves quite a hand there." Ed's hoisting a beer, noting that it's tasting great tonight, his silver nail polish glinting in the distance. "Corduroy" kicking off next, followed by "MFC," with Eddie changing the lyrics to "there's a lot to be said for up here," which no one seemed to notice but us (and boy were we amusing the people standing behind us).
It was during "MFC" that I noticed the small group of fans dancing their asses off in the section immediately behind the stage, for which no tickets were sold. And it's too bad, because I bet it was an AWESOME view. They looked like they were having so much fun, and if I hadn't been sitting with friends, I would have walked around and joined them myself.
"Lukin" next, followed by the mirror ball minute and "Wishlist," the lights glistening off of Eddie's pick guard into the audience. Tonight it's "I wish I was an alien," but also, also, we get the full "I wish I was a radio song..." verse, and we are gleefully amazed. When was the last time we got that??!
Here we go, "Jeremy," a little bit more crowd response, Eddie singing verses to the people above and behind the stage, smiling really big. The drums are once again the focal point in "Daughter," and tonight, we get the "Hey Hey My My" tag in honor of Canada's own Neil Young, this lovely blue light on stage, Eddie looking up into it, ending it by saying, "And she lived happily ever after."
"Not For You," which is usually a huge crowd pleaser, did nothing to elicit any kind of response from the floor. We're not getting this; we're watching, again, the random pockets of fans going nuts around the arena, but the people down front and on the floor seem like they're sleeping. And it's too bad, because this show is kicking serious ass all the way around. NFY ends with this lovely, bluesy jam at the end.
What's that guitar? Wait, stand up bass? What IS this? (Hey, it's not just me that plays this game, and it's a lot of fun, and if you think that it's arrogant, well, go watch the Wallflowers, okay?) "Here's a little story," and it's "Off He Goes". "This song has the same title, except it's 'Off He Goes To The Bar,'" and it's - you guessed it, "Betterman," the irony of Eddie's introduction lost once again on a crowd that is not listening to the lyrics. Of all the repeat offenders this tour, this is the one song that I would beg and plead that PJ retire. And don't get me wrong; this isn't an irrational, personal dislike of the song like I have of "Dissident," it's the fact that the audiences for the most part do not understand what the song is about and are way too happy and joyful while they shout and scream along. They should've gotten the hint from that marriage proposal in Missoula. Having said all of that, understand: I love this song. They play it so well in concert. Matt's rolls tonight before the "she loves him" verse were perfect. But, enough. Let them dance around to "Daughter".
That bass line, and it's "Rearviewmirror," the hardest-driving, most kick-ass, intense version of this song you have ever heard, or could dream of hearing. Jeff standing in one of his trademark lunges, Mike running over to Stone's amps, one of my favorite sights, all four of the guys on guitars, driving away, Mike and Eddie playing to each other, heads down, Matt taking an incredible solo, Mike wailing away delicately, Eddie kicking over his mic stand, the strobe lights going off, and Eddie tossing the guitar up in the air at the end.
"Black," and we are on the edge of our seats (okay, we would have been if we had been sitting down, but you get the idea) waiting for the solo. My notes say "MIKEY," and there's not much more I can say than that. Has the man had one bad night this tour? He hasn't! Then, "Last Exit," pounding as usual, but the crowd has once again fallen into a lull, with Eddie resorting to inciting the kids down front with these weird, almost Vegas-style lunges towards the crowd at the end. And that was it for the set; Mike had changed guitars for the next song, but Eddie cut him off.
Encore, and here's our good friend "Do The Evolution" finally and truly bringing the house down, people dancing everywhere, and then stand-up bass again and "Nothingman". I keep writing about how wonderful it is that this song is no longer a rarity, but rather a staple (and fuck I would rather hear this every single night forever rather than "Betterman" since you need at least half a clue to get it, and most people do). Every time I have heard this song this tour, something different about it hits me, and tonight it was like a wrap-up of everything I have thought and felt about the song, because I just stood there silently, crying my eyes out through the whole thing. "Some words when spoken, can't be taken back..." and I was just utterly, completely lost.
"They haven't done 'Alive' yet," says someone, and I respond "Not necessarily" (prompting some wiseass to label this song as "not necessarily alive"), and I'm still recovering from the previous song and the flood of emotions when before I know it, Eddie says, "Bailey, here we go" and HE WALKS OUT INTO THE CROWD! I am cursing the fact that my camera battery has completely died (thank goodness we had three cameras among five people). OH MY GOD! When was the last time we saw THAT? And the place, quite rightly, is going bananas. To their credit, they let Eddie out into the crowd and emerge relatively unscathed.
"Leaving Here", everyone's favorite dance number, up next, and it was the song of the missing solos: Mike missed his, Stone missed his, but Vedder just nailed his solo. (And who says he's not a guitar player?!)
That's it, or so we think. Except that they come back out and launch into "Yellow Ledbetter," Eddie noting that he'd spoken to some people before the show, taking requests, and that this song was the most requested. Mike's still soloing, the guys are obviously preparing to end the show and get home as quickly as possible, except that Eddie is walking around the stage, polling the guys. Matt kind of shrugs, Stone tilts his head, Jeff makes the 'so-so' gesture with his hands.
And then Eddie picks up a tambourine.
My heart stops, and I turn to everyone, my eyes wide, and scream, "BABA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
25 shows, and finally, finally, I get to hear MY song. And it was like they were playing it to me, or rather that I was the only one there. I didn't see anything but the band, I didn't hear anyone but the band, it was me and them and every single ounce of my being is alive and on edge and focused and SCREAMING. Loud, raucous, joyous, dead-on, it was everything I always dreamed it would be and then some by a long stretch. It was even more ecstatic than I could have imagined. I always worried that I would be disappointed by the time I finally got to hear it, that I'd get a bad version, that I was going to hold them to standards they could not possibly meet; but this version of "Baba," while it didn't have the triumphant feel of the United Center version, was truly anarchic and absolutely incredible.
I always sing the Kids Are Alright version, even if I'm listening to the studio album, and damn, so was Eddie. And he is screaming, he is just hitting that tambourine for all he's worth, the guys are doing Townshend jumps all over the place. It was Christmas, my birthday, and really good sex, all rolled into one song. I don't know how I breathed; I was certain that my heart was going to explode in the middle of it. I have thought I have lost it for PJ before; I have thought I have come close to hyperventilating before during a PJ show. But nothing I have ever experienced has come close to this version of "Baba O'Riley". I am climbing on the chair in front of me, waving my Who flag (which I had up during "Alive" and YL, what the hell, I thought, the lights are on, I'm close enough, not that I thought for a second that we'd get this song tonight), and without even asking, my friends behind me have their hands on me, spotting me so I don't fall over.
I was really happy to hear them do the 'correct' version, to end it exactly the way the movie version ends, no final reprise of the chorus, and before I know it, it's over. House lights on, band is gone.
I cannot speak. (I mean that quite literally - I was hoarse for one week after this show!) I am still full of music and electricity and emotion, and after a few seconds I sit down and start alternately sobbing and laughing, trying to catch my breath, not believing what I've just witnessed, that I finally got to hear my song, that it was everything I'd ever imagined, that I got to hear it surrounded by my friends, that I was in such great seats, and not stuck by myself in a single seat in section B. I don't know what I would have done.
I physically need help walking up the stairs. I am so beside myself that I leave my camera lying on the floor in front of my seat (which one of the gang picks up for me, thank you). And we straggle joyously out of the venue, and back to the van, where we find Jason (who didn't sit with us, because he was recording) sitting on the on the grass, not talking, not moving, and I run over and hug him and we both start crying again. He's holding the minidisc with the show on it, saying, "In my hands, I hold history!" We all have to sit there for almost an hour before we are sane enough to drive.
While we're sitting there, a guy and his girlfriend, on crutches, walk by. "Can I have a cigarette for the cripple?" he asks. Sure, we say, and supply him with one. As he's turning back to his girlfriend, he stops and says, "Wasn't that just the most kick-ass show??!"
And we just chortle with glee, we laugh and start crying again, and thank him for that moment, which we all needed for some reason. Not that we didn't already know.
Hometown shows, here we come.
Copyright © 1998 Caryn Rose