Sandstone Amphitheater is just the venue from hell. Windblown, dust in the wind (okay well we are in Kansas, I guess that makes sense now), parking lot is like driving through a fucking wadi. Plus the people at the gate had no clue as to the fan club ticket situation (I should point out that I am with people who need to be in line, I am not in line myself) so there was endless hassle. Then, lots of very drunk people in the parking lot, drinking for a very long time. Bleah. On the bright side, it's about 79 degrees and no sign of a rain cloud; this venue is completely exposed to the elements so this is a good thing.
Portent: pre-show music features "Whole of the Moon" by the Waterboys, which was the "Daughter" tag from this venue in 1998. And it is the night before the full moon. Everyone's noticed how much Ed likes seeing the moon and how that can affect the show in a positive way.
There is much concern over Ed's ankle after he twisted it in St. Louis . We joke that even if he has to be out there on crutches or with an air cast, dammit, he'll be there. He's not going to let some wussy thing like a broken ankle stop him. :-) But there is no sign of crutches or of any injury at all as they stroll on and cascade unexpectedly into "Release". Ed's cradling the mic close to him. It's bright, it's chiming, it's lovely, it's a great vibe being set. Ed's got on a leather jacket as does Mike again, this time his jacket open to reveal a Rolling Stones shirt: big red tongue on the front.
Song two - Do the fucking EVOLUTION??? Whoa. That can mean one thing and one thing only, tonight's set is going to take no prisoners by the time it's done. And you can see it, it's clearly visible; Mike is tightly coiled, just totally throwing himself into the music with abandon, much more on than last night; Ed and STONE are hanging out together. Admire my clothes, show us the jacket. Stone hits the solo like a motherfucker, he is just on fire. Little did we know that we hadn't seen anything yet.
Jacket off, guitar on, "Corduroy" is back and Ed's standing there literally swinging himself into the song. Mike's got his head back, eyes closed; he is so clearly feeling it tonight. Stone in the meantime is out there front and center, he is not hiding, the people sitting in front of him are not treated to the usual view of his butt (because he traditionally plays facing in). This song is just fucking DRIVEN. Stone's JUMPING; it's crisp, precise, masterful. Mike takes the solo, and Ed drops back to Matt with Stone and Jeff. Much more interaction between everyone tonight, and I'm just incredibly struck by the evident attitude in Ed's guitar work tonight. They are all playing with such strength, power and confidence.
They plow straight into "Grievance" and god I missed this last night. This is a great segue, too, these two so-very-Ed guitar songs. It's then straight into "Lukin," I don't even know that there was a half a second pause. This is good! This is what I was saying last night about the pace, about the energy dropping, if you keep it going the energy can't drop. It's the art of creating the perfect setlist, it's why they put so much work into making it work. Most bands figure out the combination that works and stay there; I can't blame them, almost. But PJ keep trying to find the infinite number of combinations. Anyway, I digress.
"Lukin" then careens straight into "Light Years" and there was no pause, one finished and Matt was already hitting the beat for this one. Mike makes a small flub in the solo and visibly winces, laughing; of course he shakes it off and just keeps going.
"Hi, we've been here before, yeah?" asks Ed. "I remember... the first band was the Murder City Devils, from Seattle; tonight's opener was an import, Supergrass, from Oxford, England; let's thank them." He asks for some light on the audience; I don't know if he knew, or could see, the fights that were going on back in the crowd (security was running up and down the aisles all night). Just enough of a pause, a check-in with us, and then we take off again, this time into GTF, and you know it's going to be a good one when Mike is jumping up and down, pogoing to the chorus. I've got goosebumps. (This is significant because tonight this ended up happening about six or seven times. In one night. I consider myself lucky if it happens once in a grouping of shows.)
"In Hiding"!!!!! This is still my 98 favorite, hands down; I miss it, I miss hearing it, and this is a wonderfully solid, plaintive version. Mike's solo is awesome, Ed hanging out intently, clearly digging it; I miss that high soaring note at the end but I can never complain about hearing this song and I am not even critical, it was a a great version.
"The next song was the first single off this record, and it features Mike McCready over there." I have a momentary loss of reason and I feel like an idiot when he starts NAIS; I just completely forgot what the first single was - it seems so long ago, doesn't it? Once again, Ed drops back and watches Mike closely as he just fucking ATTACKS the solo for everything its worth, swooping back and forth, working feedback, then switching to these machine-gun notes, dropping back to the amp for more feedback, and then screaming those last few notes. I managed to scrawl "KILLER" while trying to catch my breath. Anyone who doesn't like this song, or finds it boring, needs to listen to this version. It will change your mind forever, I promise.
It looked like Ed called an audible next; then again there was so much chit-chat between band members onstage tonight it's hard to know. Ed's grabbed the wine bottle and here we go, "Evenflow". Mike's got a cigarette in his mouth which he tosses dramatically before the first chorus. And Stone, Stone is up there again, he is, believe it or not, outplaying McCready in his own inimitable way, all night long. Mike takes the solo, tonight it's solid and crunchy, fucking eloquent as all hell.
"Spin The Black Circle," as good as you'd ever hear it in 95 or 00 as far as I'm concerned, Mike jumping in kick splits all over the place, Stone up front again, Mike gesturing spin, spin upwards with his hand, Jeff jumping, it's just wickedly manic in the best possible way, but it's solid. It's not out of control.
More crunchy chords - "Rival"! This song in concert is just the most remarkable thing, so much more powerful and striking live. It's this song when a renegade fan manages to get himself onstage, running towards Ed, while Pete runs in from the other side and sweeps him off the stage in a matter of seconds. Ed salutes this as it happens, not sure if he was saluting the visitor, or Pete. Mike's hanging back at the amps, while Stone's up front again for this one. I know I sound like a broken record but I have never seen Stone so completely pumped up for a show AND playing so fucking well at the same time.
"Once" starts with Mike leaping into the air, which should give you an idea of what we were in for. Again, it's powerful, it's driven, it's passionate, but it isn't all over the place or overblown. Ed takes off his button down shirt and even from my distant vantage point I can tell that it's a vintage Who shirt with the Who By Numbers artwork on it. It's another goosebump moment as the chords rain down on us, Mike's still jumping, Ed is pogoing, Stone marches over to Jeff to play and then boogies backward into his spot.
Dark stage, spotlight on Ed, and it's "Romanza," delicate, intricate, simply beautiful. And "Betterman"? Well, if you are tired of hearing this song, or don't like it, go find this version, because it's just aggressive as all hell. Ed's just attacking his guitar for this one, and it's here I have the flash of realization of what his attitude and energy are evoking: Townshend. If you've ever seen the Who, you have probably seen that half-crouching slicing move Pete makes, it's not so much Ed's stance as it is, again, the same attitude. It's owning the moment and the music and the instrument, it's a certain assurance that you know what you're doing. Unapologetic.
This then transitions into one of the best versions of "Save It For Later" I have heard, starting with the first verse, not even mattering that Ed kind of mixed the lines up. It was that perfect combination and lasted for the perfect amount of time, not too short, not too long.
I know I go on about "Insignificance" the way I went on about "In Hiding" in 98 but I just cannot help the fact that I think this song is a fucking masterpiece on wheels. It was another goosebump moment but I'm still waiting for that ultimate version to knock me off my feet. I know they can do it; I know this song has that potential. Not that tonight's version was bad by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Mike was dancing through the intro of the song, and they all just pulled together perfectly, Ed nailing the vocals with conviction.
I had mused idly on the way to the show that I kinda missed "Nothingman," so it was nice to hear the chords chiming in. There's not much action in this song, and for some reason I was just moved to close my eyes and just listen. Just focus. I was struck by just how different it is being there and hearing it live versus hearing any live recording, no matter how good. And I had one of those "wow, I'm at a PJ show, they're right there in front of me" moments, and I don't know why saying this bothers people. It's shameless gushing? Damn right it's shameless gushing. We're fans. We have a passion for this band. Why should we be ashamed or embarrassed or hide the fact that this music moves us, makes us happy, gives us tremendous joy? Music is emotion, it's emotion you can hear.
But anyway, eyes closed, just listening, being moved by the music, it was this overwhelming experience. If you can find a moment at a show to try this, and just connect with the music like that, I recommend you try it. It was just this pure, unadorned, simple thing.
"Animal" is much crisper tonight, but I'm still leaning towards the opinion that it's a little shopworn. "This next song is called, 'Love Amongst the Dead'," but somehow it's "Jeremy". The crowd loves this one. Unlike last night, where people went apeshit for "In My Tree," but instead got a bunch o' radio hits, KC was the crowd for the radio hits in my humble opinion. Ed fucked up or got lost in one of the verses, let us sing it back to him. Stone and Ed are up there joking around again afterward; it was probably here that Stone told Ed he wanted to play "Mankind" (and to the people next to me with the "Mankind" sign, it was on the setlist! We were supposed to hear it!); at one point after the next song, Stone went up to his mic and went "AHEM!", trying to remind Ed.
A lovely, well-rounded "Black" finishes the set, Stone and Jeff playing to each other, and they're off. Wow, that was fast. It wasn't fast but it seemed fast...
Encore. There are signs for Hunger Strike, Mankind, Yellow Ledbetter, please say happy birthday to this person - hey, by all means, make a sign. Then there were the "Alive" signs. Maybe I live in some kind of alternate reality, but after the first week or two of shows with "Alive" visibly missing in action from the setlist, wasn't it kind of obvious that something was going on? Finishing an entire leg of the tour without playing it also seemed glaringly obvious, in case anyone thought it was coincidence.
Ya know, hold up a sign, by all means, organize a chant, get a campaign going. I mean, people were apparently holding up glow in the dark feet (for "Footsteps") in Chicago, and there was also some really creative "Sonic Reducer" sign. The point about the "Alive" signs is that it is not being sung for a reason, a reason that is incredibly painful to the band. They didn't forget about it. They didn't get tired of it. They didn't get sick of it. And I'm not sure they need to issue a press release detailing their reasons for not doing so for us as fans to figure it out. The person with the signs was told by countless fans that it wasn't a good idea. PJ security confiscated her signs from her, and got rid of a bunch that were already distributed. (They didn't do that for any other sign that night .) But there were still a lot of them out there.
I held my breath. This show was so fucking perfect, I didn't want it ruined or cut short because of this.
Stone is the first one back onstage for the encore, practically running, and I have to laugh. I cannot stress enough how this was just a very Stoney evening from start to finish. They all finish walking out, and Ed starts to talk. He says hi to the people on the lawn. He asks how we're doing. He mentions the debate. My impression was that he was trying to see if the signs would disappear of their own accord if he just didn't say anything. When that didn't work, he had to get pointed, although with his usual grace and tact: "I see a bunch of signs out there; they're kind of hard to ignore. It's nice to see that you can get behind something, even if it's just a song; please put the signs down. It would be great if you could put that energy behind something else, like voting for Ralph Nader."
The stage is bathed in this ethereal blue light and I FINALLY get to see "Sleight of Hand". I've heard the boots; I love the song on the album but I would now agree that it isn't as powerful as it could be, Mike could be mixed a little stronger. But this is again another song that takes on another life completely live, even if it still has some growing to do; and when it does get there, it's going to completely knock you off your feet. These songs are just so much bigger than the album, and I think the album is a monster already. "Parting Ways," "Insignificance," "Rival" and now SOH moves into that category.
I'm waiting for the moon to make its way over the stage; it's just peeking over the top right now. An extended "Untitled" (Ed promising to arrive in 58 minutes) is next, into of course "MFC," crystalline and literally glowing. Mike and Stone are making these goofy faces at each other cross-stage, Mike's running around in little circles. "There's a lot to be said for here," Ed sings, while playing with a total ferocity, with that confidence I talked about earlier.
"Oh, I remembered what I wanted to tell you... that baseball team - the Cardinals? lost." Stone and Jeff are shaking their heads. "No, actually, I've got good news, it's tied 3-3 in the 7th." With that piece of local news, "Elderly Woman" seems only appropriate; the crowd participation for the "hello" is a little anemic, though.
"This song's hard to find," SAYS ED. (Please note: anything in quotations like that means that we're quoting someone else talking. We know where to find this single! Really!!) He continues: "You can find it on Napster.... hey that's where we found it," and amazingly, AGAIN, it's "U". Tonight it's much more solid, and honestly, I think it's got a real potential to become a staple. The riffs at the end could be this total rockin' jam, if McCready can get over finding the thing so silly. :-) Where did this come from all of a sudden??? I'm not complaining, I'm just curious as hell.
And then, again, RVM. (Calling the setlist into the intrepid Rehab Doll to add to the site, Jean and I both screamed, "THE BEST RVM **EVER**!!!") Tonight's jam was even more awe-inspiring than what went down in St. Louis. Tonight, Ed is leading the melody, Stone and Jeff are interplaying with Matt and Mike is the anchor. It's spacier, less experimental, and more mobile, if that makes any sense - it seemed to have more of a clear forward direction instead of hovering in one area for a period of time. Then, Mike, Stone and Jeff seem to all be playing evenly (different notes and melodies but no one overshadowing the other, it all seems to fit together perfectly) with Jeff anchoring them down, Matt adding counterpoint.
Another shift, this time Matt moving to the front, sharp little cymbal accents; Ed is taking over Stone's role from the night before, adding an overlay of texture to the undercurrent provided by everyone else. Jeff then takes over, leading, Matt adding counterpoint on the cymbals as we draw into the last verse. Final torrent of guitars, bass and drums, overwhelmed by the strobe light, Stone slicing at his guitar, Ed breaking a string - this incredibly intense moment sent only slightly askew by the fact that I could see Mike sticking his tongue out at someone sitting sidestage. Kind of removed the whole deeply serious vibe.
Second encore. Some people didn't seem to understand that Ed said "no," and there's those signs again, but that was totally irrelevant due to the fact that Ed is up there with a tambourine raised high in the air. I'm screaming "BABA!!!" (as was everyone I know) but instead it's the best, most intense, most heartfelt, most timely version of RITFW I've heard. They're not flying all over the stage like, say, 1995, but it's even BETTER than that. It's better because musically it's just taking no prisoners, they are playing the fuck out of this song. Ed's spitting out the lyrics with controlled venom. During Mike's solo, Ed is doing the lean ON STONE, I mean for like two minutes the two of them are fucking around like this. Ed runs to one side of the stage, and I've just at that moment run out of film. Dammit, he's probably coming over here, and I somehow manage to change film and see him start to move and calmly walk down the aisle to stand in front of the speakers before everyone else comes running down the aisle. Oops. You would think I would fucking LEARN after what happened to me the last time I tried that (see: Hartford 98. Riot. I lose my glasses and almost everything else), but I'm lucky, get back out of the mob to my seat. Ed gathers up the wine bottle and the notebook, Mike, Stone and Jeff are tossing picks in the audience, Matt throws his drumsticks to someone, and they're off.
Tonight was one of those nights when you remember why you do this. You remember why you are a fan. It's one of those nights where PJ stand and deliver and show us all that they are the best live rock band on the face of the planet. I know it's a good show when I can't fall asleep because I can't stop thinking about it!
© 2000 Caryn Rose
photos © Jean Bruns