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love, hope, and the human experience
Pearl Jam in Melbourne, Australia
3/2/98 Melbourne Park

review by Randall Higgins

Me, my girlfriend Karen, and my friend Jason flew to Melbourne from Adelaide for this show. We spent the day shopping and then wrote our very own "wishlist" of songs we'd love to hear. Following dinner at the hotel, we walked to Melbourne Park (which used to be called Flinders Park Tennis Centre when Pearl Jam played there in March 1995). We got to the complex, stocked up on all the necessary merchandise, threw it all to the lady operating the cloakroom, and waited for the doors to open. We were pumped -- Jason and I had only seen PJ once before, at Memorial Drive in Adelaide, on March 8, 1995, and Karen had never seen them at all!!! We got in, Shudder To Think played, and they were fantastic! After what turned out to be their last song, their vocalist said, "I know you're waiting for Pearl Jam, but if you do one thing for me, We'll leave the stage. I want you to raise your middle fingers and shout "SHUDDER TO THINK" on the count of three. 1, 2, 3..." and we screamed "FUCK OFF SHUDDER TO THINK!!!" The singer responded: "No, you were close, but I want you to scream "SHUDDER TO THINK," not "fuck off Shudder To Think" or whatever you said. Now, on the count of three, shout "SHUDDER TO FUCKING THINK!!! 1, 2, 3..." We got it more or less right this time, so Shudder excused themselves and left.

The roadies scurried around, removing Shudders gear, testing Pearl Jam's, and preparing the stage. A corked bottle placed by Ed's mic. A woman and a little girl side of stage in the booth to mix the stage sound. A setlist on a booth on the other side of the stage ... and the audience ... a Mexican wave started by about six guys in the seats who'd been trying to get one going for ten minutes ... the arena chanting "PEARL JAM" as one ... the expectation ... the desire ...

"The Colour Red" ... the drumming on this song was used on the 1995 Australian tour as Pearl Jam's intro tape, and they used it again this night. The stage had a large white sheet as a backdrop with a smaller white backdrop in front of it. Five tall candle holders lined the backdrop; the legs looked like the Eifel Tower with a bowl on top with curvy metal rods rising from the edges of the bowls. The candles burned in these bowls for the whole show. During the show, coloured lights lit up the larger backdrop (like the Vitalogy/No Code tours) and the silhouettes of the flames from the candles would flicker on the smaller curtain.

A few stray guitar notes, and the band eased into "Long Road." Ed was wearing a brown corduroy shirt with brown pants. Jeff wore his trusty service station shirt with the customary long shorts and white "Three Fish" hat. (This hat first made it's appearance in the promo photos for the Three Fish album. It's not on the album sleeve, but is in a lot of the photos that run alongside some of the interviews jeff did to promote Three Fish.) Mike wore shorts and a black jacket which couldn't hide the weight gain of his stomach. Stone was dressed simply in a shirt and trousers. From an audience perspective, battle formations were the same, Stone to the right, Mike on the left, Ed in the centre, Jack behind Ed, and Jeff between Mike and Ed. "Long Road" is ebbing and flowing beautifully, and I'm shocked ... I can't quite believe this is happening yet.

Then "Do The Evolution;" fast and tight. I'm choking back tears, the shock is settling and reality is setting in ... THIS IS MY BOYS!!!! Mike's soloing tastefully, lost in his own world, stock still ... Ed screaming, Jeff jamming. Then "Animal," with Ed still counting the refrain "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 against one" on his fingers, tight and fluid, the band know this song well. Ed discusses finding cocaine in the dressing room (a reference to Oasis playing at Melbourne Park the previous night), and the band being so hyped to play they couldn't wait for Shudder to get off the stage either! "Hail, Hail," Ed bopping over by the drum riser, the band filling the interlude, everyone onstage looks like they're having SO MUCH FUN!!! "Dissident" was next, passionate, that beautiful verse and haggard chorus prompting the crowd to scream its lungs out. Then "Even Flow" ... it's old, it's a classic, and the band blew the living shit out of it this night ... Mike standing solid, head bowed, soloing like his life really did depend on it; Jeff facing Jack, playing off the drums; Stone doing all his cool Stone stuff (pogoing, marching, head nodding the whole Stone thing we love him for), and Ed jumping and rocking out; the crowd screaming the words; and Ed singing "chases chases chases chases them away..." in the final chorus ... damn this is how rock'n'roll should be fucking played!!! Then "Faithfull" is simply stunning; a gorgeous live track with an anthemic chorus. "MFC" next; I've loved this song since I got my poor quality "Goa Club tape," and I love it on Yield, too. This night, it was awesome, short and to the point, but it confused most of the crowd. I always thought this song would be cool in an arena, that it would get the crowd screaming, but tonight it went over a lot of people's heads, but I loved it anyway. "Corduroy" follows; tight and fluid, the crowd screaming the lyrics and going ballistic when the band stopped dead in the bridge -- as tight as anything -- and then continuing the song-WOW!!! "Wishlist," that stunning tremulous start, Ed's voice shaking with one of his most personal songs, loose and shaking and almost threatening to fall to bits, and it didn't, not even when Ed flubbed the lyrics, a simple beauty, a stunning song. The song fading to silence near the end, then Ed and his guitar standing forlornly centre stage, gently strumming a few notes, and then the last two lines: "Wish I was the radio song, the one you couldn't turn off, I wish I wish I wish I wish I guess it never stops." What more can I really say?

"Jeremy" -- the regular one -- anthemic and I can't really add anything about this song because too much has been written about it already. "Daughter," another audience singalong, the tag this time being "trouble, trouble, trouble..." and some more lyrics I'd never heard. "Given To Fly" -- sounds great, but kind of lacking something, still brilliant, seeing Mike getting really down deep into this one. Then "Last Exit," one of my favourite Vitalogy songs, Ed screaming, the band roaring, Jack introing it wonderfully on the drums, and Ed bopping over to Mike (you know how Ed bops, he kinda gently shakes his head and half dances half shuffles to the music) over toward Mike, then has to fully SPRINT back to the mic so he doesn't miss the second verse of the song. Ed sipping tea, telling us his voice hurts, and that they're going to play something they haven't played since touring for Yield, and it was "Off He Goes." Ed really is the star of this song ... a sad story, but so much more moving live. Then "Rearviewmirror," an anthem, sure, but there's no escaping the climax and emotion in this song, with a shorter interlude than usual before the "Saw things..." part. "Not For You," a little loose, I'm surprised this was aired tonight. Mike standing, looking relaxed and happy, swinging his guitar from the strap around his neck, as if to say, "look, no hands!" before he starts playing!!! Then "Black," a song not played in Adelaide on the Vitalogy tour, stunning, shaking, I'm choking back tears, and I'm 22 and a half years old and too old for this crying stuff but I don't care, I love this band so damn much!!! "Alive," the band rocking, Mike with his new flying V guitar, Ed leaning over to pick a kid from the crowd, he's having trouble, he misses the last verse of "Alive" which doesn't matter because the whole arena sings it for him, then Ed running back to the mic, the kid following, Ed singing "I'm still alive" and the kid sling one arm over Ed's shoulders and sing right along with him, and then Ed grabs him and does an exaggerated waltz around the stage, complete with do-se-do. Ed points to the audience, the kid can't jump, he punches the air, walks over to Mike, kisses him, then Ed runs over and kisses the kid's hand and gives him a guitar pick, the kid kisses Ed, Ed leads him to the side of the stage, and the kid breaks down into tears he's so happy!!!!!!! The audience is delirious, I've never seen anything like this ... man, how do you top a show like this???

Encore time. Pearl Jam return and rip into a tight "Brain Of J," then a soulful "Better Man" and then "Smile," Ed in front of the mic, head bowed, hair covering his face, and those harmonica notes. Then the band kick in, Jeff, hatless and jacketless now, short blond hair and white singlet exposed, rocking to the song on his guitar, Stone looking comfortable and cool behind the bass. At song's end, Ed gives the harmonica to a security guy, and points to the audience member he wants to give the harmonica to. He works a crowd now better than he ever has before, and he doesn't have to actually join us to do it.

The last encore, the band step out onto the stage, looking casual and relaxed, and Ed steps to the mic. He tells us PJ will play one more song if we do him a favour. He wants us to raise our middle fingers and shout "SHUDDER TO THINK" on the count of three in our "perfect Aussie diction ... 1, 2, 3" and we scream, in unison, "SHUDDER TO THINK!!!" and Pearl Jam finish with a loose and messy "Rockin In The Free World." It seems like half the band want it to end, and half the band want it to continue, but end it does, in one final, beautiful, glorious, messy clutter.

Like I said, it don't get any better than this...and on Saturday, i'll see my boys again, on my turf, Adelaide..............

Post script: regarding the kid who Ed pulled onstage during "Alive." I saw him outside after the gig with his friends screaming "He chose me...out of everyone in the world!!!!" The look on his face, the total joy on everyone's face, that's what Pearl Jam are truly about ... love, hope, and the human experience ... and that's why we all get something "out of this all encompassing trip." See you Saturday fellas...

© Randall Higgins ... used with permission