"It's Only Teenage Wasteland"
United Center, Chicago, IL | 29 June 1998
review and scanning by Mike Baker
photos by Trevor Smith
Standing in the small hallway between the outer doors and the doors leading into the venue, the 50 or so of us had just finished listening to the very late soundcheck ending a mere 15 minutes before the doors opened. My PJ mania was at an all time high having seen PJ three times in the past week and just having heard a soundcheck that included, among others; Porch, Baba O'Riley, and Present Tense. It's Chicago, after all, and we are in for one hell of a show.
First ones in the venue, I run to see my seats. Overjoyed with my third row seats (I love you fan club) I took a quick look around realizing how immense this place really is. I have a couple of words with Smitty and Jeff Ousley, getting a pic from Jeff and a promise from Smitty that he would remember me and my friend Trevor after the show, (since he had no pics.) I then ran up to the first merchandise stand and luckily it was the one that had the elusive soccer jerseys (they had a total of 20). Now having a Mike McCready in my pocket and a PJ soccer jersey in my hand, I was ready.
I found my way back to my legal third row seat--nothing feels quite as good as walking past all the security knowing that I had a third row ticket AND an armband, not having to worry about getting caught (the security was impeccable at this show.) Frank Black starts as scheduled. This is the third time I have seen him and I enjoyed his performance much more than the previous two. Maybe it had to do with my growing familiarity with the songs or the fact that I progressively got closer to the stage each night. In any case, he was on and off in about an hour.
8:50 and "The Color Red" comes over the speakers. I was now in my easily acquired front row viewing point right in front of Stone. Talk about being high on life. I have been hoping every show for a slow opener. I see the band walk out and Ed pick up his guitar. One of three possible options: "Corduroy," "MFC" or "Long Road." We got "Long Road." This song just filled the whole arena. It was obvious that the floor was all fan club, as the lyrics echoed through the hall. I got goosebumps, I was out of control and this was the first song.
Barely enough time for Ed to put his guitar down and the band rockets into "Do the Evolution." This is the best version I have heard of this song, and one of the rare times I have seen it not in an encore this tour. Believe me, this song belongs at the beginning of the set. "Brain of J" is next and Mike is all over the place like a madman. Ed sings a verse to the people sitting behind the stage. Manic versions of "Hail Hail," and "Go" leave me amazed. I have said it once and I'll say it again, Matt Cameron ... end of story. "Dissident" is next; I don't know why this song remains such a staple in their setlists. It is a big crowd pleaser however, and I find myself belting out the lyrics with everyone else.
An amazing "Even Flow" is next and Mike McCready is once again on fire. An anthemic "Given to Fly" follows and this song REALLY works in a big arena. Ed turns around and hugs himself which looks like he is making out with someone. Hand gestures and big smiles throughout from Mr. Vedder. Another amazing "Corduroy" follows, but still it is not as extended as it was with Jack. "Rearviewmirror" is next and it just rocks. The jam at the end is unbelievable and the crowd loves the strobe lights. Ed changes the first line to, "I took the El today." (The El is what the public trains in Chicago are called, short for elevated train.) "In Hiding" is next, with a very animated Stone. Ed speaks after "In Hiding", "that's our Stoney and this is our Jeff," leading into ...
"Jeremy." Another breathtaking moment as the whole United Center does the hand motions and sings the ending 'hollering' right along with Ed. Ed, Jeff and Mike play a whole verse to the people behind the stage. "Daughter" is next, followed by a "Ray of Light" by Madonna tag. A very unusual choice, but believe me, it worked. "Daughter" ends with "Another Brick in the Wall," and 20,000 people screaming the chorus.
"Nothingman" is next and it is just as amazing as it was the first time I had seen it two nights earlier at Alpine. Another big "arena rock" moment as the lighters come out in full effect for this one. "MFC" is next and it just rips. Never have I wanted a song to be longer so badly in my life :) Before "Off He Goes" Ed steps up to the mike and says, "I am drinking Gatorade tonight, so, be like Mike." He goes on to talk about the other places they have played in Chicago leaving Wrigley Field. Of course, "that will be a day show and we'll play two." Very nice. "Off He Goes" is beautiful, highlighted by a hilarious exchange between Jeff and Ed when Mike's cigarette goes too long during a solo and the ash begins to hang over. The crowd in front applauds with laughter after Mike finish's his solo and loses his smoke.
I see Ed pick up his Gibson hollowbody, and I am thinking "Present Tense." I am blown away, much better than the Missoula version that I had witnessed the week before. Ed is in prime form and Mike is running around the stage in circles during the jam in the middle. After "PT" Ed says, "this song is about the same thing." They kick right into "Alive." The whole band is just on fire: Ed runs behind the stage during Mike's solo to greet the people behind the stage. Mike is once again playing the best guitar of his life. At the end of the solo, Ed sits on Mike's amp right in front of him watching him play and motioning him to keep going. As expected, this was the end of the first set ...
"Wishlist" is first. The mirrorball comes down and the room is filled. "Better Man" is next. Matt has completely transformed this song for me. Those of you who have seen him play this song know why. He adds such an energy that was absent in Jack's versions and it is better then any version Jack or Dave had ever played. A wave to Stone sitting on the amp racks by me is answered by a return wave from Stone, pats on the back from the surrounding fans, and a big smile on my face. "BM" is ended with a fabulous "Save it for Later" tag. "State of Love and Trust" is next and Ed sees the "Breath" sign for the third time and acknowledges it with a shrug and a chuckle. He is seeing these signs, believe you me (pun intended.)
"Black" is next as Mike just blows the house down. PJ really needs to release a live album so that his playing can be more widely known and he gets the "guitar god" status that he deserves.
The band then tears into "Last Exit." Very weird placement in the set, but it worked. The band leaves again and we are all left foaming at the mouth. I know they will be back and sure enough the are. Ed comes out wearing a Bulls jersey and talks about how it was given to him by his, "tall friend." And how he wasn't here tonight but he would give him a tape. "Baba O'Riley" is next and it is the highlight of the evening. The energy is just amazing. Ed is playing a tambourine. Mike, Jeff and Stone are jumping around playing like mad and really, really enjoying themselves. The crowd all signs the "don't cry" bridge as Eddie launches his tambourine in the air after the "teenage wasteland" line. At the jam on the end, Ed picks up his guitar walks up to Stone, watches his hands, and plays what he plays. Ed gets on the amp rack and does a full Pete Townshend jump off. This is followed by Ed launching his guitar in the air, and breaks the headstock. Ed did not plan on doing this and he stood over his broken red Gibson SG like a kid who just broke his favorite toy. Stone walks over and consoles him, it was priceless.
After "Baba," Matt gets up to leave and Ed says gestures for him to come back. They then tease us but finally he comes back. I am hoping and praying for "Porch," but the yellow lights come on and we get "Yellow Ledbetter." TFC '96 version complete with Hendrix riffs. Mike again is unstoppable as the whole band watches his wizardry. I am in awe as I stand in front of the stage. Out walks the techies and I yell to Smitty, "remember me." He walks over and hands me Stone's setlist. My friend Trevor who I was there with also got a setlist from Smitty, he did remember. We leave the floor, meet up with new friends from Indy, and slowly make our way out of the venue. This was by far the best PJ concert I have seen yet. I have never see the band so animated, play so well and just so damn happy to be there. After seeing them play like this from that close, I couldn't help but think it doesn't get any better than this. It probably doesn't ...