Once… Upon a Time…

Pearl Jam Live

Off Topic, October 2013

Pearl Jam – 10/27/13 – 1st Mariner Arena – Baltimore, MD

Rock stars don’t have to be punctual.  People will wait hours after a scheduled start time to see their favorite bands perform.  Me personally, I’m a punctual type.  If I’m on time, I’m late.  I prefer a solid ten to fifteen minutes early arrival.  This was true of last night’s Pearl Jam concert.  My wife and I were in our seats at ten minutes after seven for a 7:30 show.  While time passed, I reassured my wife -and myself- “it won’t be long now.”  At 8:27, just as the excitement of the crowd (the author included) grew to a near fever pitch, Eddie, Mike, Stone, Jeff, and Matt made their way onto the stage and, without a word, began tearing through a rendition of Pendulum.

The guys were in rare form, moving from one rocker to the next with little time to breath between each song.  They played a few songs from their new album, Lightning Bolt.  Otherwise, it was a PJ classics evening.  This was highlighted by a stellar version of Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town where everyone in the audience (again, the author included) sang along with the most prominent lines “I just called to scream, hello.  My God, it’s been so long, never dreamed you’d return” followed by the memorable “hearts and thoughts they fade away.”  I was honored to share vocals with Ed and the other 13,999 others of the congregation.  Yes, I wrote congregation.  Pearl Jam shows are near religious experiences where Ed takes the center pulpit and preaches on the gospel of honest and genuine rock n’ roll.

I had hoped that they would open with Corduroy, one of my PJ favorites and a great opener.  They only made me wait through five songs before the first notes of that “E” power chord blared across the 1st Mariner Arena.  From that moment, there was no stopping the band or the audience’s excitement and participation.  There were quite a few songs that were excellent but not my top choices to see.  Of course, I didn’t complain.  I’d rather see Pearl Jam perform my second choice songs than most any other band performing their greatest hits.  Even so, never to disappoint, they played quite a few of my top pics, notably, WishlistWishlist is an amazing song with near poetic lyrics.  Just as Ed sang the line “I wish I was a messenger and all the news was good,” I was typing a text of the same line to my best friend.  He promptly replied with the following line, “I wish I was the full moon shining off a Camero’s hood.”

As is often the case, Pearl Jam’s encores define my concert memories.  For the first encore, they pulled out a few chairs and had a relaxed tribute to Lou Reed.  They played Yellow Moon, Man of the Hour, and one of my personal favorites, Nothingman.  Singing along at the top of my lungs, I managed to keep the tears from flowing, barely.  The band followed with a cover of The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for the Man followed by a phenomenal rendition of Better Man.  During Better Man, the crowd participation was moving as Eddie bellowed his baritone voice to be repeated by 14,000 enthusiastic fans.  Concerts don’t get much better than this.  Until they immediately moved into Do the Evolution, a hard-rockin’, fast-paced, screamer.  My wife has hated this song since she first heard it but I think that even she enjoyed seeing it live.

Shortly after, Eddie strapped on his Telecaster and played a highly-aggressive and Jimi Hendrix inspired string-muted intro to Porch.  The crowd, always mesmerized by anything from Ten, bounced up and down and sang nearly as loud as Mr. Vedder himself.

Pearl Jam Live 2After a short break, they began the second encore with a furious version of Once that again, brought the crowd near its breaking point.  If you’ve never seen a Pearl Jam show, you can’t fully understand the energy that flows throughout the auditorium as Eddie belts out “Once, upon a time, I could control myyyy-self.”  Known for being The Who fans and often covering their music, after Once they performed an energetic rendition of Love, Reign O’er Me.  Admittedly, it’s not one of my favorite The Who songs, but even so, hearing it live with all of the energy in the room, even I found myself enamored with this 70’s arena-rock classic.  Immediately following, Mike McCready strummed the first beautiful notes of the Ten classic Black.  This is a studio, unplugged, and live favorite and it didn’t disappoint.  After listening to Mike’s flawless outro, I admitted to myself that I would have purchased the tickets just to see him perform this solo.

They followed Black with another Ten gem, Alive.  Hearing 14,000 people exclaiming at the top of their lungs “I’m still alive” is sure to bring even the most hard-hearted to a point of understanding what Pearl Jam is all about.  I’ve always found their overall message to be that it’s OK to have feelings:  anger, sadness, happiness, joy, enthusiasm.  It’s really OK to just be alive.

Earlier in the evening, Eddie had mentioned someone on the third level who was apparently dancing with extra vigor throughout the entire show.  Eddie pointed him out again, “Hey you in the yellow shirt.  You’ve made quite an impression on us.  Come on down here.  Security knows who you are so just come on down here and get on stage with us for the last song.”  They broke into Neil Young’s Rockin In The Free World while the guy in the yellow shirt headed toward stage for the best memory of his life.  He climbed on stage, tambourine in hand, and proceeded to jump, dance, thrust his fists, and raise his arms to the sky, and even shared a drink with Ed, while the boys in the band tore through the Neil Young classic.

If you’ve never had a chance to see a Pearl Jam show, you owe it to yourself to go.  In my humble opinion, they are the last real rock stars of a time long ago when rock music actually meant more than a paycheck or a way to fame.  The guys from PJ are having the time of their lives and they’re working hard to make sure that their fans are too.

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