Thursday, October 01, 2009

Better than magic

People keep asking me how Pearl Jam was. And I keep not being able to answer. “It was incredible,” I usually say, or something similar. But the truth is that the whole experience defies words. Pearl Jam live defies description. But I’m gonna try to do it justice. With the help of some pictures. It was a great weekend.

I could go into all the wonderful details of the rest of it…seeing Sarah and Cherie (and Angus), meeting Jacob’s artistic and New Age-y grandparents, the road outside of Malad, Idaho, and the fact that we were almost lost for most of the trip (but asked for directions from nice young married people in an accidental New York accent). But for this entry, I’ll just focus on Pearl Jam.

So here’s the awesome thing about Pearl Jam. Wait. First of all, it should be noted that I knew next to nothing about Pearl Jam before Jacob introduced me. And even if Jacob wasn’t awesome, I’d still think Pearl Jam was awesome. Because they are. And here’s why. I feel like they’ve never pretended to be anything that they’re not. They don’t really work that hard to create a certain image for themselves, or even a specific sound. They just…create. And if some of their music sounds totally different, but still good, then they play it. Eddie’s awesome and unusual voice makes their sound their own. But they sort of defy any particular genre if you look at their work as a whole.

Here’s a little video of Jacob and I right before the concert:


It's hard to describe the experience of seeing Pearl Jam live. It really is. The best way for you to experience it would be if you have their music, look at the setlist posted below and listen to it in that order. But first, imagine this:

You’re in the E Center, on the floor, in the 36th row, on the inner aisle side of the right section. The guys behind you are swearing about disliking acronyms, but are generally overwhelmed with excitement about Pearl Jam. As a matter of fact, everyone is. You’re in a room with 10,000 people who love Pearl Jam. Everyone is wearing Pearl Jam shirts, and some of these people have grandchildren and some are just starting to shave. There are a lot of open beer cups, and both you and your significant other get a significant amount splashed on you. The ground is slippery beneath your feet, because someone knocked over your water. There are kettle-corn kernels stuck between your teeth, and you're already tired because you spent all of yesterday traveling. But you’re thrilled to see these guys, because you spent today listening to their newest album “Backspacer,” which you went to three different stores to find earlier that morning. Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven have just played a set of awesome songs that you don’t know, but enjoyed nonetheless. The roadies have finished re-adjusting all of the equipment onstage, and all of a sudden, the lights dim, and Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike, and Dave walk onstage. And they play these songs:

Of the Girl (Binaural)

Breakerfall (Binaural)

*Jacob freaked out that they opened with those two songs. He loves the Binaural album, and couldn’t believe that they played them to start the show.

Hail Hail (No Code)

Severed Hand (Pearl Jam)

The Fixer (Backspacer)

Low Light (Yield)

*Oh, I forgot to mention. I don’t remember exactly when this happened during the show, but at one point towards the beginning, Ed said “We’re gonna pause for a second, because I’ve got a piece of equipment that’s not working here, and I just wanna be able to hear myself.” A roadie came out, and fiddled with something on Ed’s belt, and while he was kneeling there, Eddie said “Can you imagine how much this gentleman gets paid to work this close to my backside?” What a cool guy.

Even Flow (Ten)

Unthought Known (Backspacer)

Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town (Vs.)

Got Some (Backspacer)

Given to Fly (Yield)

*Have you ever listened to this song? “Given to Fly”? If you haven’t, go find it and listen to it. Right now.

Immortality (Vitalogy)

*Eddie’s introduction: “This next song has the word ‘Satan’ in it.” Cue red lighting.

Satan's Bed (Vitalogy)

Amongst the Waves (Backspacer)

Do the Evolution (Yield)

*As soon as I heard the beginning chords of “Do the Evolution,” I got SOOOO excited…it’s recently become one of my FAVORITE Pearl Jam songs. It’s funny…looking at this setlist, it sure didn’t seem like they played that much. We still wanted sooo much more. So we stood and clapped and cheered and screamed until they came back on.

Bee Girl (Lost Dogs)

*And at this point in the set, one of the coolest things ever happened. Eddie said “Now I’d like to invite someone up on stage with me.” I turned to Jacob and said “Jacob Chapman. Eddie’s gonna say ‘Jacob Chapman, come sing with me.’” But he didn’t. He told us that he received a fan letter from a guy who had seen Pearl Jam in 1992…a very kind letter and that now he would like to invite him to come onstage. A guy and a girl came onstage and Eddie introduced them…he said that this guy owned a restaurant in town, and then said “Well, do you want to say anything to these people? These are your people.” Then he handed the mic over. And instead of trying to explain the next 5 minutes, how about you watch it yourself. =) How cool is that????!!!! What an amazing proposal story! How would you like to say that Eddie Vedder helped you propose to your girlfriend?! Incredible.

Just Breathe (Backspacer)

Red Mosquito w/ Ben Harper (No Code)

Daughter (Vs.)

Supersonic (Backspacer)

Spin the Black Circle (Vitalogy)

*And they thought they were done. Again. But they weren’t. We kept cheering and yelling and clapping and stomping. So they came out again.

I Believe in Miracles (Ramones cover)

Crazy Mary (Victoria Williams cover)

*Eddie stopped for a moment and pointed out how awesome it was that there were these KIDS in the front row. He pointed out that some of them weren't even BORN the last time Pearl Jam played in Salt Lake. He said they had been real troopers, staying up so late to see the show. He told them to stay in school, but just don't go tomorrow. =) Ed also apologized every time he swore onstage, but it was funny because most of the time it was before the swearing happened. So he'd say "I'm sorry I'm gonna cuss again, but f*****g Stone Gossard on the guitar!" It was awesome.

Alive (Ten)

Yellow Ledbetter (Lost Dogs)

*About half-way through “Alive,” it hit me. I don’t know how to describe “it,” but I’m talking about that moment that something…arrives. When something hits you and you think “Yes. YES. This is it. This is incredible. This is a huge bigger-than-myself something that can only come when a lot of people are all invested in something genuine and creative and wonderful.”

Here’s something to talk about. I’m always wary of “mob mentality.” By “mob mentality,” I don’t necessarily mean a group of people out to harm someone else. I mean any large group of people who get carried away by the “group mind.” There’s a danger in a group mind THAT big…as individuals, we usually have a strong sense of reason and rationality. But as soon as you give in to that group mind, you become ruled by your emotions. And that’s when things get dangerous. So I always try to be aware of the group that I’m a part of and what we’re doing and what we have the potential to do. Around the solo in “Alive,” I felt myself being carried away on this wave of human emotion. And I had to take a moment to evaluate…to make sure that this was something safe to give in to. But all the lights were on, and there was so and harmony in the air, and everyone was…alive, and it was beautiful and big and powerful. So I gave in. And it was wonderful.

Jacob told me a story later about the song “Alive,” and it was awesome, because I sensed all of it before I even knew the story. Eddie Vedder wrote the song about an experience he had when he was young, learning that the man he thought was his father, wasn’t at all. Check out the first verse:

Son, she said, have I got a little story for you
What you thought was your daddy was nothin’ but a...
While you were sittin’ home alone at age thirteen
Your real daddy was dyin,’ sorry you didn’t see him, but I’m glad we talked...
Oh I, oh, I’m still alive

And Eddie said that when he wrote it, the chorus “I’m still alive” was written as a question. The song was this angsty questioning of his existence. It didn't make sense to him that this man he never knew was his father, and that now he was dead, and Eddie was still left alive. He felt that his whole life after that knowledge was burdened by it…that this knowledge that he was still alive and his real father wasn’t was a curse. But the first time they performed it, the audience didn’t interpret the song that way at all. They heard an affirmation of life. And Eddie said that when he saw all those people with their arms in the air, affirming life, singing along, he said that "the curse was lifted.” And because of how fans and listeners interpreted the song, it ceased to be about the pain and the angst and the curse, and became a song about life.

To be a part of that…to have all of the lights in the E Center on all of us, to be a part of 10,000 people who love Pearl Jam, with their arms in the air, singing “I’m still alive” at the top of their lungs, was one of the more powerful and beautiful experiences of my life.

Here’s a video of Jacob and I after the concert:


So there you have it. An absolutely fantastic experience. That’s how Pearl Jam live was. Exhausting and utterly incredible. As Ben Harper said in the beginning of the show: "You know, England's got the Beatles, and The Who, and the Rolling Stones, but you guys have got mother-f*****g PEARL JAM."


Anonymous said...

Wow, that sounds like a really wonderful experience. I'm glad you could do it! Thanks for sharing this!

Anonymous said...

By the way, "Anonymous" is me. Love you! Mom XOXOXOXOXOXO

France is said...

wow. i love ben harper with all my heart.