Pearl Jam: Return of the madness (cont.)
“Yeeahhh! Scott Stapp is an Eddie Vedder wannabee! Creed sucks! They suck ass! Whoooo! Scott Stapp sucks!”
And thus were the sounds of a fella coming out of the Continental Airlines Arena men’s room, clad in a Hawaiian shirt, New Jersey Devils hat and Devils gold medallion on a gold chain. He said this directly to me, then variations on that to whomever he made contact with in his travels, which included a lot of circling. Sure, his observation probably was a little timelier in 1999, when Creed was still in the public consciousness and Stapp actually had some sort of sway over general rock fans, no matter how undeserved. But still, the sentiment was appreciated … I think.
The Meadowlands complex is an interesting place. For example, they have an official sign in the parking lot that says “BOX OFFICE,” underlined by an arrow pointing … directly to a portable toilet. It’s easy to make fun of New Jersey, and I try not to because there are genuinely nice parts and people in the state… but man, sometimes it’s really hard to lay off the easy hit.
The parking lot scene was a tailgating one, with the typical barbecue misadventures and games of catch that you’d expect. With the humidity at about 99%, however, Cooch and I stayed in the car with the AC on listening to WFAN for a good while. Take that, ozone layer.
What was not typical, however, was one patron who parked fairly close to us. He and his friend got out, both dressed very nice in Dockers, shirts, ties and shoes. The driver got out, opened his back seat, and pulled out some clothes and a pair of sneakers.
“Oh,” Cooch said. “Now that makes sense.”
Of course it did. He’s just out of work, and wants to take in the show as comfortable as possible. However, this guy had no trouble disrobing down to his boxers in front of whoever could see (I was trying to admire the chain-link fence at this point) and was soon clad in jeans, a T-shirt and a Yankees cap.
Cooch: “What’s this guy doing? Ohhhh….”
What was he doing? Well, with his car door open, he dropped to his knees, with his eyes at window-level. Hold for 5 seconds. Then the stream begins to appear on the pavement.
It’s a special kind of person that will kneel and piss in public with a urinal within eyesight. And it’s also this kind of person (with New York license plates) that is probably doing his best to make sure that New Jersey’s reputation stays just the way it is.
But as interesting as the venues and the travel and the fans are, they’re not the reason for this obsession. If that were the case I’d just take in gun shows; I imagine the clientele are pretty fascinating.
No, the reason is the music, and on all four nights, the music was amazing.
Albany had a few genuine surprises contained within the setlist. “Red Mosquito” was the first, but the band ripping into both “Satan’s Bed” and “Rats” in the first encore was flooring. “Satan’s Bed” had been done last as a one-off attempt at State College in Pennsylvania in 2003, and poorly at that, with the band not really remembering how to play the Vitalogy track, while “Rats” hadn’t made any appearance since the end of the 1998 tour.
Albany was also the first time through many of the songs on Pearl Jam for me, and nothing disappointed. “Comatose,” “Life Wasted,” “Severed Hand” and “World Wide Suicide” are thundering live, while “Army Reserve” takes on a much grander, sweeping feel, mostly due to the reverb on McCready’s lead guitar. “Come Back” was also played off-the-cuff that night, much to everyone’s enjoyment (especially Bruce).
The highlights of the night, though, were the older songs, which was the biggest surprise to me. If I have to pick, I’m a much bigger fan of the latter-day Pearl Jam work than the early stuff, but “Why Go,” “Jeremy” and “Porch” were jaw-dropping that night, with “Porch” featuring a tortured, feedback-driven midsection that recalled the best moments of a Sonic Youth jam. The night was capped with an excellent reading of “Alive,” making the old-song revival complete.
Both nights in Boston saw the band tackle “Inside Job,” the new record’s epic closer, featuring McCready on a Jimmy Page-like double-neck guitar. “Inside Job” has a much edgier feel live, with the band performing the intro entirely electric and drawing the coda out a bit more than on the album. On Night 1, the band paid tribute to Bob Dylan on his 65th birthday with versions of “Forever Young,” featuring just Vedder and Ament, and “Masters of War.” “Red Mosquito” and “Rats” were back on this night, along with an excellent version of the b-side “Down” and the Lost Dogs track “Sad.”
The second night in Beantown was much more intense, however. Opening with “Severed Hand” and slamming right into “Corduroy,” there was a frantic feeling through the House that Bourque Built. The four-song run of “Insignificance,” “Army Reserve,” “Garden” and “I Got Id” was one such section where I felt like I didn’t have time to breathe. Through every song that night, the band was just totally on and slamming through every song. It made the first encore’s mainly acoustic bent welcome — I was damn exhausted at that point, so hearing “Man of the Hour” was refreshing. But a soaring version of “Black” was just around the corner, as well as an even-more-rocking version of “Alive.”
I think it was at this point where Bruce (filling in for Rachel) told me that he felt like he was going to cry. I understood where he was coming from.
And this was before “Leash.”
Now, a bit of history.
To begin, Pearl Jam fans are crazy. They are absolutely insane. They will go to any length to hear a specific song. Sure, they all love “Even Flow,” but if one of them gets to be in attendance to hear the band play “Sleight of Hand,” well, that’s 1,000 times more meaningful.
There have been song campaigns in the past, most notably the “Breath” campaign of 1998. After a show at Boston Garden on April 11, 1994, “Breath,” a track from 1992’s Singles soundtrack, disappeared from setlists. But in 1998, beginning in East Rutherford on Sept. 8, fans started holding out signs reading “Breath” as the band walked back for the encore. The band laughed. More fans and more “Breath” signs filled Madison Square Garden at the next show on the 10th. On Sept. 11, every level of the Garden was covered by signs that read “Breath.” Vedder acknowledged the crowd:
“You fucking cocksuckers. You fucking bitch! You fucking … You know, we come up here as a collective band and we give, and we give and you just fucking want more. And you know what? You deserve it.
This is like some kind of, this is like organized religion here. I've never seen anything like it. Do you see what's happening? You see what’s happening. The third night in a row, right? Third night in a row this shit’s been going on.
Well fuck you. We're gonna play it."
They played it, and the place went nuts. The next show, in Hartford, saw the band greeted with “THANK YOU” signs, and another rendition of “Breath.”
Signs have been popping off an on since, most famously at the second of two Madison Square Garden shows in 2003 with a banner that read “Play Leash You Pussies.”
The call for “Leash” had been on with a vengeance ever since. The morning after the first Boston show, I discovered upon my internet travels that the band had sound checked “Leash” before the show.
They had last played “Leash” at the Boston Garden, on April 11, 1994.