Pearl Jam closes the doors on the Spectrum, and childhood
By CHRISTINE ANGI
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
In 2003, I would have flown to the moon if Pearl Jam was hosting the first concert in space.
My Pearl Jam fandom has waned over the years, but when they announced that they would be playing four shows at the Spectrum in Philadelphia before they closed its doors, I started saving money and bumped myself from a business flight to get a free plane ticket. I took a vacation day (something I rarely do) and even forgot I had a midterm in the midst of my haphazard planning.
I have been to Philadelphia three times, and I will admit I really do not like the city. Contrary to the hit show's eponymous title, it is not always sunny there. You can, however, count on a city with historic charm that has been destroyed by litter, a bit of graffiti, and a general feel of filth. It’s like a bomb exploded and the whole city is left with that grimy residue covering all of the buildings (and some of the people).
Although my dislike of this Great American City runs deep, I knew the shows at the Spectrum would be epic, so I booked a plane ticket. Besides, instead of sightseeing, I knew I'd spend the majority of my weekend in a parking lot drinking Yuengling — a domestic lager deemed too good for the Midwest, apparently.
I have been debating all morning about how to write the reviews of the two shows I saw. After much deliberation, I decided to review them separately as they were really two very different experiences. While there were some commonalities (ROCK, Stone Gossard’s horrible haircut, and a sold-out crowd), for the most part the vibe and experience of both shows was incredibly different. So, in an attempt to accurately capture the experience, I’ll keep em’ separated like the Offspring.
FRIDAY, OCT. 30
Bad Religion opened. I skipped it.
I rarely skip the opening act, as I feel it’s important to support the opener, but after sitting through two of their 40-minute sets when they opened for Pearl Jam in Chicago, I felt I had done my due diligence. I’ll draw from past experiences to tell you they:
- Played what they consider “punk rock”
- Looked uncomfortably old, especially Greg Graffin ,
- Made sure the entire set sounded like “21st Century (Digital Boy).”
A one sentence summary of the Friday show: I felt like I hopped into a time machine filled with hits and rarities of Pearl Jam past. Vedder promised during the first show at the Spectrum the band would play a collection of songs with few repeats … and they did just that.
The band opened with “Gonna See My Friend” and the “Fixer” from their latest album, Backspacer, which almost seemed like an attempt to get them out of the way early. But Pearl Jam put the Spectrum in a time machine that took us to a time before mediocrity became the status-quo. The set was packed with songs from Ten, Vitalogy, No Code, and Yield (only one song was played from Vs. all evening — it must have gotten lost in the space-time continuum. These time machines are not an exact science yet).
It was refreshing to see this vintage Pearl Jam: a band focused on rock ‘n’ roll and having fun. A band where Stone Gossard actually smiled and pretended as though he enjoyed being a member. A band where Mike McCready was an integral part to the performance but was restrained and didn’t try to continually steal the spotlight like CC Deville. Ed’s vocals were sharp and commanding, eerily strong for a vocalist who is well past his prime. In many ways it felt like a show from the 1995 tour, except Matt Cameron was drumming, and Boom Gaspar was sitting on the side of the stage doing whatever it is he does (more on this later).
The band performed “In My Tree” the old way, with the rolling drum intro, dating to the original recording from No Code. The unmistakable guitar intro of “Tremor Christ” evoked the spirit of Pearl Jam past as Ed showcased his vocal range, asserting that he’s still got it — with screams that matched the intensity and fervor of the 1994 recording.
Tucked between old songs, was another new song: “Unthought Known." Backspacer has only been out for two months, yet the crowd sang along as though this were an old-standard in the Pearl Jam catalog. It led me to my greatest revelation of the evening — though I consider this album to be as bland and unlistenable as a Matchbox 20 album, it actually thrives live. I heard “Unthought Known” on the radio a few weeks ago and I thought it was a Coldplay song (what’s with all of the layers and the keyboards?), yet live it was a tolerable, almost enjoyable experience.
For the first encore, Vedder greeted us with an acoustic guitar and was joined by the Philly String Quartet. “Just Breathe,” “Parting Ways,” and “Jeremy” were all performed with the strings, though admittedly, I could not hear the strings during “Jeremy.”
The second encore impressively contained only songs that have been part of the Pearl Jam catalog for at least 15 years. “Footsteps”, a B-side from the Ten album, was easily the highlight for me, as was a cover of the Dead Boys’ classic “Sonic Reducer.”
When the house lights came on and the band performed their final song, “Baba O’Riley,” I knew that I had witnessed an epic Pearl Jam show. Though exhausted and desperately in need of water and a shower, I enjoyed myself so much, I almost forgot I paid $90 for the ticket.
SATURDAY, OCT. 31
Since this Pearl Jam show was the last event in the Spectrum, let’s recount the greatest things to happen in Spectrum history:
- The Flyers became the first NHL team to defeat the Soviet Red Army during the height of the cold war on January 11, 1976.
- The Spectrum is the only venue to host the NBA and NHL All-Star Games in the same season (and the Final Four).
- In 1980, the Spectrum hosted the Stanley Cup and NBA Finals at the same time.
- The Doors recorded Live in Philadelphia ‘70 there.
- The Grateful Dead played 53 times at the Spectrum.
- Bruce Springsteen played on December 8, 1980, the day Lennon was assassinated. Though upset and with some members crying, they played 34 songs.
- Pearl Jam performed 103 different songs in 4 days, closing out the venue.
The area around the Spectrum (or South Philly in general) was packed all day — an afternoon Flyers game at the Wachovia Center, the Pearl Jam show at the Spectrum, and World Series Game 3 across the street at Citizens Bank Park. Add Halloween to the mix, and you’ve got a recipe for irresponsible tailgating, drunken debauchery, freaks in costumes, and incredibly long port-a-potty lines. This bizarre circus of cultural collisions was bursting with excitement for many reasons, and I was excited to see Pearl Jam.
Again making their entrance to the Rocky Theme, the band filed onto stage and opened with “Why Go,” a song which showcases McCready’s solo abilities and cements his place as one of the best lead guitarists of the grunge and modern era.
Early in the set, high-energy rockers like “Last Exit” and “Corduroy” seemed rushed. Maybe it was just excitement or poor timing, but the band did not seem as in-sync as the night before. Once settled, the band sounded more cohesive on “Rats,” and “Glorified G” and rounded out the first set with a rather lengthy version of “Black” with an extended call and response, and the “We Belong Together” tag.
As promised, Pearl Jam also continued on their quest to play rare gems. “Pilate,” “I Got Shit” and “Out of My Mind” were highlights and a testament to the band’s ability to dig deep into their catalog.
Achieving the impossible, they descended even deeper into obscurity with “Sweet Lew,” Jeff Ament’s rap/spoken-word homage to his childhood hero, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, accompanied by Eddie Vedder who “played” the basketball. As if five incredibly rare songs were not enough, the band tipped the scales with the Holy Grail of obscure songs: “Bugs,” a song that had never been performed live. Armed with an accordion, Eddie Vedder impressed the crowd with his command of the squeezebox after a rocky start.
To start the second encore, the band came onto the stage wearing yellow jumpsuits and red hats, and covered “Whip It” by Devo. Armed with a real whip, black horn-rimmed glasses, and expert robotic moves, the band played what I’d consider a very impressive cover of a very unimpressive song. It was good for laughs, the band seemed to enjoy it, and it gave keyboardist Boom Gaspar something to do (the robot – at which he was quite good).
The second encore ended rather abruptly with a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World.” Red, white and blue balloons fell from the ceiling, and confetti machines in every corner released so much confetti it was impossible to see the stage. It was as though we were in a real-life snow globe, with confetti and balloons falling everywhere. A guitar tech brought another guitar on stage, at which point Ed told him to cut-it and they were through. Applause convinced the band to play one more – a fitting anthem that ends many Pearl Jam shows, “Yellow Ledbedder,” to retire the Spectrum for good.
Perhaps most peculiar was how abruptly the set ended, and that the band and techs alike seemed surprised when Vedder called it quits. Before the second encore a drum-kit was set up behind Matt Cameron, yet this kit was never used. Though we will never know what else was on the set for that night (they did sound check “Black, Red, Yellow”) it seemed the band might have had more up their sleeves.
Pearl Jam rocked for 3 hours and 40 minutes, and played 41 songs. The energy of the crowd was among the best I’ve seen at any show, and it was disappointing to leave. I’m glad to say that I saw two shows in the Spectrum before it’s demolition, and these shows will serve a fitting end to the Pearl Jam fandom of my youth.
E-mail Christine Angi at firstname.lastname@example.org
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