Closing the Spectrum, Pearl Jam pulls out all the stops
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
In some ways, it feels funny writing about the final concert ever to be held at the Spectrum. First, I don't have a wealth of experience to draw from in the building. Heck, it's my first time even in the city of Philadelphia. Second, I didn't particularly like the venue. It was very poorly designed, where the only narrow concourse area made you feel like you were in general admission at a mid-90s Metallica show, and the sitting area was cramped with those metal bars across the folding chairs that always leave a nice bruise stripe across your legs. Sadly, to us newcomers, it felt like they should tear the place down, or at least give it one hell of a makeover.
Our day was nicely planned for this occasion. We made it to the arena at 11:15 a.m. to pick up our Ten Club tickets, and then headed over to the subway station, leaving the car to just chill in the parking lot for the day, due to the fact that it would get chaotic in the area, since Game 3 of the World Series between the Yankees and Phillies was scheduled to start around the same time as the concert. Philly's charm hit us immediately as we bought tokens for the subway. I got $3 back in change — in nickels. Needless to say, I had heavy pockets. In any event, we had a great day, checking out Geno's and Pat's King of Steaks (I thought Pat's was better, the fiancee picked Geno's), then hit the historic national park area where we saw that Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Second Bank, and more — all for free!
After dinner, we headed back to the arena, and got inside in time for Bad Religion. Despite the fact that their age seems more apparent then I thought it would on stage, they tore through an excellent 40-minute set that featured none other than Eddie Vedder coming out and singing with them.
Then it was time for that magical wait. And at 9:00 p.m., that wait was over. The lights went out and the screens stationed far overhead began to play a montage of great past events and moments at the Spectrum. Highlights of the Flyers, Dr. J, Charles Barkley, the Grateful Dead, Bruce Springsteen, and more raced by on the screen, followed by the theme from Rocky. Out came the band, with Vedder sporting a pair of boxing gloves, ready for the concert fight of his life. "This is it!" yelped Vedder, and they immediately tore into “Why Go.” From the outset, the band's energy was outstanding, and they owned this stage for its final night. The band raced through a number of loud, rollicking songs, building the energy one after another with “Last Exit,” “Corduroy,” “Severed Hand,” and “The Fixer,” the latter of which sounded a whole lot better live than on their newest album, Backspacer. In fact, all of the new songs had a kind of energy live that I didn't fully fathom listening to the album the first hundred times. In between songs, a woman dressed like one of those boxing ring girls in Las Vegas gave updates on the score of the World Series game across the street (this stopped, however, once the Yankees took the lead in the game).
Early on, the band decided to make it clear to their audience that it would be only them giving this building a send off, addressing the rumors that everyone from Bon Jovi to Bruce Springsteen to Billy Joel were stopping by. Nonetheless, they promised that they would work their collective butts off to give the place a proper send off. This meant the perfect mix of high energy, and a selection of songs that ranged from their biggest hits to their most obscure rarities. They delivered in a manner that I couldn't have even guessed after seeing them 16 times prior.
The first surprise of the evening was when they stated they would play some lesser known songs, with Vedder stating "I hope you remember this one," leading to a very well rehearsed “Pilate.” The crowd made it clear the song was not forgotten despite rarely making their setlists, screaming in unison, "like Pilate, I have a dog!" After a fitting “Daughter/Another Brick in the Wall,” where Vedder flipped the lyrics to reflect his feelings on the place being torn down, they brought up the one special guest of the evening: an 89-year-old man named Charlie, who had been an engineer in the Spectrum, and worked every event from its opening in 1967 through this final night. The band then ripped through “Johnny Guitar,” followed by “Rats,” which featured a crowd member tossing up a couple of fake rats and a stagehand dancing around the stage dressed in a rat costume. The stakes were raised yet again when Vedder announced that an anonymous donor would give a significant amount of money to charity if they played this next song.This lead into a spot on version of “Out Of My Mind,” an improv played during their two-night stand in Atlanta in 1994 that made it as a b-side to their “Not For You” single. Two more rarely played songs in “Glorified G” and “I Got Id” were next, both of which were nailed to perfection. You could just tell at this point that this was going to be the wildest setlist of the band's career, not only from the standpoint of song selection, but also because they were really getting into every song with a great passion.
For the first encore, the band came out with a string quartet, which they used for just about every song they played in the encore, and worked fittingly on the band's new songs “Just Breathe,” “The End” and “Speed of Sound.” Thrown in the middle of that trio was the rarely played “Low Light,” sounding as good as ever.
But soon after, the unthinkable became reality. Vedder walked backstage and came back out sporting a huge accordian. The crowd all knew what that meant, but no one could believe what was happening. Vedder struggled through the first few lines of “Bugs,” and then promised he would play it first in Philadelphia, but didn't think he had it tonight. However, with the crowd egging him on to give it another shot, he went right back to it, with the crowd practically taking over on vocals during this spoken-word song. Following this, anything could have done for this crowd, as the lifers got their true rarity tonight, and the set continued to pound the walls of the Spectrum into submission.
After a long wait, Pearl Jam graced the stage once more, only this time they came out in their Halloween costumes. Dressed as Devo, complete with plastic yellow jump suits inscribed with DEVO, the plastic red hats that look like strange planters, and Vedder sporting a whip, the band played a spirited and dead-on cover of their biggest single, “Whip It.” Mike McCready, Jeff Ament, and Stone Gossard mimicked the famous robotic dancing, complete with guitars shaped like those of Devo fame. It was probably the most fun moment I've ever witnessed at a Pearl Jam concert over the years — however, there was even more to come.
The band kicked back in with rarely played gem “Satan's Bed,” and followed it with the first ever playing of “Sweet Lew,” featuring Ament on vocals and Vedder playing the basketball, dribbling it in rhythm to the song near a microphone. After all the hijinks, the band returned to their staples, the songs that make arenas shake and earned them the loyal following that they continue to have after 19 years as a band. They roared through “Do the Evolution” and “Better Man/Save It For Later.” After that, it was once again time for members to switch instruments, as Ament took over on guitar and Gossard on bass for “Smile,” a personal favorite off No Code.
It was finally time to start closing out the show, and no better way than a trio of songs that truly ignite the Pearl Jam experience in an arena setting. The band ripped into a long and powerful take on “Alive,” featuring Vedder's howl backed by 20,000 supporters and the signature fist pump during the closing jam. As I've stated in the past, this is their "Born to Run,” and they really bring fire to the place every time. The house lights then went on one final time for “Rockin' in the Free World,” and the party worked itself up even further when cannons spewed confetti from every corner of the building. Looking out, you could barely see the stage through the sea of tiny paper floating throughout the arena. Hundreds of balloons rained down from the ceiling, and everyone was joining in the party, as the band refused to let the party end. This was the most fun I'd ever had at a Pearl Jam concert, and it all seemed like a fitting end to this place. After a brief discussion while hundreds of onlookers popped balloons and cheered, the band closed the show with “Yellow Ledbetter,” their now-legendary closing song, and McCready took over at the end and finished the show out in the most fitting fashion possible: a spot-on cover of the Jimi Hendrix rendition of “the Star Spangled Banner.”
All told, there were 41 songs played across three hours and 40 minutes. Impressive stats. However it wasn't just that they seemed to play forever, and played some real rarities that night. It was the fun they were having on stage, and the pure joy they brought to the audience, that was the true reminder of why this band is one of the greatest live acts to ever grace a stage.
E-mail Joshua Lieberson at firstname.lastname@example.org
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