Night 43: A scorching introduction to Pearl Jam’s bootlegs
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Looking back, I was probably far too excited to be standing in a Circuit City.
In the early 2000s, I was beginning to get more familiar with record stores that were not just departments within a behemoth electronics chain. I looked up stores in the phone book and explored the area and tried to expand my horizons. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t still taking part in discounts and deals when it came to filling my CD shelves.
And so it was while I scoped out Pearl Jam’s latest project: releasing each show from their 2000 tour as a two-disc live album. I’m a completist now and had aspirations for such thorough collecting even then, but it seemed expensive and impractical to get all 72 shows at that point. But picking up a couple for my listening pleasure? Another window into the mysterious realm of live Pearl Jam? I had to investigate.
Heading over to their card on the rack, there were a half dozen selections sitting there, and I gravitated towards one labeled “BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS AUGUST 29 2000” on the front of a plain cardboard sleeve. The back listed 29 tracks (including a couple that weren’t immediately familiar), the number “43” indicating its placement in the series and an “Ape/Man” logo next to that, which I later learned was an indication from the band that this was a particularly solid performance.
These were a tremendously big deal for the hardcore fan. The release of Live on Two Legs in 1998 was already pivotal, a step from tape trading into a high-quality document of the band on stage. And I know I wasn’t the only fan who was more than a little worried that, post-Roskilde, the band might think about calling it a career.
Filling the gap, then, was a flood of material: the first 25 shows from the European leg of the tour, followed by the first leg of North America through Washington, D.C., then the second leg through the three-disc finale in Seattle. That closing show is rightly regarded as one of the greatest of the band’s career, and it’s a must for even a casual fan’s collection. But I wasn’t there yet.
In fact, I was still stewing over how I’d missed out on tickets the previous summer. “BOSTON” was actually Mansfield, Mass., and they’d played the Great Woods amphitheater twice that year. I saw some great shows at that venue that season, the first where I began to focus my efforts on going to concerts, but getting in the venue on either night didn’t work out. A year later, I held a facsimile in my hands.
So it was that the first night in Mansfield was the first of their 2000 releases that I bought, in tandem with their Columbus show eight days earlier (both bearing the Ape/Man logo). Completing the set would be a ways off, but these would be my introduction into a full-show recording, with high quality and free of editing, one step closer to the stage from the tapes that filled my desk drawers.
It’s a hell of an introduction, too. Looking back, this is far from a typical setlist. “Of the Girl” was a frequent opener on that tour, but throwing in another song after “Yellow Ledbetter” to finish off the night — in this case, a furious version of “Fuckin’ Up” — was definitely a curveball. This was the first time I had heard “Save it for Later” tagged onto the end of “Better Man,” and the first time I had seen the “RVM” abbreviation for “Rearviewmirror” in print.
But it’s what I heard that mattered. Eddie Vedder absolutely howled his way through “Breakerfall” while the band, anchored by Matt Cameron’s thundering rhythm, pummeled their way through my headphones. Another Binaural track, “Insignificance,” bellowed with urgency before falling into an extended jam on “Porch.” All this wasn’t totally unfamiliar, but it was the best example of the band in their natural habitat I’d yet heard. It wasn’t hard to listen to all this and place myself on the lawn at Great Woods, bowled over by Vedder’s scorched-earth vocals on “Go” or amused by some of the local references tossed in the songs — changing the time in “Untitled” to “33 minutes” in honor of Larry Bird, or the line break in “Habit” to “speaking as a child who knew who John Havlicek was…” Meanwhile, Mike McCready worked in a piece of Aerosmith’s “Chip Away at the Stone” into his “Yellow Ledbetter” solo.
Beyond the locale, there was a sense of place and time in the banter that dates the material. Coming out of the encore break and into their cover of Steve Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot,” Vedder starts to raise awareness for Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, a moment that felt especially raw upon hearing for the first time in 2001, but now has aged as endearing, a time capsule of the band’s energy and activism that year.
That energy is conveyed throughout the two encores, barreling directly into “Do the Evolution” and “Once” and continuing forward through the closing “Rearviewmirror” before taking another break.
And that power is what won me over, and what made seeing the band live such a priority from then on. Throughout this show, with its peaks and valleys in mood and tempo, there was an overwhelming urgency to all the music. This was not just another night for the band or the fans listening attentively. This was serious business. It was serious enough that each evening warranted documenting, and as such, each night would see Pearl Jam give a full and furious effort.
Before I would get to see them for the first time in 2003, I undertook a years-long effort to find copies of all 72 shows from this year, not being able to relax until I had every CD on my shelf. The lack of a meaningful social life certainly helped in those labors. But I digress. As the CDs and downloads piled up and audio evidence accumulated, this remained one of the sets I would return to frequently. Between Stone Gossard joking that singing “Mankind” was punishment for fumbling “Sleight of Hand” earlier, to Vedder asking for a Black & Tan at the pub after the show, the rhythms and energy of the evening became second nature.
The bit that stuck the most, though, was a simple acknowledgement of the crowd from Vedder at the end, a goodbye after a solid night’s work:
“See some of you tomorrow. If not, we’ll see you next time.”
I’ve gone to too much effort to acquire as many next times as I could afford, financially and otherwise. As much as I had already loved the band, this set certainly pushed me onto a new plane. From here on out, the electronics stores would no longer be enough. I had to see the stage and hear the music in person. The bootlegs would only augment that experience, not replace it.
Jan. 28, 2020
Email Nick Tavares at email@example.com