Return of the Madness
A detailed glance at obsession, music and mental health through four Pearl Jam shows in three weeks
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
It was an incident that was innocent enough to not have even felt like an incident. It was nothing. It was breathing and blinking and walking and chewing gum, only not nearly as consequential.
At this moment, which at this time had yet to even qualified for “incident” status, my boss had passed by my desk with a copy of the latest schedule. I usually get my schedule about two weeks in advance, and I usually have the same schedule every week, unless I’ve already asked for a change for whatever reason.
I smile, say thanks, and carry on with my work. I didn’t look at it for five minutes. What’s the point? There’s no stellar information there, it’s the same thing every week. And if it’s not, I’m almost always consulted before to make sure I hadn’t already made plans. It’s not a bad gig in that respect.
So, a few work-related tasks later, I take a sip of my water and glance down at the schedule. And there’s something I didn’t expect:
An extra day off.
Thursday, to be precise.
Where’s Pearl Jam playing that day?
This whole Pearl Jam thing has festered inside me for more than a decade now. My friends call me obsessed. I counter that I just know what I like, and I happen to like Pearl Jam more than any other band. They’re not the only band I like — I could rattle off 100 bands right now that I absolutely love without exaggeration — but they’re without a doubt the band I’ve invested most emotion, time and money in. Concerts, records, CDs, cassettes, t-shirts, posters, stickers … it’s been a little ridiculous.
It was understandable and almost expected when I was 16, but to be sitting here now, at 24, more into a band who doesn’t know who I am than ever before, surprises even me.
I’m not complaining, and it could’ve been anything. I’m a sports fan, too, and I could’ve been that fan flying out to visiting stadiums to catch the team. If it were sci-fi I’d be at the conventions. Stamps, cars, coins, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I happily fell into a band and never got sick of them.
Some of my exploits, which I think are quite modest — I met one guy at a Boston show who will have seen them 9 times on the first leg of this tour alone — have netted me some friends and plenty of great memories.
What happened over the past three weeks was more of that. Great songs, great drives, great friends and great memories. And, funny enough, it all started in Albany, N.Y., a city in which I didn’t initially expect to catch the band.
I was in my car when it hit me that I was already half an hour past the start of the sale time for Pearl Jam tickets. Hartford, specifically, a Saturday night show slotted for May 13. Frantic swearing and dialing occurred.
Fortunately, the lovely Rachel Hodges was still home and picked up quickly, but Hartford was sold out. More swearing filled my Nissan as I trekked down to southern Massachusetts.
Sanity returned, and a back-up popped into my head.
“Is Albany still available??”
Albany was scheduled for the night before. Sure enough, there were still tickets. And because the Ten Club (Pearl Jam’s official fan club) seats fans by seniority, I was no worse for wear. I was just going to Albany instead of Hartford, which really wasn’t that bad. It just meant an extra half hour of driving and getting a Friday night off instead of a Saturday.
On this particular trip, I was accompanied by buddy and Static And Feedback cohort Bruce Hutchings. With him at the wheel, I was free to take down the scenery and attempt to add to the most glorified of all devices in American literature — the road trip. But, in all honesty, this was about 3½ hours to get there, and it was raining most of the way, obscuring the usually scenic view of western Massachusetts’ green hills and landscapes.
But that didn’t stop the conversation. For example, I didn’t expect that, while entering the Pittsfield area, Bruce and I would be trying to see if we really did still remember all 50 state capitals. I was hung up on Pierre, while Bruce stumbled on Tallahassee. That works out to about a 90 for each of us, just short of a gold star but probably good enough for some sort of smiley-face pen doodle from the teacher. If you have a drink in your hand, toast your Grade 3 teacher this instant and go practice your cursive ‘Z.’ Now. Before recess.
Eventually, we arrived, pulled into a parking garage across the street, and made our way over to the ticket office so as to beat the rush. And our seats were … on the floor! Section 5, row K, right smack dab in the middle, right where the River Rats drop the puck at the Pepsi Arena. We celebrated this by making our way over to a very crowded merchandise table outside the arena, where I picked up a green t-shirt with a righteous eagle-and-fist design and a handful of stickers. And then, it was off to the bar.
Now, I’d driven through Albany a few times, but I never had the chance to really stop and take in the city. And their downtown area is really nice, with wide sidewalks and plenty to do. Bruce and I planted ourselves down at the Bayou Café on Pearl Street for burgers and a pitcher (or two) of Magic Hat Fat Angel, which has since become my favorite of the Magic Hat brews. A good beer before a show can make all the difference, people.