Living a Pearl Jam show 3,000 miles away
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
It started around 11 a.m., Mountain Standard Time.
I was sitting at my desk at work, faithfully editing away, when I got the first of many, many text messages:
“Hey we’re in Lot 10, where are you?”
Well, I’m just about 3,000 miles away, as it were.
Yes, on this day, June 30, Pearl Jam was closing out their east coast tour with the second of two shows at Great Woods in Mansfield, Mass. I have a long history with that venue. I went through a period of about five years where I saw at least five shows there per summer, sometimes more. It always began with a monster tailgating scene, typically starting six hours before doors opened, sometimes earlier. Through the years I saw some amazing shows there, including, but not limited to, the Who, Tom Petty, the Black Crowes, Radiohead, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, the Allman Brothers Band, Jimmy Page, and Lollapalooza 2003 (featuring Jane’s Addiction and Queens of the Stone Age, among others). Sometimes security is an unnecessary pain in the ass, but overall, it’s a great venue with a great vibe.
Oh, I also saw Pearl Jam there a bunch of times. I first saw them at Great Woods. I ran into Eddie Vedder in the parking lot before that first show, prompting me, immediately after he left, to call every single number in my cell phone. Some twice. I saw them play most of their catalog there, and I witnessed the debacle on July 11, 2003, when they played for more than four hours and blew curfew away by nearly an hour. At Great Woods, blowing curfew is a costly no-no, and not surprisingly, the next time they came through New England, they played the [insert bank here] Garden in Boston.
But the memory of Pearl Jam and Mansfield never dimmed or died. The two are forever intertwined in my mind. I can’t imagine that ever changing.
And as the stream of text messages and voice mails poured in from friends back in Massachusetts, the pangs of jealousy and longing started popping up. They were gearing up to catch a Pearl Jam show, and I wasn’t.
Now, I’ve written about one big reason why I was hesitant to go already: the higher ticket prices. But, as fate would have it, my recent trip back to Massachusetts didn’t jive with Pearl Jam’s schedule anyway, so even if the tickets had been $2.50, I wasn’t going to be there.
But a different feeling started to come over me as the work day ended and the texts and voicemails continued. It felt warm. It felt like I was there. I could see myself on the crumbling concrete parking lot, walking through the entrance, past the pine trees and the merchandise stands, and taking my seat. And, sure enough, all my friends were there, rocking along with me.
And it looked like a great set. By my count, five songs I’ve never had the pleasure of hearing were played, and all accounts state that they were in top form; they were loose, on point, loud, daring and having fun.
But, again, I wasn’t there, so I asked a couple of my friends who were to share their feelings about the show: Clean Vibes warrior and friend of Static and Feedback Bruce Hutchings, and longtime friend, event-coordinator extraordinaire and part-time bass player Sasha Vaut.
“Pearl Jam has made it up there as one of my top bands of all time,” Bruce wrote, “and from the crowd in the lawn I think they are the top favorite of many, many others. My fifth show at "Great Woods" was a fun and festive one for sure; I just wish I had a little more space to cut it.
“The show was breath taking ... literally, because it was really hot and sticky,” Sasha wrote, “but it was a beautiful night and the place was packed. Pearl Jam is the kind of band that you go to see and most of the crowd knows the lyrics to even the most obscure songs.
“It's incredible to have that genius behind the music, and turn a masterpiece over to the crowd to carry on. I think it was “Better Man” (ed: it was) that [Vedder] had the audience sing along to while he just sat back and watched. It's like you've come to almost worship at their feet and they've come to worship you, the experience of being together, watching music come to life, and living something that will never be seen or heard exactly that way again.”
Both were pretty much in agreement that it was a great show, and they’ve both got their own routines and situations when it comes to watching the band.
“My previous PJ show was at Bonnaroo backstage, right on top of Boom. A lot more space, different perspective (I saw the madness on the lawn), and an incredible set!
I am looking forward to the next — I’ll study the B sides and bite my lip when I am back on the lawn!”
“My favorite part is to zone out a bit and realize that you're not the only one there, that there are thousands of people around you watching the same show and experiencing it completely differently,” Sasha wrote. “The guy in front of me was there with his son, both screaming the words, and you knew that the dad loved PJ from his ‘youth’ and the son has grown up loving them, too. To the left was a couple: the man there trying not to enjoy himself too much because he didn't want to piss off his reluctant wife, who stood there with her arms crossed the whole time. Behind me was an angry punk with a Mohawk and tattoos — no shirt of course — who had a great voice and practically started crying when they played ‘Bee Girl.’”
I think I might have started crying if I saw them play “Bee Girl,” too.
Alas, not all is lost. In about a week, I’m hopefully heading to Los Angeles to catch them in action as part of Vh-1 Rock Honors: The Who, along with the Flaming Lips, Foo Fighters and, of course the Who. It’s a dream bill if there ever was one.
But, it’ll be a different experience than a proper Pearl Jam show. I expect there to be a flurry of surprises and amazing performances at the Rock Honors show, and, if all goes well, it’ll be a true once-in-a-lifetime event.
That said, there’s still something to a Pearl Jam show: the pacing of the set, the never-ending encores, the drama, the fury, everything. They’ve been my favorite band since I was 14 and they continue to be. But on this night, I had to settle for watching from the sidelines. Not great, but knowing first-hand that my friends had a blast and were thinking about me is an excellent consolation.
Besides, I’ll have the bootleg soon enough.
July 5, 2008