Crossing borders and making connections with Pearl Jam in Québec
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Chalk it up to puritanical conditioning, but in the late afternoon this past Thursday, I was blown away that I was sitting on a bench on the lawn outside a hockey arena, openly enjoying a beer and the company of some like-minded folks, talking music, sports, the pros and cons of various cities and, of course, Pearl Jam.
Pearl Jam opened up the third and final leg of the 2022 Gigaton tour in Québec City’s Centre Vidéotron, returning to North American following a mid-summer swing in Europe. And after some last-minute wrangling, a few hours in the car and a few more hours of navigating Québec’s endless vertical inclines on foot, we were on the precipice of another show in the books. That it included the opportunity to experience a city like this put the entire trip over the top.
As Eddie Vedder told the crowd, most of whom had waited two and a half years for this night, Québec is a gem. “It should be kept a secret,” he said. “It’s a jewel. Hang onto it tight, it’s beautiful.”
It certainly is, and I was incredibly thankful I got to drop in and get a taste for it.
To say that a trip to Québec City has always been on my radar would be a dramatic understatement. I’m still upset that I never got to see a game at the old Colisée de Québec, and maybe a little more upset at the fact that the Nordiques still haven’t returned to the NHL despite building the Centre Vidéotron.
Still, this particular trip came together relatively quickly. I had already seen Pearl Jam this year in Glendale, Ariz., and I wasn’t planning on catching them again. But looking at the tour schedule, I started eyeing Québec City and Ottawa at the start of the second North American leg. With the border once again open to non-essential travel and discovering that it was only a six-and-a-half hour drive, I picked Québec, found tickets and then asked my buddy Bruce if he had his passport. We hadn’t had a proper Pearl Jam road trip since 2006, and we were well overdue for another.
And after a brief stop in Burlington following work on Wednesday, we were over the border on Thursday morning and ready for some barbecue at St. Hubert and the rest that Québec City had to offer. Getting from our hotel to Old Québec meant walking in circles constantly uphill, of course, but it made the first pint at Pub St-Patrick that much better. And stepping into the bar and immediately hearing Pearl Jam’s “Go” certainly made us feel more at home.
But the overwhelming feeling I had driving in and walking around Québec City was that, it felt like it should’ve taking longer to reach a place that felt this different. And it wasn’t just the language, though le français is omnipresent, or the metric system, which had me constantly doing miles-to-kilometres calculations in my head. It was more that this is its own city with a culture that has been intensely and successfully preserved, without sacrificing the character or the charm of its place or people. I’ve heard of a negative reputation, but quite literally everyone I encountered, from the city residents to the visitors from elsewhere in North America, were incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Which made hanging out in the lawn area outside of Centre Vidéotron so incredible. Armed with a few beers from Sno Microbrasserie Nordik, it made for one of the better pregame experiences I’ve ever had outside of a show. Meeting up with new friends Jon and Tracie and immediately diving into music and hockey and everything in between, it just started to cement what makes this entire endeavor so special. And that carried over after the show, stumbling around Old Québec again, making more friends, talking more music and me somehow winding up as the most capable translator whenever we ran into folks who were near-exclusive French speakers. (Et Eric, if you’re reading this, bonjour, mais je suis désolé que nous n'ayons pas pu nous rendre au dernier pub. Mais, c'était 4 a.m. Aussi, pardon mon français, s'il vous plaît...)
Meanwhile, we also have a concert to discuss, correct?
One of the longest-lasting parlor games to play before a Pearl Jam show is to guess the opener. I think Bruce called for “Go,” I guessed “Of the Girl,” and I heard “Release” and “Retrograde” among other guesses from the various merrymakers in our circle. What I definitely did not hear was anyone put their money down on “Daughter” kicking off a five-song acoustic set. But from the moment the lights kicked on to the ring of those opening chords to the realization that the band was seated, the evening took on an even more special air than usual.
The feeling that we were in for something beyond the typical maintained when “Footsteps” followed, the first of many rarities the band sprinkled into the set. The close of this opening turn took on a heavier vibe when “Other Side” and “Off He Goes” were dedicated to the memory of those who’d been lost in the past couple of years, and in the still-burning afterglow of a pandemic that stopped the world cold, it hit pretty deeply.
But this was still a night to let it loose and enjoy the moment, and “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” ever stronger now that it’s gotten a chance to build up some legs live, switched the mood from contemplative to joyous almost instantly. And from there, it was basically a two-hour race to the finish. Classics like “Why Go,” “Even Flow” and “I Got Shit” had that building swinging, while cellphones lit up the arena in lieu of lighters on “Small Town.” Newer tunes like “Quick Escape” and “Who Ever Said” did their jobs to keep that momentum running as well. Again, as in Arizona a few months ago, “Black” was a monster, with Mike McCready reaching Valhalla on his guitar leads.
More wrinkles appeared throughout the night. A soaring “Present Tense” opened up the encore at the request of, obviously, the coolest 12-year-old fan in the province, with “Do the Evolution” and an anthemic “Alive” ripping the building back open. “Purple Rain,” with opening act and utility man Josh Klinghoffer stepping up on guitar and vocals with Vedder, put the entire evening over the top. They reached another plane as they paid tribute to Prince, and McCready again stepped up on the solo that demands maximum effort.
In the glow of that moment, the band brought back that peaceful vibe that seems to sweep over the city, with “Indifference” serving as a kind of catharsis to the carousel they had overseen for the past couple of hours. With the houselights on, the steep pitch of the upper levels pushed fans right on top of the action and revealed thousands of deliriously happy revelers.
That vibe swept over everything and lasted until after 3 a.m. when, after hours of singing Blind Melon songs and talking up the Tragically Hip and sharing dog photos, pulling more fans into our ever-growing circle all the while, we finally tumbled out of Chez Murphy’s Pub and back to the hotel. I hadn’t had a night like that in years, and certainly not since the pandemic hit. And it was in part due to the environment that the band creates and cultivates, the scene of friendly and open-minded people who are in on the secret and ready to lose themselves in a great night.
And the city plays a tremendous hand in that, of course. J’adore Québec, et Canada. Merci beaucoup, à bientôt.
E-mail Nick Tavares at email@example.com