The magnitude of the show had my stomach in ropes long before Friday officially arrived. As I rolled through Chicago’s suburbs on the L-train pre-dusk headed toward Wrigley Field, the butterflies became a frenzy of activity, the main event nearly within reach. Fellow music fans packed the train’s car, anxiously, and some of them drunkenly, chattering about the concert, comparing notes on ticket prices and ‘the first time I saw them’ stories. It was all I could do not to lose my dinner.
I tried to blame the summer heat and humidity for my churning insides as we exited the platform, train riders spilling out onto West Addison Street, the hallowed stadium surrounded on all sides by attendees who had traveled near and far to witness the highly anticipated show. I tugged on my camera bag, darting between people and cars to the Will Call window to pick up what was surely the most coveted press access I had ever acquired. Tickets in hand, I joined the growing congregation of press photographers at the designated meeting spot, staring in awe at the familiar red marquee I had seen in person only once years before when dating a diehard Cubs fan. Live Nation presents An Evening with Pearl Jam, it read. Sold Out.
A Ten From The Start
Like many fans my age, the opening notes of Pearl Jam tunes evoke everything from first concert memories to thoughts of Seattle, Singles, and the height of what was deemed ‘grunge rock’. The mid-Nineties, when checkered flannel was in and the Pacific Northwest was where everything musical was happening. I took in my first PJ show at a small venue in East Lansing, Michigan, where only a few hundred were in attendance. Jeff Ament, Mike McCready, Stone Gossard, and frontman Eddie Vedder emerged with a sound that rocked harder than anything I had witnessed before, long hair thrashing about, guitar riffs that earwormed even weeks after the performance. So enthralled by the concert, so energized by the music running through my Midwest veins, I slapped a Pearl Jam sticker on the back of my truck window in allegiance in the days that followed – the band’s familiar stick figure, hands raised. A Pearl Jam fan for life.
More than a half dozen albums followed that stunning initial release – Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Binaural, Riot Act, Backspacer – each to different acclaim. Vedder’s vocals were easily recognizable as “Man of the Hour” played in Big Fish, and “Society” in Into the Wild. Cameron Crowe assembled the Pearl Jam Twenty documentary to commemorate the band’s twentieth anniversary. Members ventured off on their own side projects, including Vedder with his surprising release of Ukelele Songs. Festivals were played, the Vitalogy Foundation was formed – all the while, the band remained a cornerstone of inspiration for both fans and musicians the world round.
Then rumblings and whisperings of a show at Wrigley Field began earlier this year, first across social media and finally confirmed with an official announcement. My love of all things Pearl Jam reignited – such an iconic band at such an iconic venue, my adoration of both Pearl Jam and the Cubbies haphazardly smashing into each other for one shining night in Chi-town. I had to go, I had to be there. I had to make it happen.
Lightning and Rain at Wrigley
The show started nearly an hour late on Friday night, delayed, I assumed, due to the storm clouds making their way through town. The band took the stage as the sun set and the sky grew dark. Vedder paused briefly before taking his place below the lights, arms raised in a ‘v’, surveying the full stadium before him, the raucous crowd welcoming him in. The first few notes of “Release” emanated from behind him, and he gripped the microphone to begin the words, as he had a thousand times before. “Nothingman” followed, with “Present Tense” next before we were shuffled out of the photo pit. A few songs later, just after the band played “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, Vedder explained to the crowd that with the severe weather starting to bear down, everyone was to gather within the walls of the stadium, ‘for a half hour or so’, as the storm took hold.
Equipment wrapped in plastic as rain poured in spurts onto the field, Pearl Jam took the stage again nearly three hours after everything had been halted, to great cheers of those who had made the wait. Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks, joined the band on stage as Vedder serenaded both the field of dreams and the history of its beloved baseball team with “All The Way”. The crowd, seemingly undaunted by the extended break between performances, quickly fell back into the groove as the standard set list settled in – “All Night”, “Do The Evolution”, “Setting Forth”, “Corduroy”, “Faithfull.” Tunes from the new album were highlighted, including the recently released “Mind Your Manners”, and the title track, “Lightning Bolt,” a seemingly unintentional nod to the evening’s electrifying weather. Classics like “State of Love and Trust” and “Evenflow” brought cheers from us, ahem, longtime fans.
Just after 1:00 a.m., as the last notes of “Why Go” resonated throughout the stadium, I saw my chance to depart before the end-of-a-concert rush. I wasn’t the young Pearl Jam fan I used to be, and it showed as my adrenaline wore off and the warm, post-storm breeze lulled me into calling it an evening long before the majority of my fellow fans. Music continued to drift through the friendly confines of Wrigley as I made my way back down West Addison to the L-train, and Vedder, and his Pearl Jam, naturally, kept rocking in the free world.
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender