Pearl Jam @ Madison Square Garden 6/24/2008
Hard To Imagine / Save You / Why Go? / All Night / Corduroy / Faithfull / Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town / Down / Unemployable / Given To Fly / Who You Are / Whipping / 1/2 Full / Even Flow / Present Tense / Daughter / Do The Evolution // Love Reign O’er Me / W.M.A. / Leash / Spin The Black Circle / Wasted Reprise / Porch /// No More / Crazy Mary / Comatose / I Believe In Miracles (with CJ Ramone) / Alive //// All Along The Watchtower / Indifference
I’ll have a different, more show-focused review of this concert over at Stereogum later in the day, but for now, I’m going to be indulgent. (It’s up now, with lots of great photos by Maria Tessa Sciarrino.)
This was my first Pearl Jam concert in a little over ten years. That last show was a brief festival appearance, and so it’s really my second full Pearl Jam gig, the first being a stop in Connecticut on the No Code tour back in 1996. Looking over this setlist, three things come to mind:
1. Wow, I got really lucky. They played my favorite rarity right at the start, and then threw in “Faithfull,” “Corduroy,” “Whipping,” and “Unemployable,” all of which would be near the top of my personal wish list. (“Wishlist,” however, was not, but that’s not really a comment on the quality of that song.) Aside from “Even Flow,” which you’re definitely going to see no matter what, Pearl Jam setlists are very random, and really, any song from a pool of about 200 could pop up in any given show. Sure, they didn’t do “I Got Shit,” “Grievance,” “Not For You,” or “Breath,” but I think I made out pretty well. Bonus: They did not play any songs that I actively dislike, like, say, “God’s Dice.”
2. I kinda wish I could send 13 year old me a letter telling him “Hey, be patient. You’re going to see Pearl Jam play “Hard To Imagine” in 15 years, and it’s gonna rule. Also, believe it or not, they’re actually going to do “W.M.A.” too, but with a slightly different arrangement.”
3. The teenage version of me would’ve known a little over half of the songs played in this show, i.e. all the songs written and in the group’s known repertoire before 1997.
I wasn’t sure what to expect to feel at this show, but I’m glad that what I did feel wasn’t just a lot of distanced nostalgia. I may have significantly toned down my Pearl Jam fandom over the past 15 years, but it never really went away. I may not listen to the band with any sort of regularity now, but I never stopped loving any of those old songs, and I never lost interest in their newer material. I felt very present at the show, and part of that comes down to the intense, unanimous enthusiasm of the audience, and most of it comes out of the fact that the band are effortlessly compelling. Eddie Vedder has got his showman tricks, but he doesn’t lean too hard on them, instead just sinking himself deep into the songs, and letting his natural charisma do the rest. Their show is totally no-frills — standard lighting, no real backdrop. It’s just the band on stage, playing songs for nearly three hours. It sounds so simple, but how many bands can pull that off in a room of that size, pretty much anywhere on the planet, and have pretty much every single person in the room totally pumped and singing along the entire time? It’s extraordinary.
Pearl Jam “Hard To Imagine” (Live @ Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, MI, 2006) – This is wrote about “Hard To Imagine” three years ago…
When I was a teen, I was very obsessed with Pearl Jam, a condition that was exacerbated by the intense fandom of many of my friends at school, some of whom had been buying cd bootlegs featuring unreleased songs that the band had been playing live. At that point, half of the fun of being a Pearl Jam fan was being amazed by how much excellent material the band was willing to relegate to b-sides and soundtracks, or just not release at all. I had a live version of “Hard To Imagine” dubbed to a cassette from my friend Steve’s cd, and I would listen to it over and over again, totally baffled as to why the band would just abandon what was clearly one of their very best songs. I’d dub copies for friends, and talk it up with any Pearl Jam fan who would listen, totally confident that the band would put it out on their next record. Vitalogy came and went, and I rationalized – it just wasn’t right for that record, it would obviously pop up later on. When the tracklisting for No Code was announced in Ice, I convinced myself and others that the song “Present Tense” HAD to be a retitled version of the song. I mean, isn’t it obvious? The chorus is “things were different then, all is different now” – like, it’s the present tense!!! But no. Though I liked No Code and still do, my interest in Pearl Jam fell off sharply around 1997, and has only dimmed with time.
A studio version of the song was finally released in 1998, tossed off to the soundtrack of an obscure movie called Chicago Cab. At that point, it was hard for me to muster much enthusiasm. I never bought the soundtrack, and eventually just downloaded it from Audiogalaxy. It’s a lovely version of the song, though not quite everything it could have been. It still sounds lonely, nostalgic, and majestic, and the guitar at the beginning still evokes wet snow on the ground and the scent of smoke from wood burning stoves mixing with crisp air (probably just my sense memory from when I first heard the song, but whatever). I maintain after all of this time that it is certainly one of the best songs the band has ever written, and when I was looking at the band’s recent setlists a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but to feel extremely jealous of the audiences who’ve seen them play it, as it has become a semi-regular song in their rotation following the release of their b-sides collection, Lost Dogs. I’m pretty sure that there was one show in Canada where they played this, “Breath,” “I Got Shit,” “Not For You,” and “Release” all in the same set, something that would’ve totally blown my mind when I was sixteen. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)
Oh, by the way, maybe someday I’ll tell you all about the Vitalogy book I wanted to write for the 33 1/3 series. Not today.