I saw Pearl Jam at Wrigley Field and all I got was some guy’s sweat on my arm.

Prologue

I wrote and rewrote this recap of the Pearl Jam concert at Wrigley, and I couldn’t get it right. It was boring, it was a play-by-play of the night, it didn’t have the spark and sass I needed it to have. And then I read a few YouTube comments (always a great idea), yelling on the internet about who “real” Pearl Jam fans are, and if you’re not a “real” fan, you need to be escorted out because you don’t deserve to be there. These comments are few and far between, but they’re there. A pet peeve of mine is the silly demarcation people make up between “real” fans and “fake” fans. This applies to sports, this applies to bands. I intend to write a whole post later about it.

For now though, I wanted to write this from the view of someone who is experiencing Pearl Jam live for, essentially, the first time. And not only did I experience Pearl Jam live for the first time, I did it at a show that the band put together for the loyal fans, the ones who have all the B-sides, the ones that have been members of the Ten Club since its inception, the ones that know every word to every song on every album, even the ones they don’t like that much. That’s a special experience, and it’s hard to write about. I can’t write about it from a long-time fan perspective, I can’t write about it as a knowledgeable fan — I can only write about it as someone who’s been converted.

So keep in mind that I’m not thumbing my nose at all PJ fans. Just the 3 who are yelling dumb things on the Internet. They’re probably not even real fans. (I’m kidding. Kind of. No, I’m kidding.)

Dear Pearl Jam fans,

I know, I know, I’m super lucky to have been at Wrigley Field on July 19, 2013. Yes, for some of you, I probably didn’t “deserve” to be there because I didn’t know more than half the songs they played that night. Yes, I should have been singing my guts out to “Release” just like everyone else, but I didn’t know the words, you guys, and I wasn’t about to start mouthing “watermelon, cantelope” to look like I was. Instead, I closed my eyes and took it in. And it was exciting and emotional and urgent.

So, please, forgive me. I’m not even a “fake” fan who only knows the songs from Ten. I grew up in a shitty little town, and our only radio stations were NPR, country and some station called “Magic.” They played “Last Kiss” 800 times a day, and that’s all I knew of Pearl Jam until I watched Singles. And then I was like, “Pearl Jam? LOVED those guys in Singles!” I said it as a joke, of course, but I enjoyed them, and I loved the song “State of Love and Trust.” And, in the movie, I thought they watched that bee program with an intensity that was convincing and hilarious, and that was cool. I’ve never pretended to be a “real” fan or a die-hard fan, and I’ve never pretended that I’ve been there since the beginning.

My boyfriend, however, is legit. He’s the real deal: the ultimate die-hard, card-carrying Ten Club member, who’s loved Pearl Jam since they were birthed into the world. He owns all the bootlegs (official and unofficial), all the concert t-shirts, all the albums, all the stuff. Every copy of Deep that’s been made since we moved in together is stashed with our literary journals. He describes Pearl Jam shows as his religious experience. He almost didn’t want to take me with him to this concert because he didn’t want me to see him losing his shit for Pearl Jam.

So listen, y’all. I KNOW. I’m lucky.

You should also know that, even for a fan who only knows a few songs from the Pearl Jam catalogue, they put on an epic fucking show. No, I didn’t shit my pants when they played “Bugs” because theyneverplaythatsonglive. I *did* pee a little from excitement, though, because Eddie Vedder was playing a goddamn accordion. And “Bugs” is a weird song, you guys. Let’s be real. Doesn’t mean it’s not good, but it’s a little kooky.

Mike McCready — a fucking rock star. He guitar soloed the shit out of his guitar solos. Played behind the head, upside down, sideways, what-have-you — amazing. I don’t have to be a “real” Pearl Jam fan to know that Mike McCready is one of the greats. Everything he did on stage that night blew my mind.

Yes, they played new stuff from their upcoming album, and it sounded good to me. It sounded raw, like they’re going back to the basics. But what do I know. I don’t even know all the songs from Ten.

One of the highlights for me was hearing them play “Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns.” Yes, I know this song from Singles, but that doesn’t make my love for it any less. And yes, I know about Mother Love Bone. This song is aching and gorgeous, and so tremendous live.

So even for me, a newbie Pearl Jam fan, it was worth it to be on my feet for a million hours, sweating to death and crammed in like sweaty, quickly-spoiling sardines in the bowels of Wrigley for a 3-hour rain delay. I’m sorry I had to sit every now and then for the epic set and epic encore that followed, but even the dudes who were the most into it had to sit and take a load off every few songs.

Every Pearl Jam fan I brushed sweaty arms with in that concourse during the delay was wonderful. Y’all were polite and good-humored about our situation. Only once did two big drunk dudes try to duke it out in our section of the sardine can, and it was quickly ended by a seven-foot-tall bearded lumberjack stepping between them and shouting to both parties, “Walk away. Get out of here.” After the delay, from what I could see when we all went back onto the field to our seats, not one person had left. Those are some loyal fans. Most of the people around me knew all the words to every well-known song and every obscure song, and they sang their hearts out, and it was awesome.

And here’s another thing: Pearl Jam put together that setlist as a present for the loyal fans. The ones who know that this song is a B-side on this record. The ones who know that PJ never plays this song live or in its entirety. That’s love. That’s real love. That’s a special thing to experience, and I get why you might be protective of it. I felt like I was in a room where everyone was sharing secrets with each other.

I had “Even Flow” stuck in my head for a week after the show. I’ve listened to Pearl Jam almost every day since. Next time, I’ll be singing my heart out with all of you.

xoxo,
R

The setlist: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/pearl-jam/2013/wrigley-field-chicago-il-3bc6acbc.html

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