Seeing visions of falling up somehow: Pearl Jam & Tom Petty in Denver, 7/2/06
Any doubts as to whether Pearl Jam can still be a tight, intense, vital live band after 15+ years together is eradicated every time they play a set like last night. Although it was shorter than my ideal setlist would be (more on that later), I thought they were in fine form and just as passionate and musically relevant as ever.
So, eh, my seats were okay last night:
That's me (in the red) chatting up the guard, our seats are directly to my right. I was in the THIRD ROW, right in the center. Section BBB, Row C, Seats 1 & 2. Yeah, the Ten Club fanclub takes care of their old fans. I was absolutely tickled pink, and the nice thing about this kind of seating is that the other people in my row were all similar long-term fans/freaks and we had a lot in common to discuss about shows we've seen.
After parking in a garage in nearby downtown and thinking, "Ah, we'll just walk over to the arena after dinner," it starts POURING RAIN. And not just any rain: Colorado Summer Rain, which is denser and wetter than your luxury showerhead. It was kind of funny to have to run through it to get to the show. After a few blocks you just kind of give up, laugh, and enjoy the moment while getting soaked. Then the Nazi-door-guards (who took their jobs VERY seriously, thankyouverymuch) had us wait outside at the venue as well, so by the time we got to our seats, we were pretty much soaked to the skin. Could have bought a $45 tour t-shirt to change into, but didn't want to bleed any more cash than the $200 we'd already spent on the tickets.
But the nice thing about this dual bill was that Pearl Jam suddenly just APPEARED, with no opening band to enjoy passively while actually just waiting for my guys to take the stage. And it was so, so good when that moment arrived.
By this point in my life, I feel like Pearl Jam is almost family. Even though I don't know them, I feel like I've known them for 12 years, through a good portion of my life. Seeing Mike McCready pogo-ing up and down holding his Flying-V guitar, Jeff Ament athletically contorting through every note of his basslines, Vedder gripping the microphone with his wild eyes and toothy grimaces, Stone Gossard mouthing a stream of words to himself and marching his way through his blistering guitar work, with Matt Cameron in the back holding it all together with his absolutely scorching drums: The smile on my face was broader than anything. I felt a deep sense of goodness permeating me to see my guys back together in fine form, just mere feet away from me.
2006-07-02, Denver, Colorado, Pepsi Center
Main set: World Wide Suicide, Severed Hand, Hail Hail, Do The Evolution, Given To Fly, Even Flow, Present Tense, Jeremy, Army Reserve, Daughter, Bee Girl, Corduroy, Better Man, Black
Encore 1: Comatose, Bu$hleaguer, Alive, So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star
I thought they absolutely shredded the stage, opening with a quartet of absolute ragers. Our new digital camera which is BEYOND RAD (thanks Steve!) also takes VIDEO CLIPS. The camera would only hold about 5 minutes of video, so my deepest apologies that only one of these clips is full & complete. I know to start a song and then have me cut off in the middle, well - to use a locker room expression - it kind of leaves you with figurative blue balls. Yikes. But the videos are impressionistic; I wanted to give you the feel, the bird's eye view from last night and I guess this accomplishes that. You lucky ducks:
World Wide Suicide
Do The Evolution (longest video, absolutely ROCKIN)
Bee Girl! Ed and Jeff inserted this little playful gem right into the center of the set, completely unexpectedly. It's from early in their career, a ditty dedicated to that rotund little girl in the bee costume from the Blind Melon "No Rain" video & album cover and almost never played. What a treat. I have almost all of it (not the first line, I wasn't quick enough with the little buttons) here on video:
Corduroy is such a fabulous song to sing along to at the top of your lungs at a live show, I was very pleased that they included it ("The waiting drove me mad / You're finally here and I'm a mess"). Hail, Hail peeled paint (when they launched into that opening riff, I got chills) and Comatose was scathingly good. Army Reserve was a surprise, especially the heartfelt dedication in which Ed thanked all the soliders serving overseas and omitted any snarky political comments (although I suppose he made up for it in Bu$hleaguer).
PJ keyboardist Boom Gaspar didn't play last night due to a funeral he was attending, so Benmont Tench from The Heartbreakers filled in for him on Corduroy and Black. He added some really rich piano filler to Black, it made it stand out for me in a way that it usually doesn't. (And after the show we were walking to our car and I found myself face to face with him through the glass of a hotel bar window. I stopped, smiled, and gave him two thumbs up. Hey, I never claimed to be cool on-the-spot.)
For the last song, So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star, Pearl Jam was joined by Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell. This was a great song to see since it has only been played three times live EVER by Pearl Jam, the first being the November 6, 1995 show in San Diego that I was at! Although at that time I remember them doing it more hauntingly and acoustic, whereas last night R'N'R Star was a rocker. Very, very cool.
Then into the second portion of the show. Tom Petty plays the rhinestone cowboy thing to a sort of odd perfection. I'd never seen him live before, and honestly the first thing I noticed was that his silky bangs and locks were better layered and blow-dried than mine. I wonder if he deep conditions? Although the man is undoubtedly a rock legend (The Heartbreakers are celebrating their 30th year together this year), I can't shake his physical similarity to that grouchy female high school English teacher whose class you always wanted to skip. The guard I was chatting with told me that he has lots of groupies which he entertains, so I spent a good portion of his set wondering why on God's green earth that was so.
Petty's portion of the concert was fun, a singalong for more songs than I thought I knew. I've never seen him live before, and it was a fun journey through his catalog, covers (including The Yardbirds and a song from his collaborations with the supergroup The Traveling Wilburys), and even his new stuff. He played Saving Grace which has serious parallels to Chris Isaak's "Baby Did A Bad, Bad Thing" and will be on the new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers release Highway Companion (July 25). I think that is the perfect name for a Tom Petty CD, since his music seems most suited to a long roadtrip to me (thanks, Tom Cruise!).
Once Petty got going with his own unique laid-back brand of showmanship and the big screens started flashing behind him, I quite enjoyed myself, although inside I was secretly biding the minutes until Vedder decided to join him. And join him he did, for a mid-set performance of The Waiting (video clip below) and an hugely good-natured and smile-filled duet for the last song of the night, American Girl - which left me with another ear-to-ear grin on my face as we filed out.
As for the concert overall, it was kind of a strange pairing, since I think both the rabid Pearl Jam fans as well as the rabid Tom Petty fans would have each liked to have seen their heroes in unadulterated form for the full 2 1/2 hours, rather than having to take a shortened set of whomever you came to see for $100. I suppose some disappointment is inevitable for the hardcore fans of each artist when they pair up for a double bill like this, and I have to say that the setlist was not what I had hoped for. It's hard for me to see stage time wasted on what I feel are trite and overplayed songs like Jeremy and Black, Betterman and Daughter, even though those songs were greeted with some of the loudest cheers of the night.
I try to see it from the other half of the crowd's perspective: I'll admit that the highlights of the Petty set for me were the radio hits, the Mary Jane's Last Dance, the You Don't Know How It Feels, even the Free Fallin'. So conversely I know Pearl Jam has to roll through their standards. It's just that in such a short set (only 18 songs) I selfishly wanted to hear more depth and variety, and especially more stuff off the new album (no Marker in the Sand, no Parachutes). It's not a complaint towards Pearl Jam, just my own wishful thinking.
Newspaper reviews: This one got it right. My own paper drilled out a banal, shallow piece of drivel here.
I am glad I went and it left me thirsty for more, plotting pipe-dream schemes for how I could get out to the West Coast to see another show on this tour (stow away in an airplane wheelwell, anyone?). Ah, if only.