Eddie Vedder announced early in the night that their last night at Madison Square Garden would be a “Garden Party” and what a party it turned out to be. The crowd comprised of mostly 30 and 40 year olds were more than willingly to help Eddie Vedder and the rest of Pearl Jam do their collective best to rip the roof off of MSG.
Pearl Jam through all their ups and downs over the past 26 years, have continued to provide the type of live show that fans talk about their whole lives. Unlike many bands that stick to a dedicated tour set list, every night for Pearl Jam fans are a different mix of classic fan favorites, new material, rarities, and spirited covers. This would be the 36th time Pearl Jam performed in NYC (10th at MSG) and they seemed determined to make this night extra special.
As Pearl Jam has aged, so has their crowd. Unlike in the 90’s when PJ concert conversations might be made up of who’s better Nirvana or Pearl Jam; conversations now are about children, jobs, and receding hairlines. “Hey honey, did you bring my earplugs?” could be overheard in our section. Although times have changed, when PJ plays songs from their older catalog, it was as if many in the crowd were instantly transported back to High School or College when music was the most important thing in their lives. Throughout the night PJ would give everyone an opportunity to remember when they first learned the lyrics to Jeremy (Ohhh, it’s Jeremy spoke in class today, not Jeremy spoke, yes he did) or bought their first Pearl Jam CD at Tower Records, Sam Goody’s, The Wiz or The Wall. Pearl Jam is one of the few bands that have endured from the 90’s and luckily for us, they seem to be getting even better with age (just like the crowd..wink,wink).
Pearl Jam took the stage with all the house lights on to thunderous applause from the second sold out night at Madison Square Garden. The band took their familiar spots on stage as Eddie performed his ritual of laying down his notebook at the front of the stage. The night kicked off with the Vitalogy classic Corduroy. As Matt Cameron slammed down the opening drum beats, Mike McCready, Eddie, and Stone Gossard ripped into the opening guitar riffs that made the standing room floor seem to explode in a controlled riot. Jeff Ament stood legs wide apart as he slapped the bass giving Corduroy its heavy beat. Eddie raged from the initial line, the appropriate “The waiting drove me mad, your finally here and I’m a mess!”. Throughout the song Mike McCready wandered his side of the stage chucking guitar picks and playing up the crowd. The crowd would also be tested early to see if they were ready for one of the many crowd participation moments. “Everything has chains, absolutely nothings changed!!!”. The crowd nailed it and away we went.
The next 3 songs were just as intense and full of energy as Corduroy. Pearl Jam kept the show at full throttle and thrashed through Mind Your Manners, Once and Animal. It seemed after Animal the crowd were collectively trying to catch their breath from the blistering start. Mike McCready offered a quick reprise as he played the amazing guitar intro to Given To Fly, but it was only a quick rest before the crowd was rocking and exploding to
A wave came crashing like a fist to the jaw
Delivered him wings “Hey look at me now”
Arms wide open with the sea as his floor
Oh power oh
He’s..flying…Whole…High.. wide, oh
It was quite clear from this start, tonight was going to be a great show.
Eddie then took to the mic to deliver on his Garden Party promise as he introduced recently inducted Rock n Roll Hall of Famers, Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick. Rick and Tom joined Pearl Jam in a great rendition of Surrender. The chorus hit home with much of the crowd “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright….They just seem a little weird…..Surrender, Surrender But don’t give yourself away!!”
After a few selfies by Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick quickly exited and Pearl Jam decided to get more acquainted with the audience when they went in to Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. The entire crowd hugged and swayed as they belted out the entire song. For the first time Pearl Jam would be overtaken by the crowd.
The band continued to play crowd favorite after crowd favorite Nothingman, Betterman, Garden and Even Flow. It was during Even Flow that Mike McCready showed why he is one of the most talented guitarists alive. McCready who recently celebrated his 50th birthday (to join most of the band) shows no sign of slowing down. Throughout the night McCready played extended solos, not only traditionally but also behind his head, behind his back, and behind his back while walking/running through the arena. We all know Mike McCready is a tremendous guitarist but when you see up close and personal exactly what he can do, it really leaves you awe struck.
A touching moment came when Eddie Vedder dedicated Sirens to Lance Corporal Tom Rorke who tragically died in a car accident in tiny Breezy Point Queens last summer. Eddie acknowledged his friends and family in the crowd and delivered a heartfelt rendition of the song. It’s moments like this that make being a Pearl Jam fan different than being a fan of almost any other band. Whether it be song requests by fans or stories that reach the band, they treat their fans with the utmost respect and show genuine love to all the fans that have supported them throughout the years. The Pearl Jam 10 Fan Club gets most of the fan requests and stories to the band and is a amazing group. Unlike many fan clubs, Pearl Jam interacts constantly with the fan club, and it gives you the sense that you are part of their very large extended family. After ripping off a few more monster hits Jeremy and Do The Evolution, Pearl Jam ended their opening set.
After a quick break Eddie returned solo to play an acoustic cover of The Beatles, You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away. The acoustic cover section is always great and this was an excellent choice for the night. Before the song Eddie joked with the crowd saying “we aren’t leaving yet since we only have to drive to Canada. New York or Canada? Do they even have internet there yet.”
The 1st encore was mostly reserved compared to the opening set and saw some of the crowd realize MSG actually had seats. After a few slower tunes PJ kicked it in to high gear with State of Love and Trust and Porch, ending the 1st encore.
The second encore would start with Pearl Jam acknowledging the crowd to the back of the stage and playing Last Kiss directly to them. Not a favorite of mine, but I was definitely in the minority.
Following Last Kiss, Eddie addressed the crowd for a bit. For most of the night, Eddie had been reserved in his dealings with the crowd; he was letting the music speak for him. That changed when Eddie started talking about the amount of information we are subject to in the modern age as compared to the 17th century and how all of that information can wear you down. “So if you’re every feeling crazy or overwhelmed or insignificant or frustrated or beaten down, there’s a fucking reason,” Vedder said “It’s impossible to keep up. There’s a lot of tragedy in the world; we just didn’t used to hear about all of it”. He continued and spoke about politicians spewing bullshit and promoting fear. Eddie then suggested that the networks like to make sure that elections go “all seven games” for ratings. He then declared that Bernie Sanders might be the best candidate but the press has a business to run. The crowd reaction to the mentioning of Bernie Sanders was hilarious. Half the crowd cheered while half booed. Eddie laughed to the reaction and yelled “Well that’s a vote!”.
Eddie then introduced the next song as one of the best ever that describes that feeling of being overwhelmed by all the bad news and fear mongering in the world. As they began playing, most had no idea what they were playing. After the first verse the crowd roared as Sting sauntered on to the stage. He took to the mic and sang the rest of Driven to Tears. The Garden Party was in full swing and seeing Sting rock out with Pearl Jam was a great moment.
It was clear as 11pm approached the night was quickly drawing to a close. After two and half hours both Pearl Jam and the crowd were still rearing to go. To close out the night PJ ripped in to the quintessential grunge rock anthem Alive. There are few songs that give me chills when played live, this song is one of them. Screaming with 20,000 plus that “We’re all Alive!!!” is one of the greatest concert experiences you can participate in. McCready absolutely destroyed the solos while the crowd chanted and fist pumped “hey” throughout. It truly is one of the best live songs you will ever see performed. Pearl Jam followed Alive with an amazing cover of Baba O’Reily by The Who. Eddie channeled his inner Pete Townshend windmilling on his guitar and jumping all over the stage.
To cap the night Pearl Jam ended with Yellow Ledbetter. Mike McCready would shine one more time and with all the house lights on, the crowd gave one last push towards the end of the night. “I don’t wanna staaaa-yyyy!!!”. As the band thanked the crowd, McCready put a punctuation on the night by playing The Star Spangled Banner.
And so ended Pearl Jam’s two night run at the World’s Most Famous Arena. As the crowd spilled out onto the streets few cared about work or family obligations, most were still riding the emotional wave from seeing the best Rock Band in the world. With a nod to the past and hope for the future, Pearl Jam delivered on their promise of a Garden Party. For 3 hours everyone in that arena was part of something special. A true living community made up of music, memories, love and positive vibes. If you could bottle that up and spread it around the rest of the world, what a perfect world it would be. I better stop here since it sounds like Eddie got me drunk on the Pearl Jam change the world Kool Aid. Thanks again to Pearl Jam and all their fans for making another night I will never forget. As with the end of every Pearl Jam tour there is only one question, “When are they coming back???”
Mind Your Manners
Given to Fly
Surrender (Cheap Trick cover) (with Rick Nielsen & Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick)
Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
Sirens (dedicated to Lance Corporal Tom Rorke)
Do the Evolution
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away (The Beatles cover) (Eddie on solo acoustic guitar)
All or None
State of Love and Trust
Last Kiss (Wayne Cochran cover)
Driven to Tears (The Police cover) (with Sting)
Sonic Reducer (Dead Boys cover)
Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)
The Star-Spangled Banner