Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pearl Jam - September 29, 1996

Randall’s Island, New York. I had never heard of it before, let alone been there. For all I knew, we were travelling to another country, but on a chilly Sunday afternoon in late September, there we were, driving over three different bridges across New York City, on our way to see our musical heroes for the very first time.

In 1996, Pearl Jam announced a world tour of unique fashion. They were not going to sell tickets through Ticketmaster. They felt that this corporation was a monopoly, and therefore they were boycotting the company and selling tickets through other means. What that meant to Pearl Jam fans was that tickets would be available cheap, with parking included, and no extra fees. The downside? Pearl Jam would only be able to play venues that didn’t have an exclusive license agreement with Ticketmaster to sell their tickets. For the New York/New Jersey area that meant Randall’s Island.

After a nearly three-hour trip from home to the show, we finally arrived and parked the car. My good friend Tommy drove, so I didn’t have to worry about that at least, and we arrived as Ben Harper, one of the opening acts, was still performing.

Parking in a sea of mud (thanks to the buckets of rain the night before), I surveyed my surroundings. This was definitely going to be a different concert experience. The parking lot was a lawn of puddles. The vendors were people in vans selling food from containers or coolers. The T-shirt stand was a rickety wooden box that resembled a dunking booth. This was definitely not your average concert venue.

Inside the stadium was more of the same. Downing Stadium at Randall’s Island is a stadium, but to this day I do not know what it is used for. Giants stadium is where they play football. Yankee stadium is where they play baseball. Downing Stadium? Couldn’t tell you.

The tickets to the concert were general admission for everyone, so that meant we could sit (or stand) wherever we wanted. Since we had our significant others with us, we opted not to stand in the field near the stage, which was a muck covered bath of brown. Our decision was to sit in the more conventional “seats” that wrapped around the field. The only problem was that they were not really seats. Slabs of concrete similar to bleachers, without the actual bleacher part, is what passed for seats at Downing Stadium.

We took a section of slab off to stage right, about halfway down the field and watched the rest of Ben Harper. In anticipation of Pearl Jam, and our first time ever seeing them, I was excited. I had heard so much about their live shows that I had high hopes for an amazing experience!

When they took the stage around 9:00PM, the place erupted. The kids near the front of the stage started moshing immediately, and the band sounded excellent. They were in top form, sounding tight and happy.

About five songs in, front man Eddie Vedder stopped and looked at the kids in front of the stage. He mentioned how there could be an undertow and asked if everyone would look after each other in the pit. Could they all calm down for a moment and take a step or two backward? He told everyone that it was going to be a long night and he didn’t want anyone to get trampled. He was pleading with the crowd for no one to get hurt.

Touring behind their latest CD, No Code, Pearl Jam pulled out all of the stops that night. They played the hits from that CD and all the classics from the releases prior. An alternate version of Jeremy was played that had a bit of reggae feel to it. I did not particularly care for that version, as I wanted to hear the one I knew and loved. I’ve since learned that the band only performed this version of Jeremy during parts of that tour, so it was a rarity indeed.

As the cool night wore on, Pearl Jam continued to deliver. Evenflow, Alive, Better Man, the list went on and on and so did the show. The boys played everything they could think of except two particular songs that Tommy and I were dying to hear. Red Mosquito and Glorified G, two of our favorites, the latter being my favorite Pearl Jam song ever at the time. We kept repeating after every song,”Glorified G, Red Mosquito, and then we’ll go home!”

They never played either of them, and it would be years before I would hear those songs live. However, they played everything else, so there were no complaints. Before the final song of the final encore, some three hours after they had first taken the stage, Eddie spoke to us:

“I had a dream last night. I had this dream that we were playing, and playing, and playing, and slowly as we kept playing, the crowd started to leave. And eventually, we were playing to no one.”

The audience responded with an “awww” or a “booo” of some sort, showing their love.

“No, no, no,” Eddie continued. “It was a good thing, because everybody filed out peacefully, a little at a time, until there was no one left and no one got hurt. But we just can’t do it. You have worn us out. You’ve beaten us. We’ve got nothing left.”

The band launched into Yellow Ledbetter, which would be the final song of the night. Three hours of Pearl Jam and almost no one had left. The final notes of the final song sounded as crisp and brilliant and enjoyable as the opening notes of the first song. One of my favorite bands had come and they conquered. It was a great experience and one of the best concerts I ever attended.

Spin the Black Circle
Hail, Hail
Tremor Christ
Who You Are
Better Man
Not For You
Last Exit
I Got Id

In My Tree
Long Road
Leaving Here
Off He Goes
Present Tense
Yellow Ledbetter

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