Saturday, August 29, 2009

Pearl Jam - September 8, 1998

In 1998, Pearl Jam embarked on a major world tour in support of the greatest album they ever recorded, Yield. Having fought a never ending battle with Ticketmaster and finding it frustrating and fruitless, Pearl Jam had to give up their ban and begrudgingly use Ticketmaster for this tour.

The band was playing three nights in my area, two at the Garden and one at the Continental Arena, and I wanted tickets for all 3 nights. I would end up seeing two of the three nights (missing the final night at MSG). For the first night, I went with my best friend Tommy, and my wife at the time (Nancy). It was the first time we were seeing Pearl Jam since their phenomenal performance at Downing Stadium.

We got to the arena, got inside, and waited to hear our heroes. We still weren’t full blown tailgaters, so there wasn’t much hanging out or walking around before the concert, especially on a Tuesday night in September. The opening act was Ben Harper, and we went inside early enough to catch his entire set, but I was not impressed. I just never became a Ben Harper fan.

Backed with their new drummer Matt Cameron, from the recently disbanded Soundgarden, Pearl Jam was as tight as ever, proud to have Cameron on drums. It was a reunion of sorts, as Cameron had drummed with members of Pearl Jam back in the early days before departing to join Soundgarden.

Pearl Jam opened with the slow, melodic, Oceans, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. I thought it odd to open with such a slow number, but I was not as well versed in Pearl Jam lore as I am now. Oceans actually makes a lot of sense as a Pearl Jam opener. This was followed by the rocking Hail, Hail and the night was on its way. Eddie told us to settle in and get comfortable, it was going to be a long night. That was something we loved to hear.

The summer of 98 also happened to be the year of the home run chase. Both Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs were seeking to break a 37 year old record for the most home runs hit in one season. On the night of the concert, Mark McGwire was the closest. He had already tied the record and was now staring the record book in the face.

At the end of Daughter, Eddie told the crowd that there was an announcement to make. He then picked up his guitar and either Mike McCreedy or Stone Gossard tossed something his way (some reports say a ping pong ball, others claim it was a guitar pick) and Eddie smashed it into the crowd, swinging his guitar like a baseball bat. Another word need not be spoken. We knew what had just happened.

I looked at Tommy and grinned. “He did it!” I exclaimed. The two of us were glued to that chase all summer long and witnessing the final piece for the record books at a Pear Jam concert brought my two favorite loves together for one magical moment. Baseball and rock & roll intertwined for a brief minute during a live concert performance.

Pearl Jam was in excellent form that night. Hit after hit after hit were pounded out by the boys. The guitars sounded exceptional, the bass and drum work were amazing, and Eddie’s voice was at its peak. Tommy and I were still hopeful to hear Glorified G and Red Mosquito, but we would not get our wish on this night. I was also hoping to hear In Hiding, which I felt was the strongest song from their current record, Yield, but this too would not appear that evening. It wouldn’t matter much. The songs that they did play blew us away.

September 8, 1998 was also the first night of the infamous NYC Breath campaign. Breath is a hugely popular song that the band rarely played in concert and the fans really wanted to hear. When Pearl Jam came out for the encore, they were greeted by a sea of Breath sign requests from the floor audience. Eddie and the band laughed upon seeing all of the signs. “That’s pretty impressive, but it’s not gonna do you a damn bit of good,” was his response.

Then Eddie looked at a sign in the audience that read “can I play drums with you guys?” Eddie chuckled and said “We got the best damn drummer in the world now. Where were you six months ago?” He then asked the sign holder if he knew how to play Breath, which brought a ROAR from the crowd. Alas, it was not to be, Pearl Jam was not playing the request for that show.

The moment of the night for me was a three song segue of Elderly Woman into Rearviewmirror into Alive during the encore. Quite possibly three of my favorite Pearl Jam songs ever (and I believe they were my favorite at the time). This trilogy of excellent music threw me over the top and vaulted Pearl Jam into the category of one of my favorite live bands. They just brought the house down.

The final encore came in the form of Yellow Ledbetter, which was performed beautifully, complete with an excellent solo from McCreedy. Even though he plays the song different every time it’s performed, he always manages to play it flawlessly.

The band gave a hell of a performance that night, and for my second Pearl Jam concert ever, it was a memorable one. It didn’t quite overtake the Randall’s Island performance, but it was very close. Tommy, Nancy, and I left very happy, singing Pearl Jam tunes all the way home.

Hail, Hail
Given To Fly
State of Love and Trust
Brain of J
Do The Evolution
Encore 1
Elderly Woman
Encore 2
Yellow Ledbetter

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