Saturday, August 7, 2010

Pearl Jam - September 10, 1998

Pearl Jam’s first headlining performance at Madison Square Garden. While it lacked the magnificence that their later MSG concerts there would signify, it was still an amazing moment in the Pearl Jam history, and I am grateful that I got to be a part of it.

Two nights after seeing them live at the Continental Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey, I would get the chance to witness Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden. Two of my best friends were attending this show with me, Derik and Ginette, a lovely couple who would marry 3 years later. My wife (at the time) Nancy was sick, and unable to attend the show. With some last minute scrambling, we were able to find a replacement. Ginnete’s friend Dixie would end up going to the concert with us.

Dixie was excited and thankful to be attending the show. She had never seen Pearl Jam live before. It would only be my third time seeing them in concert, but having just seen the band two nights earlier, I was really excited myself. What would they open with? What would they close with? Many questions ran through my head as we made our way into New York City.

I remember that Derik was kind enough to drive us all to the Garden, and I remember that all I wanted to eat for dinner was Roy Rogers. The Garden had one directly underneath them (I think they still do if I’m not mistaken) and I hadn’t had Roys in years, due to most of them closing down. Everybody else was on board, so for our pre-concert meal, it was Roy Roger’s fast food restaurant. Free fixin’s for all! Ginette, Derik, and Dixie were quite amused by my Roy Rogers obsession.

Our seats were far from great, up in the 400s, but I didn’t care. I would be at the show. Looking back on it now, the price on the ticket floors me. It was $25 for the ticket and $6.25 in convenience fees for a total of $31.25. And remember these fees are what Pearl Jam was fighting against. It’s why they boycotted Ticketmaster for a couple of years. Today, that same ticket would cost nearly $80 with fees. That’s nearly a 200% increase over the course of 12 years. No wonder I went to more concerts back then.

We found our seats shortly after eating and settled in to see Pearl Jam. I don’t recall if we sat through Ben Harper or not. I know I saw Ben Harper two nights prior at the East Rutherford show and was not impressed, so I probably was in no rush to see him again. We settled in and soon after, Pearl Jam took the stage.

They opened with the slow, beautiful, Long Road and I was grinning. Long Road is one of those great gems that gets lost in the shuffle of Pearl Jam’s vast catalog, even back then. It was an excellent selection for an opener.

After Long Road, Eddie addressed the audience, saying that he was sure at that moment we didn’t care where or how we got our tickets, we were probably just happy to be there. The crowd roared their approval at this. Eddie went on to say no matter how many records a band sold, no matter how many concerts they performed, they weren’t nothing until they played Madison Square Garden. From there they launched into Corduroy.

One thing I recall from this concert was how the band was still evolving as a live act. Eddie did not address the crowd much during this show. Perhaps the band was still in awe of their first performance at the Garden. In later shows, Eddie would talk and talk and talk, which was excellent, but on this particular night, there was not a lot of talking going on, just plenty of exceptional music performing. It would be 11 songs before Eddie would even speak to the crowd again, and it would be until the end of the set before he would say anything that lasted more than 30 seconds.

During this tour, Pearl Jam was supporting their latest album (and in my opinion one of their greatest), Yield. We got 6 songs from that album performed that night, including the rarely played gem, All Those Yesterdays, which the band messed up the ending of, and Eddie called them on it.

The Breath campaign also continued this night. After a performance of Alive, the band was overwhelmed by a sea of Breath signs yet again. This prompted Eddie to comment that he hadn’t seen that much organization since New Jersey (which was two nights prior). He told the crowd that they were asking for a song called Breath, and even though the band was off the day before, Pearl Jam didn’t have time to learn it. Breath would not come on this night, but it would come the following night, the one local area concert that I would miss.

The rest of the night was packed with excellent encores. Wishlist, Rearview Mirror, Black, and Elderly Woman… highlighted the encore. For the last song of the night, Pearl Jam chose Soldier of Love, the B-Side to their cover of Last Kiss which was a huge hit for them that summer. Soldier of Love is one of those songs that Pearl Jam rarely plays in concert (I don’t even think they played it much on this tour), so it’s nice knowing that I was one of the few that got to see it live.

For their first ever Madison Square Garden concert, Pearl Jam did what they always do, they gave an excellence performance. Everyone went home happy, my friends and me included. It was an honor to see the band perform their first ever concert at Madison Square Garden and it is a night that I will always remember.

Long Road
Brain of J
Last Exit
Given To Fly
Even Flow
In Hiding
I Got Shit
Better Man
Do The Evolution
All Those Yesterdays
Rearview Mirror
Hail, Hail
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter
Fuckin’ Up
Soldier of Love

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