Pearl Jam perform the first night of a two-show run back at a sold-out Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Pearl Jam are currently on their Home X Away Shows Tour, with the “Home” shows having already taken place in Seattle. Now it is time for the “Away” shows which have to, of course, include their tradition of playing two nights at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Whilst the band is from Seattle, Eddie Vedder’s “home” will always be Chicago and it’s clearly emotional for him to perform in a venue and city that mean so much to him. On numerous occasions throughout the show, he refers to his heroes who have been here, whether it be sports figures or musicians. With Vedder being an avid Cubs supporter, the “hallowed ground” of Wrigley will always mean a lot to him and what better way to celebrate this than having the World Series Cup on stage with them.
As will always be the case in Chicago, the show was sold-out, as is the second night scheduled for Monday. Every show they perform has a different setlist, with Eddie choosing what he feels best suits the occasion shortly before they take to the stage, which means that those fans lucky enough to be attending more than one show will be guaranteed to not see the same setlist twice. This approach, however, does have inherent risks and in the world of live music, everyone has an opinion as to what a band should play. There are the “I paid my money to see you play the hits” crowd, the “I was there at the beginning and I want the deep cuts that no-one else knows” crowd and the crowd (normally in the majority for Pearl Jam) that genuinely just love the band and are there to support them whatever they play. The simple fact is that you will never please everyone but, it has to be said, the Pearl Jam approach has to be the right one. Whilst sometimes the show may not flow as evenly (no pun intended) as with a band that plays a rehearsed and rigid setlist every night (hitting their marks for the pyro flashes and playing every one of their big hits) that element of the unknown at a Pearl Jam show ultimately makes the whole live spectacle even more exciting.
As is usual for Pearl Jam, this was a three-hour show, with a final tally of an impressive 36-songs. The fans certainly got their money’s worth and, whilst the energy ebbed and flowed throughout the night it ultimately remained on an upward trajectory with some moments of unadulterated rock and roll joy. Mike McCready jumping down into the crowd whilst ripping out his solo for “Even Flow” and Vedder making a young boy’s dream come true when he jumped down and held his hand as he sang were both particularly memorable.
The memory of Chris Cornell (rightly) looms large in Pearl Jam’s world and before the band took to the stage, the waiting crowd had been treated to a number of his songs being played back-to-back. The band also paid tribute to Cornell during the set, performing his track “Missing,” which they had debuted as a cover at one of the Seattle shows the week prior. The late, great Tom Petty was also honored with a cover of “I Won’t Back Down” with Vedder lamenting the fact that he didn’t get the chance to see Petty and the Heartbreakers play Wrigley last year before playing the song on a guitar that was given to him by the man himself. The night wasn’t without a surprise visitor either as Dennis Rodman made a slightly awkward appearance (as he did two years ago), this time delivering Vedder’s ukulele to him while bringing up the subject of North Korea.
The fans remained on their feet and with the band throughout the show as the night built to a climactic cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin in the Free World” followed by “Yellow Ledbetter.” The excitement and sense of occasion clearly getting too much for one fan who leaped over the barriers surrounding the baseball diamond, making a run and slide into home-base before being swiftly tackled by security and dragged out. Luckily, for him, this happened right at the end of the night so he didn’t miss too much!
By the close on Saturday, the set had included songs from nearly every album they have released, and it was great to see them perform their new song “Can’t Deny Me,” giving fans eagerly awaiting the follow up to 2013’s Lightning Bolt a taste of things to come.
Pearl Jam have been around a long time and remain a huge draw, pretty much guaranteeing that they sell out every venue they book and there is a good reason for this. Vedder remains an incredibly engaging frontman capable of delivering songs (and sometimes interacting with the audience) with a real raw edginess whilst simultaneously displaying the vulnerability and emotional availability that clearly drive his writing. With Stone, Matt, Mike, and Jeff (and Boom) alongside him, the band operate like a well-oiled machine and you can feel that they are in it together, working as a team, whether it be during the writing process or on stage at a show.
Are they going to play every Pearl Jam hit you know from their back catalog? Absolutely not. Are they going to mix things up and surprise you with album tracks to which you may not have really paid attention, some of which may subsequently become a new favorite song? Maybe. Are they going to put everything into entertaining you and leave it all out on the stage? Definitely. And that, more than anything is why their fans will always turn up to see them.
Here’s hoping the rain takes a detour around Chicago tonight as the boys return to the stage at Wrigley to do it all over again.