I remember the first time I ever heard Pearl Jam like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my house before school, watching MTV (it used to be good, kids, I swear) and a black and white video that looked like it was shot on a handheld camera came on my TV screen, with the words Pearl Jam, and then Alive. The song that followed gripped me in a way no music had up to that point in my life.The way some people explain their first Beatles moment, that is what Pearl Jam was like for me. I knew this band, in an instant, had changed how I felt about music. So you can only imagine my elation when, this past Sunday, I walked into Fenway (field box, first base) and watched one of my favorite bands of all time put on a show that can only be summed up by the word perfection.
For those of us lucky enough to be at Fenway on Sunday, August 7th, we didn’t see a show. We had an audible religious experience together. I will also go on record to say, of the 6 times I have seen this band across the years, they have never put on a show like they did at Fenway on August 7th. Though the show on the 5th was great, but it looked and sounded like a warm up next to the seamless Sunday performance Always amazing musicians and showman, but something was magic that night. Something was in the air that took it from being just a show into being something far greater. An experience that burns itself into your core memories and stays there forever, glowing like an ember that nothing can EVER put out.
Boston has a thing for Pearl Jam and Pearl Jam have a thing for Boston. This is known. For whatever reason, we connect deeply with the band’s music, and for that reason, whenever they put on shows here the energy is electric and even the band themselves get caught up in it. Don’t believe me? Buy some of the 100’s of Pearl Jam bootlegs out there, and you will often find the Boston shows to be the best. Why? We are a very outspoken and passionate people, and there is something deep down in Eddie Vedder and the rest of the band that respond to that. Boston is one of the last places in the world that still genuinely has a kind of punk attitude, and a band who grew up deeply inspired by punk and prog rock is very likely to notice and pick up on that, which they always do when they perform here. But Sunday, August 7th at Fenway was something beyond a good show. It transcended the title of live show and became more like a spiritual experience for those who attended it.
Before you even hit Fenway, you could already feel it, like some invisible electric magnet, pulling a massive crowd towards its epicenter. The weather was perfect, the energy in Boston was palpable, and all the stars aligned for what really, truly, might have been the best Pearl Jam show and setlist, ever. Really. You can tell even the band knew and now the show is rumored to be making it onto a DVD which, for anyone lucky enough to see the show, is not surprising at all, as it was the band at their all-time best.
I got into my seat at box, first base. I wasn’t super close to the stage and I wasn’t miles away, which is exactly how I like it. Crowd was pumped and as you can see, every walk of life was represented.
I am the meatbag in the glasses. Note the very diverse crowd (and no, I have no idea what that lady on the left is so in awe of). Shout out to the long haired kid behind me and his cool Dad. That kid air shredded with the best of them, and the fact he was there with his pops spoke of a familial bond most of us could only ever dream of. Not sure if some are aware, but just how enjoyable a show can be can sometimes come down to who you sit around. In this case, I was blessed. All in the field box first base section were true fans, and we all bonded immediately. Good people at Pearl Jam shows, no doubt, and me and my squad landed in and amongst the very best of the bunch.
The show was set to start at 7:30 with no opening band, and wouldn’t you know it, Pearl Jam took the stage early and rocked it late. Double encore and 35 songs kind of late. Rather than tell you song by song, let’s get right ot the good stuff. The set list (linked above). From classics like Alive being busted out at the very end to whip the crowd into an animalistic frenzy to slower songs like the breathtaking “Footsteps” and “Nothingman”, the was no facet of the Pearl Jam catalog that was not represented. But the most remarkable thing that night was not the amazing, contagious crowd, nor was it the stunning setting of Fenway Park at dusk. The magic that night was in the band.
Eddie Vedder loves sports, and this tour to him meant a great deal, as he had memories of sitting in the stands and watching Sox games at Fenway, sharing those stories to raucous applause of the locals. He didn’t look nor sound a day older than the first time I ever heard them, 26 years ago. There is white in my beard now, but little else has changed. This fact was reflected in the band’s uproarious and constant energy across the night. This was not an older band wheezing out hits from 20 years ago. This was very much a band still in their prime, and shining whilst exhibiting a passion for music that has sorely been lacking in rock n’ roll over the last decade.
And if you think the show itself sounds good, it is not a Pearl Jam show if there are not some guests and in this case, we got a former Red Sox player, Kevin Youkilis coming out and jamming back up on the kickass “Lukin”. We also had a nice guest appearance from Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith, and they all jammed on the Aerosmith classic, Draw the Line. Lastly, the amazing Jay Mascis from Dinosaur Jr was there and shredded an AMAZING cover of “Keep On Rockin’ in the Free World” with Pearl Jam that everyone in attendance sang every word of at the top of their lungs. To call this a concert is too almost undermine what fans and the band themselves experienced on August 7th at Fenway Park in Boston. It really was magic.
For me, the highlight was simple, but involves a backstory. After falling madly in love with the music of Pearl Jam, this led to me spending years collecting bootlegs and rarities discs. There is a song called Angel that has made a few bootlegs, and it is a song I’ve always loved. Turns out it was a Christmas single they released and then dropped out of their set lists roster for about 22 years.
Well, they played it on Sunday, and I can confidently say my friend Duane and I were the only two people in our whole section who knew it word for word and were just bellowing it out. Pearl Jam have only played Angel live six times, and I can now say I saw one of those six. God that feels good. It felt cathartic. It felt rejuvenating. It felt beautiful. This was the point in the night when the sun had dipped behind the horizon and the overall mood of the entire place is pure joy. People who did not know each other an hour ago are holding hands and singing to one another.
At one point, Eddie leans in from the stage and lets a dad and his young son sing the chorus to “Even Flow”, while the dad BEAMS with more joy than he has ever felt, clearly. At one point Eddie played catch with the crowd (this was Fenway Park, after all) and he leaped around the stage like the manic spider monkey he has always been known to be. I was exhausted by the end of the show, so I have NO idea how those guys do it, three hours straight.
And yes, to those who know Pearl Jam well enough know Eddie is very politically outspoken, so there were a few “get out and vote” talks, but it was mostly limited, as you could tell even Eddie and his band mates didn’t want to waste any precious time. One cool thing, though. We have marijuana on the bill to be fully legalized in Massachusetts this coming November, and Eddie made sure to tell all of us to make sure we get out and vote for that (don’t get so high that day you forget, he joked with the cheering crowd).
He also had a really cool Fenway story to share about watching the championship among the people of Boston and how we had never experienced crowd fervor like that before. It’s true, we are passionate around here, and sometimes a little boorish, but one thing we know is good music, and Pearl Jam put on a rock show that night that will, I promise you, go on to be one of the most revered performances from the band, ever.
Truth is, what I saw and heard that night was nothing short of magic, and every person who was there will agree.
But don’t worry if you missed it. DVD coming soon, but remember when you watch it, I was there that night. I am pretty damn close to being able to die content now. Did I mention they closed the show with “Yellow Ledbetter”? Now THAT is a proverbial and powerful mic drop.
Well played, Pearl jam. Well f*cking played (and please come back soon).
Too good for (audible) words.
Pearl Jam’s final night at Fenway was the PJ show to beat all PJ shows. Classics were played, guests were heralded, and they played “Angel.” The band leaps around and plays with the same passion and vigor that made them famous in the first place, and if age is slowing this amazing band down, that does not reflect itself in their performances. From Nine inch Nails to Nas, I have seen it all, and this was one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life, easily.
*Show photos by Remy Carreiro