Pearl Jam Concert Review

by Steven Woods

“How many songs are they going to play off of Ten?” 

 “Ten was by far their greatest album” 

 These are all quotes you hear when talking about the artists formerly known as Mookie Blaylock, you know them as Pearl Jam. 

 I’ll get this out of the way now: Don’t be that guy anymore. Don’t be that “Ten” guy. Yes, it was a great album. Yes, it put them on the map. But don’t be the guy who gave up on one of, if not THE, greatest band of the last 20 years. 

 So many folks gave up on Pearl Jam after radio played “Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Black” and “Jeremy” into the ground. I just so happen to work in the music industry now, so I get it, but as far as a band goes, you should go with it. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but every Pearl Jam album they release is my favorite album. There has not been a dud in the group. There is gold on EVERY SINGLE ALBUM. Maybe not “radio” gold or a “hit” but musical gold, indeed.

 Maybe I should start at the beginning. 

 I grew up on a few different genres. My Dad was from Detroit so I had the Motown thing going on at home. My Mom was from Texas so I was also raised on country. I lived during the seventies so Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were big players. I had aunts and uncles in high school so I got the Cars, Billy Squier, and Kiss elements too. But I never had anything I could call my own which is why I gravitated to hair metal. It looked like so much fun to me. Sure, I loved and appreciated bands like Rush, Zeppelin, and others, but metal was what grabbed me.  I think it was Ratt’s “Round and Round” that I identified with the most and I dove into the genre, headfirst. Until one day in 1992.  

 God Bless my dear Uncle Jack. He married a woman whose father owned a radio station in Traverse City, Mich. My uncle boxed up a shitload of those CD’s that radio stations are known to collect in the “unwanted” pile and he mailed them to my brother and I in Dallas. We had literally no idea what to do with them. My buddy Kevin said, “Hey man…let’s take them all to Sam Goody and try to trade them in…”  I thought to myself, “Can’t hurt.  All they can say is no.”  Well, the musical gods were smiling down upon us that day, believe you me. 

 We encountered a fairly green employee at the record store and he agreed to look up the disks and see if we could do store credit. As we perused the latest Slaughter albums and Ozzy reissues, something was being piped in over the store’s speakers. It was like nothing I’d ever heard before. 

 After agreeing to about $150 in store credit (which I still can’t believe. Seriously…I’d heard of one band in the bunch and it was The Screaming Jets), I asked the kid behind the counter “Who’s this?” He replied “Dude… a new band from Seattle… Pearl Jam. Pretty awesome isn’t it?” I couldn’t disagree. I asked him where I could find the CD and he said that they had sold out.  So I asked him for the store copy and he obliged. He probably got fired later for giving me all of that credit and selling me the store copy of “Ten” but who knows? But he knew his music since he also recommended “Badmotorfinger” by Soundgarden, so I bought them both. 

 To say my life changed dramatically after that would be an understatement. I finally had something I could hold on to. As I listened to the disk, over and over, hearing those heartfelt sentiments, there was a truth to it. I hadn’t heard anything that even remotely grabbed me like that. Sure, Slaughter’s “Fly to the Angels” sounded good but the shine was dimmed after that day. This was now MY scene. And they called it grunge. If it came from Seattle, we  bought it:  Tad, Green River, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Mother Love Bone. Literally anything and everything. Some of it terrible but we didn’t care. It was ours. 

 I’ve always held this band sacred and felt that they too, held me sacred, as a fan. They looked out for me. When I saw them live, they played forever. They respected and paid homage to their heroes. They played songs that weren’t hits. They battled for lower ticket prices. They hooked their fans up with tickets. They gave a shit when so many bands didn’t. But here’s where it gets weird. 

 Pearl Jam made their return to San Diego, playing for a sold out crowd at Viejas Arena on November 21st. It’d been almost a decade since I’d seen them live. I’d just kept missing them. I was beyond stoked for the show. Then the show happened and I left disappointed. Trust me, you guys, I want to write about how amazing they were and how they blew me away and I thought about lying and saying it was the best show I’d ever seen. But I can’t do that. 

 

 (One admission: I was a tad over served before the show started, due to a huge jam session at my house with a bunch of dudes doing shots, drinking loads of beer and playing guitar and singing every Pearl Jam song me and local recording artist Jesse LaMonaca know.)

 I wanted them to come out swinging, but they were pretty mellow and kind of lost me early. But I realize I’m in the minority on this one. It was my fault. Apparently they played forever but I had left the venue at that point. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of myself but at least I’m being honest. I didn’t have great seats and again, was a bit inebriated. I had buddies on the floor who had a completely different experience. They opened with Pendulum, a really mellow tune from the new record. That was cool with me, as I’ve seen them open with mellow tunes like “Release” and “Long Road” before. 

 But then they went into Nothingman. Great, great song, a perfect song, in fact. But not there.  Then into “Sometimes.” That got a big groan from me: I’ve never been a fan of that song, and to see it third in the set, after two mellow songs, made my pickled brain hurt. They started to jam a little with “Why Go”, “Lightning Bolt”, and “Mind Your Manners.” Then they played the obscure “All Night” followed by one of my favorites “Given To Fly.” Then it got really bad for me. I like “Tremor Christ”, I do, but it was just too slow and not scratching the itch I had for say “Rearviewmirror,” “Hail, Hail”,” or “Go.”

 In short, it was just too mellow for me. I wanted to jump up and down. I didn’t want a “mature” show with “Just Breathe,” “Sleight of Hand,” “Light Years” and “Setting Forth.”

 It’s been so hard for me to put my finger on what was wrong with that show for me. But I think it was the shots, the seats, and the set. Sue me. I was excited and disappointed but it takes NOTHING away from how I feel about this band. I’ll shut up now and go bury my head in the sand. I love you Pearl Jam. 

 If you’re on the fence about some of the great songs you’ve missed out on over the years, since “Ten,” just email me at stevenwoods22@yahoo.com and I’ll fill you in.