Pearl Jam @ Universal Ampitheatre, Universal City, CA 10/6/09
For the past week and a half something in me has been off. I noted in one of my Facebook updates that I was inhaling chocolate at a rate that was excessive even for a child of chocolate such as myself. The feelings were somewhere between being here and “just” being here, if that makes any sense and even though I thought that I had a clue as to what the problem was, I failed in completely excavating the thorns from underneath the skin.
You all know that I had an amazing week back East in New York City, my biological and emotional home, and that week, the people who I spent it with, the music we enjoyed, the food that we ate, and the moments that we shared officially became my cumulative best music-related experience. A complete package of sight, sound, company, solitude, new friends and old. Once I returned home to the beautiful land of the Gods, Goddesses, and avocados I took a very long nap and settled in, went about the normal business of the days and damned if it didn’t feel as blunt as a dull knife. WTH? I listened to music, watched the news, went shopping, did my required class work, oh, and I even went to a couple of shows in my normal mode to get my live music jones…but still there was the blunted knife. I enjoyed the shows, sure, but not with the same heady recognition that sounds were entering my body. Not with the same energy, not with the same hunger. It took a “Hunger Strike” to go all “Ultraviolet” on me and light my way towards the problem: I had blown a fuse.
Somehow, some way the massive combination of U2 x 2, Muse x 2, White Lies, Greg Laswell, cupcakes, a British invasion and a white trash engagement party had tripped my switch. So much so that I’ve felt a disconnect emulating depression when all it comes down to the fact that I was suddenly undone and unplugged by so much that was above and beyond my expectations.
Pearl Jam are my American contemporary to the global U2 as the band and their music have sung for, championed for, protested for, and rocked for generations in various stages of their lives only to still ring significant and germane while others end up with starring roles on “Where Are They Now?” This isn’t so much a review of Wednesday night’s Pearl Jam show at Gibson Ampitheatre (their third in a sold-out line of four) as much as it is an emotional analysis of its heft. Passion and good will are two traits synonymous with the spirit of Pearl Jam and those two things become ever clear as they continually manifest themselves in another quality: unpredictability.
From the unusual opening song “Sometimes” to the abstract fuck-up-edness of their “Jazz Odyssey” (aka transition time to reset the stage) to the fresh and heart swelling “Unthought Unknown” to the likely and unlikely placement of a string quartet to the moment I was reduced to the likes of an adoring, screaming groupie whipped by the band, their performance ferocity, and moments they created just for me…and 5,999 of my closest friends.
Pearl Jam doesn’t need special guests or helping hands in order to thrash out a proper rock show but the music is a family- a brotherhood, if you will- and Pearl Jam’s family has deep and healthy roots . Couple that with the fact that they’re not averse to being party to one of a kind events or random acts of music with friends. (See them back in December 2006 when they said, “Hell yeah, U2, we’ll be your opening band in Hawaii. Good times!”) Friend and opening act Ben Harper had Stone Gossard on his knees when he sat in with his slide guitar on “Red Mosquito”. Harper’s presence is never a surprise but a pleasure, nonetheless. What wound up happening on the Universal Ampitheatre stage was not only a typically balls to the wall high energy PJ show (Even Flow, Do The Evolution, Breakerfall, Save You, Got Some, Johnny Guitar) bolstered by waves of gentle beauty and sing-a-longs (The End, Breathe, Elderly Woman, Faithfull, Off He Goes), but it one of those shows where you walked (or stumbled) away with a shaking head full of “Did that really just happen?”. Or, if you’re like me, once Eddie Vedder pronounced, “I think sometimes the presence of one man can really change the energy of a show and make it special” and Chris Cornell waltzed out on the stage you completely lost your mind and lapsed into groupie scream. So much so that I announced to my companion for the eve that I totally forgave Cornell for his “Scream”…and I think I meant it. That’s how visceral this was to me and probably to my other 5,999 friends.
And once we saw Cornell’s curly mop we knew “it” was going to happen. “It” hasn’t happened since a one-off performance in Santa Barbara in 2003. “It” was the resurrection of Temple of the Dog (and all of its members were standing on that fucking stage) as Cornell and Vedder went back to the basics of rock blues to perform the most precious “Hunger Strike”. Vedder on low with his rich timbre, Cornell on high reaching and crushing those frightening notes. It only got worse (better) as during the anthemic song of survival “Alive” Mike McCready was handling his business like a pro until he disappeared from the stage. A weird series of guitar chords or two later and out came Alice In Chains guitarist, Jerry Cantrell, strapped with Mike’s guitar and he proceeded to shred the rest of “Alive” into a dark and dirty place. The room exploded, brothers in musical arms stood with those arms wrapped around one another and, once again (and finally) I felt that thing inside me swell to the point that it threatened to overflow.
Leave it to Pearl Jam to plug me back in.
Wait…did I mention that in addition to Chris Cornell, the whole of Soundgarden was in the house (and the backstage)? No lie, I’m not the only one who saw it (paging Johnny). New Alice in Chains singer William Duvall and his hair….present. Oh this could mean great things to come…