I hail from Chicago, but my musical soul is rooted in Seattle. I was 18 years old attending Western Michigan University as a freshman when the albums “Nevermind” by Nirvana and “Ten” by Pearl Jam were released in the fall of 1991. I was completely captured by their sound. Loud grinding riffs over loud crashing drums mixed with loud melodic lyrics. I was all in. As music and its consumption has changed, I thought Rock and Roll had taken a backseat. Although I believe it is alive well. You just have to find it.
I recently attended a show with two of my favorite Rock and Roll heroes. Bob Mould opened for the Foo Fighters. It was an all-out assault on my senses that lasted 4 hours and left me physically exhausted yet unable to fall asleep. This was accomplished by a 57-year-old and a leader of a band who is 49.
One month before, Pearl Jam released “Live from Wrigley Field”. A concert video accompanied by its soundtrack from 2 shows played in August 2016, a mere 6 weeks before they won their first World Series in 108 years. If you need to know how THAT event affected me, I wrote about it here- Just Won before I die.
This concert video is one that I cannot stop watching or listening too it. I have been drawn to it. It is essentially, Eddie Vedder’s love letter to the Chicago Cubs. Like me, Eddie and I are from Chicago and are undying Cubs fans. It is done documentary style with a number of things happening all at the same time.
There are historical footnotes and video from when Pearl Jam played Chicago for the first time at the Metro, a mere block from the cathedral that is Wrigley Field. Between songs, they will cut to a story of the owner of the pub across the street (Murphy’s) as the band has befriended its benefactor over the years. They tell the history of the Cubs in a limited fashion but enough to set the tone for what happened on that fateful November 3rd and how Vedder was impacted
The movie tells the story of the 2016 team throughout the show. How there was so much hope and cautioned expectations for this team. Theo Epstein, the Cubs 37-year-old GM who brought a World Series to Boston for the first time in 86 years in 2004 shows us around newly renovated Wrigley Field and tells us about this team and new swagger they have.
Highlights of their run through the playoffs and their World Series victory after being down 3-1 are showcased beautifully. It all ties together seamlessly in a package that seems to have been made for someone like me. A lifelong Cub fan from Chicago, and a fan of this band for over 25 years.
Then of course, there is the music. A huge rock spectacle in a sacred building. Pearl Jam sounds as important as ever. There are few lyricists, if any, who can write a song better than Vedder. His songs are full of hope, despair, redemption, loss, belief and pain. This band takes playing live very seriously and has done so for over a quarter of a century. They play very tight and controlled, but at the same time loose and playful.
While I am not sure if the songs played in the movie are in order of the way they were played that night, the order in the movie is paced perfectly. The heart of this show is a three-song stretch that starts with” Courdoroy”, moves to “Given to Fly” and then into” Jeremy”.
Vedder sings with passion and purpose and his voice sounds like it is coated in velvet and honey. He sings like the music isn’t coming out of him but through him. He jumps and leaps around the stage, shares a massive bottle of wine with the front row while singing a line “take a bottle pass it around”, and defies the laws of physics while leaning perpendicular to the ground while using the mic stand as a brace. Guitarist Mike Mcready starts off the show mild and suppressed but by this point in the show is hopping and jumping and playing to the crowd like it’s a small pub. Stone Gossard looks like a professor on stage striking every chord perfectly and complimenting each song in his own way. Matt Cameron on drums keeps the engine running in the red thrashing along with a visceral energy that you want from a drummer. Bassist Jeff Ament is so into the show that he falls down on stage at one point yet continues to play from the ground.
Vedder knows exactly where he is playing and plays to the crowd like a conductor of a wild orchestra. His opening line while the opening chords of “Low Light” are ringing out is “Good evening Wrigley Field” which gives me chills. He replaces a line from Given to Fly with, “Made it out to Wrigley, had a smoke in a tree”, and urges the fans in centerfield to jump by saying, “cmon centerfield!”
There are songs I was aware of on the setlist but never gave much of a listen in the past. I can’t stay away from them now. Songs like Crazy Mary and Inside Job. This is the brilliance of Peral Jam. Every show has a different setlist. They are not a greatest hits band. All of their songs stand up over their 9 studio albums and are given a chance to be heard.
While rock and roll may be harder to find and is not front and center in the musical universe right now, it is alive if you look in the right places. It is being performed properly and passionately by bands who have been doing it for decades. Go find some and fill your soul with their lyrics and their music.