TFT Review: Hold On Spectrum! Philly #3

by John Reynolds on November 1, 2009

The Spectrum Awaits

The Spectrum Awaits (photo: Caryn Rose)

My penchant for missing concerts is well documented. For the two times I saw Pearl Jam in 1992, I only caught 1-2 songs each time – once because of traffic, the other because of an unknown change in start time. For the 1998 MSG Shows – including the famous barnburner on 9/11/98 – I was out of town at a friend’s wedding. A few friends nicknamed my son “Uniondale” because he was born the day PJ played Uniondale, NY on April 30, 2003 (thus I also missed the well-revered April 28, 2003 Spectrum show).

Philly #1 was never an option for me because of other commitments. Then while packing up my “concert clothes” for Philly #2, my dear wife (like many of yours, a “Pearl Jam widow”) had a high fever and I had to give up my 3rd-row-center seats for Wednesday’s Philly #2 show. That “in sickness or in health” part of marriage vows? That’s the clause that kicked in. Was I devastated? No, not really. Life goes on. I’ve seen Pearl Jam about 20 times, which means I’ve missed about 800 others. One more won’t kill me ;)

All melodrama aside, Philly #3 for me was on! After not doing my part to help the environment by driving alone to the Spectrum, I was excited to see all the friends I’ve met over the years – all through email, forums and shows – to catch up and wax philosophic about the possible songs we would hear tonight after Ed set our expectations through the stratosphere.

Since I had actually gotten shut out of 10C tickets for this show, Jessica was kind enough to offer me her extra for this show.  She arrived from her 2-hour cross-New-Jersey train and we were relishing her 4th-row “Mike’s Side” pull. “It’s 6:25, and the doors open at 6:30, wanna head in?” Easiest question ever. For as many times you email, text, IM or phone someone, there’s nothing like heading into an empty venue and hanging out in an empty cavernous arena while the excitement builds for rockin’ show.

During Bad Religion’s set, the massive amount of water I consumed was kicking in, so I went for “a walk”. No wonder they were closing down the Spectrum – there are like four bathrooms in the whole place. Anyway, I come back to my seat and I get an oddly endearing “Dude, you fucking missed Eddie on ‘Watch It Die’ with Bad Religion!”.  Hah! As I’ve said before, life goes on.

Before Pearl Jam’s set, we met a lot of great PJ fans. The 10C’s seniority policy is now going on twelve years, so, you know, you start to see the same faces year after year after year. The one thing I recommend is to say “hi” to those faces you see all the time. As long as the PJ train keeps rolling through the years, you’ll always have tour stories to share with those around you. It’s also a great time to see fans with “first row glow” when they realize they’ve hit the lottery and say “omg, these are actually first row tickets!!”

Lights dim, Spectrum retrospective movie, and Rocky Music. Let’s get it started!

Setlist - Thanks to "Right-place-right-time John"

Setlist - Thanks to "Right-place-right-time John"

“Gonna See My Friend” opens as the third rocker opening of the 4-night stand. The sound did not feel like a typical opener because PJ had already played two nights in the same venue and the sound quality was locked in.  “The Fixer” became the first three-peat of the stand, and was a great way to bring the tight crowd right into the mix. When they say the spectrum is “intimate” they really mean it. The aisles are narrow and the seats are compact, so when you scan the crowd, the surface of heads and arms almost looks like one big organized GA crowd.

“In My Tree” is performed in the original arrangement and is supported loudly by the well-versed crowd.  After “Given To Fly”, “Tremor Christ” became the first of many “holy shit” moments. “Untitled -> MFC” makes it feel like 2000 all over again, and Ed was there in “29 minutes or so”, the #29 a reference to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Raul Ibanez, who was in the house.

“Hold On” is about all you have to say. WTF! Not just a b-side, but a Ten-era b-side, that – up until a few years ago – we didn’t even know about! And here they were, playing it for the first time. The band stood practically motionless throughout, making sure this new territory was played to perfection.  The pinks and purples in the stage lighting painted the picture of the Ten album cover, even though this delicate track never made the cut. And “yes”, Ed hit all the high notes. Watch video below, thanks to Allon Weinstock!

PJ fire right into “Unthought Known”, and Ed makes many artistic moves with his hands to form the articulate lyrics of this mind-bender.  After they played it at Philly #1, I was convinced they wouldn’t repeat it; but the booming drums and roar of “nothing left!” quickly erased my pessimism.  Ed remarked that “In Hiding” was one of the loudest they had ever heard that song sung by the crowd.

You may scoff at “Deep”, but “Deep” hasn’t been played in six years!! Stone dusted off his slide and it never sounded better. Ed was a little uncomfortable not really with the lyrics, but with the subtle dynamics of the song’s verses and chorus.  Regardless, the fans had not forgotten, and the singalong added another jewel to an already studded setlist.

Ed was “speaking as a child of the ’90s” during “Habit”, a second nod to the middle corps of songs on No Code.

“Cropduster”! This song was not a single, radio hit, or “must hear” during any concert since its inception, but it’s always been a favorite of mine.  To me, it’s a song that defines millenium-era Pearl Jam: music by Cameron, words by Vedder, lyrics splashed with imagery of colors, hope, Bush-era pessimism, and dichotomies. Jess turned to me afterwards and said “‘Let the fluency set it down’ … I want that on the back of a fuckin t-shirt, man”. I’d certainly buy it for $35!

“Off He Goes” is for Ben Harper who turns 40! “Force of Nature” is one of those songs off Backspacer that really lives in its own world.  It’s the type of song that tells a story from start to finish, and it’s not a true rocker by any means. But there is a lot of “force” in the live performance that kicks it up a level, and is a very intricate song requiring everyone on stage to again ditch the jumping and diving for some careful playing.

At this point I noticed that Boom has been on practically every song. He’s low in the mix, so sometimes you don’t notice it, but it’s nice to see PJ as a six-piece, and he generally has a ton of fun playing a mix of songs on both piano and organ.

“Present Tense” solidifies its place in the fan favorite hall-of-fame. “Got Some” makes its Philly debut and works really well as a setup to the set-closer “Do The Evolution”.

After the encore break. Four members of a Philadelphia string quartet set up over Matt’s right shoulder, elevated quite high over the stage to the point that I could see their feet above Jeff and Mike’s high amp stacks. Don’t kill me on the details, but from what I can tell there were 3 violins and a viola.  To say “Just Breathe” is a well-oiled machine speaks to its precision, but not to its beauty. When this song peaks, you can feel a gentle breeze and the crowd starts to sway like palm trees. The strings are essential and make this song complete.

We all thought “The End” was next, but then Ed starts “Parting Ways” on this really gorgeous sounding guitar.  The strings added essential color to the dreamy end section, much like in Seattle, November 2000.  “Jeremy” was next and the string quartet didn’t leave! The version was full-on electric, with Ed staying perched on his stool, swiveling a whole revolution to see the crowd in full voice. The string quartet added great accompaniment to the chorus, and provided musical counterpoint to the “hoo-hoo”s at the end. Terrific!

Barely able to breathe from the singing and pogoing, “Breath” bursts out to pandamonium. This song has a great disguised opening section. The opening riffs and opening “doo-doo”s give the crowd ample time for “holy shit, it’s ‘Breath’”, some more time to let it sink in, then more “HOLY SHIT! ‘BREATH’!”.

“Light Years” was a poignant moment, and following I said to Jess, “Hey, have they played anything off Vs. yet?” and without her speaking a word, the opening riffs of “Rearviewmirror” began.  I love to close my eyes during this jam and let my ears pick out the band’s different parts.  The only way I can describe the jam is if each instrument were a large hot air balloon caught in a huge tornado, with vicious guitar shards, surreal bass loops and drums both keeping the pace of the jam and swirling around it. Mike jumped at a frenetic pace during the strobe lights, making stage left jump for joy as well.

There was a casual fan behind me who, after a spot-on “Whipping” said the understatement of the night “Wow, that was a rocker!” “Crazy Mary” did not disappoint, with all the elements of a classic performance. Ed took the time to go side stage right, left, behind, and pour some wine for those in front with a cup thrown from the front row.

“Footsteps”? Could it be? Wow, wow, wow! Not to be old man “I remember the days…” type of guy, but every time I hear this song, it brings me right back to when I heard it alone in my college dorm on the radio during “Rockline” in 1992. “Once” gave credence to a “Momma Son” trilogy.  Without a guitar change, the band went right into “Alive”, with massive crowd singing and Ed once again greeting fans on the left- and right-stage perches. Mike – an avid runner – scampered through about four laps around the organ and drum risers.

“Sonic Reducer” starts briskly, and – although we thought Bad Religion might make a cameo – urgency and power take over, with many of the normal breaks shortened to make this a tidy sonic package. I know it’s been played a few times since, but hearing “Sonic Reducer” brought me right back to the last time I heard it four years ago about 400-yards south at the Wachovia Center.

Without seeing Mike strap on his Strat for a possible “Yellow Ledbetter”, Jess totally called “Baba O’Riley”. The energy was super high, and Ed put on a show with roadie Ricky Ramone. Ricky kept the supply of tambourines flowing from side stage, reminding me of a dog trainer crouching and flicking the instruments high up so the “frisbee dog” Vedder can grab them without dropping a one.

And that was it! The band took a bow, you could see Stone mouthing “nice job, nice job” to the crowd, and Ed still had the energy to name-check the band and wave vigorously – knowing he’d be back in less than 24 hours to do it all again.

Love you, Philly

Love you, Philly (Photo: Joe Mira)

I wasn’t inspired to make this review a Spectrum eulogy. I’ve only seen one other show there (Metallica) and I really have no Philadelphia connection. But Ed and PJ do have a Philadelphia connection that they often evince on stage. Ed paused towards the end, with hand on heart and tearing eyes towards the metal skeleton of the rafters, and sincerely looked like he was peering at his childhood house moments away from the wrecking ball.

Pearl Jam left the crowd drained and exhausted for the 800th or 900th or whatever-the-count-is time.  Afterwards, we all had that sweaty, beaten look and that “holy shit” expression.

The feeling was all over. A friend Andrew who – even though he knew “Hold On” was gonna happen after it was soundchecked (classic reaction after being relayed by cell phone “shut … the … fuck … up”) was still blown away.  Another friend Simon – who was mystically celebrating his 100th show exactly 10 years to the day – couldn’t even keep up with all breakout songs. “Jersey Mike” – a day early in a daring costume as a New York Yankees fan (wink) – couldn’t believe the rarities he heard on this World Series off-day.  While beers rained during pre-show tailgate, waters cooled us off at the post-show tailgate as the clock went past midnight.

As I write this two days later, I’m questioning how I can even convey the greatness of this show as I watch the YouTube recap of events that transpired on Halloween.  Kathy (red-eye flight in, show day, red-eye flight home next day) and Jess were there. Yes, I’ve verified they’re still alive.

So soccer practice kept me away from Philly #1, sickness prevented Philly #2, and my obligation to be a good Dad had me home on Halloween.  The way I continue to look at it, there are millions of Pearl Jam fans around the world, but I was one of only 18,000 that were there that Friday night.

One show is always better than none. And that’s right … life goes on.

Mad Stone Skillz

Mad Stone Skillz

An American original

An American original

You talkin ta me?

You talkin ta me?

Drummin

Drummin

Goodbye to the Spectrum

Goodbye to the Spectrum

The Bassmaster General

The Bassmaster General

Photos above thanks to Joe Mira (PJ BBS: solat13)

John Reynolds ( Twitter: @jjjrrr )
A New Jersey based programmer, John handles TFT’s programming and technical aspects. He also conceives and writes his share of TFT’s articles and sections. John’s first Pearl Jam show was at Lollapalooza on August 12, 1992.

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