Pearl Jam Discovers Columbus

by Kathy Davis on May 7, 2010

Pearl Jam. Nationwide Arena. Columbus, Ohio, USA. Thursday May 6, 2010. 8:50 p.m. Kathy D was there. You know what that means. Lots of words. Read on.

Mike’s preset: Dead Flowers (Jagger, Richards), Untitled song for Mike’s son (McCready)

Set List: Oceans, Given To Fly, Corduroy, Got Some, World Wide Suicide, Faithfull, Small Town, Amongst The Waves, Even Flow, Comatose, Marker In The Sand, Unthought Known, Grievance, Alone, The Fixer, Do The Evolution

1st encore: Just Breathe, Black, State Of Love And Trust, Spin The Black Circle, Go

2nd encore: Come Back (dedicated to Brian Shaffer), Once, Hail Hail, Crazy Mary (Williams), Alive, Yellow Ledbetter

So, sorry I didn’t get a chance to make a post about St. Louis, peeps. I had a very good reason – I was packing for my four day jaunt to see our Pearl Jam boys and just ran out of time. Here I am from Columbus, Ohio, USA the first of my little run of shows. I hadn’t planned on any U.S. shows in the East since I am doing to Irish shows in Dublin and Belfast in June, but what can I say – the power of Pearl Jam compels me. So here once again are my stream-of-consciousness spewings about the night. Many of you know my twisted little brain – my reviews are wordy and full of what I see and experience and observe and feel. So if you’re unfamiliar and expecting a traditional dry, detached “first they did this, then they did that” kind of review – you won’t get that from me. I share what I see, think, observe and feel.  There may be a bit of “Jeff was playing the custom Mike Lull checkerboard T-Bird replica bass during ‘Got Some’” or “Stone was on his knees shredding the acoustic in front of Matt’s drums during the organ solo of ‘Crazy Mary’”. So hang on and enjoy the ride.

Ed spoke tonight about how since it was National Prayer Day today, he should mention that the band were thinking of applying to the U.S. Government to be sanctioned,  making Pearl Jam a legitimate religion, and I just had to laugh  – for some of us, they already are a religion. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of the Faithfull (we got that tonight by the way… Since I was fortunate enough to be Row 3 center, I held up a sign during the first chorus of Faithfull that very much reinforced my belief in Pearl Jam – it read “Show #150. Ed smiled, pointed and laughed, throwing his head back between lines. I threw up my hands to testify – “we all believe, we all believe it”.  So the PJ religion thing – I get it. Ed spoke of how Stone thought it would be a good idea to be sanctioned – they would be tax exempt, they could do whatever the fuck they want.  He said there is only one Commandment, and its “Don’t be an asshole.” Easy enough, I’ll do my best.  “Stone is our leader,” Ed told us (damn RIGHT he is!) “(he’s kind of) the Jesus of the band”. There is only one thing not allowed in the Pearl Jam Religion – “You can’t fucking Twitter – I hate that shit.” (Ironically, the founder of Twitter’s last name is Stone btw.) I almost pulled out my Crackberry and Tweeted that. :D

So…lights down at 8:50 as usual for most shows. The Philip Glass intro swelled up, and the backdrop presentation started – the typewriter keys that spell out “P-E-A-R-L J-A-M” were illuminated one by one and the band come onstage just after that. That’s all the production you get at a Pearl Jam show, and it’s all you need apart from the lights and music. When the rock is as balls out as PJ, you don’t need smoke and lasers. We have the five, occasionally six guys that fuse together and create the most unique and remarkable live concert experience, that it’s no wonder following the band engenders borders on cultishness. The little pre-strum and Ed counting 1-2-3 beforehand gave it away seconds before the song started. “Oceans” got the crowd going, a nice old familiar friend and some powerful, lapping waves of Ed singing and leading us in “Oh-oh” as the song played out. I think his eyes were closed for almost the whole song. He was already feelin’ it.  With Oceans we were in the water, right after that we were “Given To Fly” and drawn in to join Ed as he gestured “high” and “wide” on the chorus.  The band seemed further charged by the nearly full to 21,000 person capacity building, stacked in 4 tall acoustically genius layers that kept the sound crisp, reverberant and lively. The crowd singing seemed exponentially intense, and that seemed to get the band going even more. I get a kick out of seeing so many people even up to the top levels, that stand up and remain standing the whole church service. Sorry,  I mean concert.  As though we weren’t already whipped up into a froth over the first two tunes, “Corduroy” was a downright frenzied blenderful of jumping, clapping and singing along. Oh, how people love it after the guitar intro stops and we all get to scream back at Ed together “The waiting drove me mad!” And the clapping that starts after Ed’s little pre-song noodling as soon as we hear the two notes of the intro teasing each other back and forth. “That’s it!” Ed goaded us “It’s gonna be a good night!” He could already tell, the little devil.

With “Got Some”, I noticed the instruments for some reason – I love Stone’s distressed salmon-colored Fender and Jeff’s previously mentioned checkerboard bass on this song. I love how the two of them sing “oh’s” while Ed sings “get in now get it on before it’s gone”. Strings of large lights hang down from the lighting rigs over head and pop and crackle like flashbulbs during the choruses. Simple but impactful.  Following it, Ed quickly dons the newly-stickered “Zinn” guitar, the whole band noodling and drum-tinkering which leads into “Worldwide Suicide.” Ed plays the wah wah styled intro using the E-bow (As an aside, incidentally,  every time I see him with it I think of  Single Video Theory and Stone saying “I can’t get to an E-bow,” it makes me smile every time I see Ed with it). Stone kept the Salmon on for that one. Ed came over and rocked with him during the middle eight breakdown before “looking in the eyes of the fallen.”

Taking a breather, Ed mentioned the first time they played Columbus in 1992 at the Newport Music Hall, they played 10 songs to 20 people in a room about as big as the stage he was standing on, and that so far tonight was already better. As I often do, when Ed gets a certain smile on his face, a look and demeanor that I believe is put there specifically by the crowd, I turn around to see what he sees. The Nationwide Arena is a cavernous oval with 4 decks. 21,000 capacity. High and wide. It gave me an emotion-filled little charge to look out and see this, and hear our singer remembering playing in  wee little club 18 years ago, and seeing the look on his face when he was feeling just how amazing it is that Pearl Jam have built a loyal and passionate following that has literally grown 1000 times over.  Launching into “Small Town” with a most growly and emphatic ONE two-three-FOUR-two three”, a chill shot through me when Stone started strumming the acoustic. I love how he comes up and stand about 5 feet from Ed, facing him, playing his singer a nice little accompaniment while he and the crowd bond on the small little town that exists behind the arena doors.   The before the last ‘hearts and thoughts”, Ed repeated “Away” so we could get a little extra singing in, and he backed off the mic to let us do it on our own.

Stoney donned a pretty Sunburst Fender for “Amongst The Waves”. Nice. Ed has expanded his repertoire of gravity-defying yoga-style moves, where he tilts the microphone stand back, balancing it on one edge then leaning back to contort himself all the way down to a reverse crouch and balance on the tips of his feet, body extended horizontal. Some moves for himself to do while his band is playing instrumental breakdowns of songs. For this tune he did one of those moves, and the man has some pretty inspirational strength using that mic stand as a prop. He should make a DVD of Mic Stand Yoga moves and we can all get in such sinewy good shape. Made me feel all girly and squishy with the up and down movements of it all, the evil man. Just sayin’. Ed was feeling his band, holding the mic stand with one hand, wiggling his fingers to coax the music from them.

I’m seen our band a whole bunch since 1992. Watched a lot of video. Right up there with Corduroy, I’ve seen the next song in the set probably at 75% of the shows I’ve been to. I don’t know why, I can just tell after the prior song ends that “Evenflow” was gonna be next, before a note is even played. The band kinda gets this quiet, pre-song guitar-noodling free “man the battlestations” air about them and I just know it’s coming. Ed introed it saying something like “here’s one that we played 18 years ago”. I never tire of this gem that brings out everything I love about Pearl Jam – the tightness, the jamminess, the way every last one of the crowd sings along when the song starts back up after the solo stretch. Mike played almost the entire solo with the guitar behind his head, first facing his amps, then turning around to face the crowd, much to our delight. What a kick to see Stone and Jeff facing each other, jamming together just to Matt’s right while he pounds away at the jam.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT overlook the awesomeness going on behind Mike McCready’s fabulous solo. He plays the way he does because of all the richness coming from the rest of his band…Stone has been playing his amazing slidy riffs he plays that compliment what Jeff is doing, and Matt’s expertly interesting rhythm variety is sandwiched in around it. Right before Matt’s solo, Stone just stopped playing and did this bouncy, swaying dance, grooving on his band.  And OH how I love after Matt’s drum solo, how Stone brings the crowd back in with that familiar slide riff series that we’ve heard on the recording. The only thing I don’t love about the solo breakdown is watching Ed sneak off for a cigarette. Kinda pisses me off a little that he would do that to the gift of his voice and lungs.

“Comatose” is Pearl Jam’s modern version of “Spin The Black” or “Brain of J” but ballsier and chunkier. Damn it’s anthemic, turning us all into a bunch of punks pumping our fists in the air to the throbbing rhythm as we all belt out “for ALL.E.TER.NI.TYYYYYY”. And man, what  freakin’ carnival ride when Ed takes his voice like an out of control bullet train through a mountain range, sliding his voice up and down the slopes while he sings “and I’ll be hangin upside down and there I will swing”, Top of the mountains on the words I’ll, Up and There, sliding down into the valleys on the words in between.   It gets me all twisty.

The setlist bounces from album to album, but we get a second “Avocado” tune in “Marker”. The song kinda has a jazzy little feel that puts Mike Jeff and Stone in a little triangle point in front of Matt. Fun to watch them play off of one another. Ed sang the whole of “Calling out” with his eyes closed, coming out of it to draw us in, seeming to want us to clap along as he grabbed a tambourine to tap along as the song played out.  EV intros the next song “Unthought Known” mentioning something like it being another song about the water. (By the way, the song is becoming a soundtrack go to song – I’ve heard it used twice to score the closing scenes in one of my favorite shows, ABC-TV’s Monday night dramedy “Castle”.  But I digress.)

There’s nothing like the chills that volt through a person to hear whatever it is the band plays after Ed introduces the song with the words “Here’s something for the serious collector.” “Argh! What are we gonna get?” I think silently. What a rush, it’s ‘Alone’, one of my fave old-school obscurities.  (Alright, since this review is already out of control, I just have to interject here that I met my best friend listening to ‘Alone’ being played live on May 13, 1993 on the sidewalk outside Slim’s in San Francisco. She was leaning against the brick wall of the building, eyes closed, singing along to every word and I thought “alright, this woman is a serious fan if she knows this song” and I said that to her as I introduced myself. She is now my sister-by-choice.)

We could feel the end of the main set coming as the chunky riffs of “Do The Evolution” chimed. Did you know that Ed was the first man to piss his corduroy pants? He told us so when he was singing. I dig how he changes up what he does as “the first mammal” at the end of the song.  If you listen over the years, he’s split his corduroy pants, pissed them, they’ve been thrift store pants too. What was new for ‘Evolution’ this year? It’s 13 years after the song was written, and Ed got a wild look in his eye right before the line “2010 watch it go to fire”, looking kinda panicked as he pointed to an imaginary watch on his wrist and shrugged as if he were saying “times up, world.” Off my band went after that, ending the Main Set an hour and five minutes after it started.

Encore 1 starts with Ed on the acoustic, introducing “Just Breathe” as “here’s something romantic”. Nice little ditty.  It was kind of striking to see Jeff with a new red Mike Lull with matching red headstock, and Stone with a Cherry Gibson. What lush full sounds.  Ed intros the next song as one “written by Stone Gossard”. What a charge goes through the crowd when my rhythm guitar playing boy chimes the intro to “Black.” Everyone knows this song, everyone loves this song and were on their feet and singing along to the very last row of the fourth deck in the back of the arena. Ed was feeling it too, letting us take the second “ooooh-oh I’m spinnin’”, singing “that’s all” off the mic after “all I taught her was everything”.  I’ve seen my band through a lot over the past 18 years, having a unique perspective of Pearl Jam that that time period and 150 live shows offers me, and I have to be honest and say, I get how the song touches everyone, I understand it, but it’s not the song that makes me feel it the most. Until tonight. Something about Nationwide Arena, and seeing how the crowd affects the boys, elevating them, lifting up the music. All they’ve been through together…death, marriage, families, success, growth, maturity, joy, euphoria, elation, sadness – everything… it  was distilled in that song as they played. I started getting choked up at the end of Mike’s solo, HELL I’m getting choked up now just writing this, but seeing Mike lost in it, Jeff and Stone inches from one another riffing along, Ed shaking his head and swaying while he listens to his band, it just came pouring out of me before “I know some day you’ll have a beautiful life…” You know how those lines unify us as we sing it to Ed. And OH how lovely it was, the smile on Ed’s face when he let us sing the second “oh I’m spinning.”  Remember how intense “Black” was on the “MTV Unplugged”, Ed gripping the mic and shaking in his seat singing “we belong…we belong together”? Tonight it was delivered with a strong but falterlingly at times whispered “We DIDN’T belong, didn’t belong together…at the end dissolving to a whisper. Powerful shit.  (Some have said those “belong” lines were inspired by a song of the same name by Rickie Lee Jones. I wonder if that’s true?)

I noticed Ed had a bright red jersey stuffed into and hanging down from his pocket that he put there during Mike’s solo, and he pulled it out to introduce the next song, talking about how it was a gift from a fan seeing the band for the first time. It was a Cincinnati Reds jersey with “Vedder” emblazoned on the back, a gift from Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo who requested the next tune “State of Love and Trust.” Encore 1 went out in a blaze after that with “Spin The Black” (fun watching Ed pantomime pulling an album out of the paper sleeve) and then Kathy Davis’s favorite of all time “Go.”  Why is it my favorite you ask? Stone’s siren-like riffs that form the bed of the chorus while Ed sings “Pleeeeease..don’t go on me”.  It’s all that is perfect in the world to me hearing the man play those notes.  Set 2 ends at 10:27.

A single giant typewriter key that reads “PJ” remains lit throughout the break, and Kevin Shuss ran out and quickly crossed something off the setlist, a choice must have been made while the boys were backstage.  Ed dons a pretty Teal colored Gibson, thanking us all profusely for our loyalty and making “very good things happen” for the band. He mentions extensively the continuously bumped and sticky PJ Forum post ‘Columbus Area Pearl Jam Fan Missing’, and talked about Brian Schaffer, the missing fan that went into a bar and never came out. He dedicated “Come Back” to Brian, his girlfriend Alexis and his family, saying he wanted Brian to know that “wherever he is, we’re thinking about him.” How lovely to see Ed feeling it, backing off the mic to tell us all, three times over, “it’s okay.” At songs Ed, Ed hugged himself by crossing his hands over his neck, offering comfort to himself and his loved ones.

I came out of my PJ-induced euphoric haze and noticed during “Once” that there are these 3D holographic-type white discs of light that rotate on the backdrop, and orange red lights that bathe the stage. The giant PJ typewriter key is lit red. Stone and Jeff bond facing one another close in during the breakdown.  The crowd loves the next song, our good old pal “Crazy Mary”.  Ed seems to get a kick out of us, letting us sing “Mary rising up above it all” and watching us all and joining us as we slowly raise our arms up while we sing the line.  Arms up, we all start swaying back and forth, swaying our arms with Ed. Ed has another cigarette (grrrr), grabs a bottle and goes down into the pit in front of Mike at the end and shares a bit of the wine with people down there. Stone is strumming the shit out of his acoustic during Boom’s solo, just about on his knees in front of Matt’s drums as he gets more and more into it.

Next up, Ed tells us that the next song has been around a long time, and Stone’s got the Gold SG Gibson on so I think I know what’s coming, and Ed says we have been playing it a long time, but maybe not as much lately because we “can’t really play it unless we feel it.” Perfectly, Stone lauches into “Alive.” They are feeling it, and so are we. White strings of lights hanging down crackle along as the songs crescendos with Mike’s solo, the stage bathed in blue and white lights with a big blue “PJ” key on the backdrop,  and we’re all pumping our fist in time and singing “YEAH” with Ed as he goes from one end of the stage to the other. At the last group of strums, Ed gets this look on his face to tell the front of the crowd “get ready, I’m coming at you”, and he backs up, crouching down and bracing himself like he’s gonna start a race; he does so and runs to the lip of the stage, sending his security guys and most of us down there into a panic as he takes a running leap, stopping just as he got to the edge. PSYCH!  Everyone busted up, and the security guys threw a clot. After the song,  Ed turned to all corners of the arena, thanking everyone silently with great hand gestures of gratitude.  The evening wrapped up with “Ledbetter”, Ed sitting down on the monitors in front of his mic for a smoke and two drinks while Mike played the song out. He had the gatorage-filled wine bottle and a bottle of Corona, and put both of them in his mouth and drank. How any didn’t spill out is beyond me.  Stick a fork in us all, we’re done.

Over the swell of cheers, Ed name-checked his band mates so we could give them all some love, thanked various parts of the arena,  pointing here and there; I held up my small sign to show the rest of the boys, and at the end Ed said “Show 150” and pointed to it. So I got a little love, and some cheers of my own, thankyouverymuch. He crouched down after the song and told me he was gonna throw one of his pics for me, I told him go ahead, I’ll try to catch it, he didn’t think he could get it to me but he gave it a shot, and a guy in the front row caught it.  Now it would have been okay with me if the guy didn’t understand and kept it. Being blessed with 150 opportunities to go to the live spiritual revival that is a service of the Church of Pearl Jam (and for what it’s worth, I’ve always called it this – when people ask me why I go see them that much, I respond “why do you go to church every Sunday?” and they undertand). So I didn’t necessarily need the communion wafer Ed threw for me. Throughout the night I prayed, threw up my hands and said “hallelujah”, cried, jumped up and down like a freak, lost my mind, found it…saw god. Felt love.  What I love even more about my band is how they bring out the best it people,  enough that it makes you exponentially tolerant of the worst (the people who leave the front row to come back with two more beers in hand and can barely stand up and if they were reading this,  would say to themselves ‘Oh, so that’s what happened last night’.)  So that the guy that caught “my” pick was immediately swarmed on either side to the right, the left and from behind with lovely human beings telling him it wasn’t his pick. He wasn’t quite understanding it, then I spoke up and got my pick which he graciously handed over.  So I had my communion wafer to remind me of another great Pearl Jam church service. Thank you, guy in the front row for following the only Pearl Jam commandment.

Photos by Laurie Hester. Don’t steal without crediting her. Alright, off to Noblesville for the next show.  See you there!

Kathy Davis ( Twitter: @CrookedArm23 )
A Bay-Area based entrepreneur, co-editor Kathy conceives and writes her share of TFT’s articles and sections. She was co-editor/co-founder of one of the first Pearl Jam fanzines "Footsteps" (1992-1997). Kathy’s first Pearl Jam show was at the Bridge School Benefit on November 1, 1992.

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