Pearl Jam Q’s Up in Cleveland

by Kathy Davis on May 10, 2010

If my right temple is any judge of it, Cleveland Rocks. Bottom line. Let me explain…On May 9, 2010, a Sunday night at the Quicken Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, USA Pearl Jam gave us a performance that proves why this town is worthy of the Rock and Roll of Fame that it houses, a city that some call the birthplace of Rock & Roll.  Whatever it is that inspires Ed to write and Pearl Jam to perform one of the most profoundly amazing setlists I’ve experienced in many years, I’m deeply grateful.  I mention my right temple because a couple of hours after the show while visiting with pals, I reached up to get some hair out of my face and went “Ow” as I felt a giant goose-egg – this egg-sized bump on my temple that I have absolutely no recollection of receiving. Apparently I was rocked so hard by my band, I must have literally banged my head and hence, evidence of Pearl Jam’s power over me. I do seem to remember having to hold onto the chair in front of me at one point, moved by some deep Stoney groove so intensely I thought I might lose my balance, so I suspect this was the moment of impact. My pupil is not blown, no headaches, I still know my name, so all is well. But, Jesus – that’s how lost in the music one can become at a live Pearl Jam show. I don’t understand how our band can keep surprising and astounding and stupefying me, and its not that I doubt they will. That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back. I guess I just didn’t expect much in Cleveland. Shame on me for that.  Cleveland 2010 will doubtless be remembered fondly amongst us hardcores ranking up there with Seattle 2 2000 or State College 2003, Philly (1 2,3 or 4) 2009… or any of a number of legendary and often referenced PJ shows.

All of that said, with a night like this, it was extraordinarily difficult to quickly develop a balance of how I experience the show so I can write about it and share it later. I’ve always taken notes in my PJ shorthand with single words or symbols that I can draw in my notebook in the semi-dark without looking at the paper much that will aid my memory for later.  I was also snapping pictures, nabbing a little vid… but the most important and vital thing is rocking my balls off without letting any of that documenting crap detract from the experience. I have it down, but when you get a setlist like Cleveland 2010, that is all blown out of the water with a neutron bomb of Pearl Jam.  I think the note taking simply stopped toward the end.

So lights down at 8:50 p.m., and from my seat I saw a setlist posted on Karrie Keyes’ monitor soundboard; I couldn’t make out words but saw a short song title and a “W” as song 1, and from the soundcheck that leaked pre-show I just knew it was going to be “Wash”. Matt, Jeff and Stone formed a familiar rhythmic triangle with bodies and music, huddled together behind Ed as the song launched. Ed had a long-sleeved olive drab jacket on, and he seemed nearly closed in on himself, with his hands thrust deeply in his pockets for almost the whole song until the building wave of the song took him over.

Right out of the shoot, “Hail Hail” hammered us on the heads, and I could see quickly it was ON – my boy Stone putting his leg in the air and thrashing away at his strings. As if to atone for his previous guardedness, Ed sang “Hail hail the lucky ones I refer to those in front, yeah”, and Stone did that strum and put his arm straight out in front of him move that makes me smile.  Already the boys were into it.  Ed wanted us all into it as much and led us all in that quick clapping after the middle eight post-“bandaged hand in hand”.  “Corduroy” next to keep the 12,000 peeps in the Q engaged, Stone was pogoing during the intro, then doing the one leg stomp; Ed’s furious guitar and non-stop singing meant the only place for saliva was to spit it out and he sprayed it out in front of him.  At the instrumental breakdown, Ed and Jeff were in one pair, Mike and Stone in another, rocking with each other, Ed trying to get Karrie to turn up his guitar in the monitor to get him more in the rhythm. He bashed away vigorously to the end.

Checked bass and distressed Salmon guitars meant “Got Some” had to be next, and it was. Ed did the splits on Matt’s drum beat right before the second chorus, Stone’s leg up for chorus three, his head bobbing furiously as the song played out. He almost looked like he didn’t know where he was when it ended. ‘Yield’ being my all-time most adored PJ studio release, I was thrilled to hear the Stoney strums of “In Hiding”. Ed put his arm up and down to re-enact the words ‘I was diving’, hand rigid and slicing through water. Large narrow rectangles of white light columns lit the backdrop, Ed reminding us it “seems so fucking simple now” to accent the words. I noticed Ed had on a black “Marathon Man” T-Shirt on, that’s a 1976 movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Also spied Stone smiling and bonding with some guys in the front row, which gave me a happy knowing he wouldn’t have to look out at a bunch of heads all turned toward Ed or Mike instead of where they should be, on Stone right in front of them, at all times. Alright, I’m biased.  So thrilled my homie played the song out fully with the little instrumental completion at the end that often gets omitted live.

“Worldwide Suicide” is up next; 10 white spotlights search the stage overhead with red bars glowing in between. The song speeds along, “Force of Nature” quickly springing up afterward. The red of the “Pearl Jam” on the backdrop was surrounded by bright green, nature representing gel lights.  Stone was stomping his foot vigorously during verse 1, knitting a simple 1 or 2 note chime throughout the choruses that sewed the song together nicely.  Post song, Ed  greets the crowd saying “In the immortal words of Spinal Tap, ‘Hello Cleveland’.” He reminded us a long, long, long time ago the band played the Cleveland Music Hall delivering 7 songs; 6 months later they were at Peabody’s and really gave a show, playing 12 songs.  He told us that they would at least double that tonight, and Stone gets on the bright Green Fender. Ed said “if we has to go up against our band back then” I think we’d kick their fuckin’ assess.  ”We’ve got experience, smarts…” he paused and my seatmate said “and Matt!” and someone up front must have too since Ed immediately said “and Matt Cameron.”  The audience reminded Ed of the sometimes 6th member of PJ, Boom, calling out his name, and Ed said yeah “and Boom Gaspar. Just Boom and Matt” could beat the shit out of our band back then. “Here’s one from 90-something” was the intro to “Immortality”. 12 white lights beamed down overhead across the stage, the large fingers of light mimicking rays of sun poking through a cloud bank.

Ed used the sparkle guitar on that one, Stone went right out to the lip of the stage, then to Ed for the solo, bouncing at his knees in time as the white lights overhead searched the stage. Matt is a fucking genius, back and forth on the high and low pitched Toms accenting the rhythm of all the guitars surrounding him at the back of the stage; the boys were drawn to him like a magnet.  Our old familiar friend “Evenflow” blasted its way into the set, blistering along. I couldn’t help but notice that the crowd has pretty damn stand-offish for it being this many amazing songs into the set. If I was a bitchier person, I would say that the Cleveland crowd weren’t doing anything to earn the set they were getting; to me its all about the fair exchange between audience and band – we have to rock our asses of or at least give the boys our full engagement to inspire their musical energy. It’s always been that way for me, and I don’t really care about what Casual Joe Fan or Jane Fan is doing unless it’s stump-like behavior that deadens my band’s spirit. There was maybe a little danger of that judging from the overall quietness and lack of dancing from the crowd Sunday night. Is it Midwestern reserve?  Ed Vedder is also a skilled genius, particular at mustering up energy where there seems to be none, doing whateverthefuck it takes to engage the crowd. He counted the crowd in for the singing on the last chorus, and they responded well, Ed running hands over forearms to gesture he was getting goosebumps at the volume.  Well done.

The groovy jazzy strains of “Army Reserve” were next, Ed explaining that the song was about a Mom who it at home with the kids while the Dad is off serving his country, and he wished anyone who was in that situation the safe return of their loved ones.  Green camouflage-like lights were solid on the backdrop, Stone’s groove deep on the Sunburst while Mike hammered away up the fretboard, a scale of notes going higher and higher like a fast trek up a mountain peak, reaching an impossibly high peak and sustaining. Mike McCready is also a genius as this simple scale communicates the building intense desperation of the song and its meaning. “Unthought Known” is next, a brilliant companion to the build of the previous song, the song starting out with quiet intensity and building to a frenzy with Ed’s voice keening, “nothing left…nothing left…nothing left…” His forceful strumming on the Zinn Fender, with Stone on the Green drove the song home. The boys launched RIGHT in to “Daughter” to sustain the momentum, and I love the unanimous cheers of recognition at Stone’s intro.  Keeping the crowd in it with them, after “she holds the hand that holds her down”, Ed said “she will”, but his hand up to cup his ear and said forcefully “WHAT?” and we all said loudly “RISE ABOVE!” Ed nipped off stage left during the “singalong” section of the tune to talk to Karrie Keyes on the monitor sound, and spoke to her at length before returning. “How’s everybody over here?” Ed asked to his right side of the crowd. “But is it louder over here?” He wondered of the left side of the crowd. Cheers swelled. “How’s everyone in the back? Ed asked. More cheers. Keeping people in it with a ‘W.M.A’ singalong after that.  Ed walked in circles in front of Matt while the boys played the song out, gesturing the final heavy beats of the drums with a quick raise and lowering of his shoulders.

Our singer introduced Binaural track “Sleight of Hand” as being about a man stuck in a job where he has to compromise his true self daily, reminded us that if you’ve “got one where you can be yourself” every day, it’s a pretty great thing.  Watery gels slowly rotate on the backdrop and stage, giving the impression of a drowning man’s spirit. Ed enhanced the frustration of the song subject’s daily trek, going on the road “he fucking knew by heart.”  The arcing notes of the guitar during the jazzy jam pealed out like a chime, Jeff, Mike and Stone in a triangle to Matt’s right as the boys bounced notes from one another. Stone strummed it out at the end.

Next up a song about a man who “had as many women as Mike McCready has guitar picks”, “Johnny Guitar”.  Stone delivers up the solo while Ed walks in quick circles in front of Matt again.  Right on in with “Do The Evolution” to bring it all home to mama at the end of the Main Set, the boys out at 10:11.  It’s not rote that the band are just gonna come back out and play with no encouragement whatsoever. The crowd was dead silent – was there a “no beer in the concert hall” rule or something? (sorry, harsh I know but I was kinda bothered by the lack of response). I said fuck it and started with some “woos” and claps, I figured at least I’d show them I wanted them to play more. After more time passed, the crowd finally started cheering, and by 10:14 the boys were back. Ed was sitting down with the small Martin acoustic; a few song requests were held up in sign form, and Ed read them. One was “Smile”, the other escapes me, but Ed responded “Is that an order? Or is the please on the back of the sign?” because “we don’t respond well” to orders.  He asked us “Can I ask you for a favor?”. A son didn’t call his Mother on Mother’s Day, offering the ‘hey I’ve been busy!’ defense.  He asked us all that if on the count of 3, so he can make up for being a bad son, on the count of 3 can we all say “Happy Mother’s Day Karen” so he can send her the tape tomorrow? So we all did.  Stone said something briefly to Ed, and he hadn’t called his Mom either, so Ed said “so on the count of three and we all say “Happy Mother’s Day Carolyn.” (“right?” Ed said to Stone, who nodded).  We did it, then Ed gestured to the remaining “idyllic sons” in his band, easing into “Just Breathe.”

“Given To Fly” is next up, slowly swirling clouds dancing across the blank backdrop and over the back of the Arena. No giant “PJ” typewriter key for now.  Yahooooo for “Leash” up next, a song Ed said was about the first amendment; the natural Lull bass and Mike’s black Tele gave the solid foundation this song’s young man needs to get wild. Ed jumps up and down, Stone slides fingers down the fretboard swiftly, blasting away.  Ed gets his guitar quickly on and Matt starts thumping while Ed teases the intro, the crowd feeling the rhythm but not reacting until the song starts proper. Jeff and Stone stand so close facing one other they were almost touching guitars. Ed moving his body in circle swirls,  almost like slightly crazed primate but keeping it subdued while the boys jammed away. Ed got the cream fender off to use the overhead white light to reflect the scratchplate like a mirror onto the arena crowd, beaming the guitar-cum-spotlight all around the arena to building cheers as he drew the crowd in, shining the light to the top decks, up and down as though to say I see you and I know you’re out there, I’m here with you.  The lights overhead searched the stage while the chaos of the ending steamed to an end.  Off at 10:37.

The crowd was much more encouraging for the second encore, thank god – those shamanic skills of Ed having worked their magic.  I personally do not take that gift lightly. Back on quickly at 10:39, Boom already starting in on the B-3 Hammond organ while Ed told Cleveland “I hope you do well Tuesday” (the basketball team Cavaliers are in the playoffs) and “don’t let Jay-Z steal your superstar” (he’s trying to get LeBron James to sign with the New Jersey Nets).  “We lost our whole fucking team! Oklahoma stole our team”. Here’s a song about no regrets introduced “Black”. At the end of the jam, Ed delivered a beautiful triplet-rhythmed “I  know I know I know I know I know I need you” and I  know I know I know I know I know I want you”.  Lovely.

Ed told us he was going to play one of the requests, not this song but the next, the sign with the order you might as well put that away, the girl that had the one that said “Smile”, you might as well talk to security and make your way up here so you can watch it from up close.  A blistering cover of The Who’s “Real Me” starts out, Mike bringing out the same mouse puppet that Stone had at the end of Saturday Night Live and putting it on a microphone stand while the boys barreled their way through the song.  Red and white tiger striped gels against the backdrop accented the ferocity of the tune.  “Smile” is next, Ed introducing Jeff on lead guitar, and holding up the sign, reading the girls name on the back “this is for Tiffany…I remember her she has a hit in the 80’s” Oh dear, Ed. You went there.  A nice version, some harmonica tooting, then Stone gets on the Gold SG, my favorite guitar of all time (it used to give me “Go” a lot back in the day), but this time it was for “Alive”.  Ed is all over the place, Mike plays the solo stage far left (arena right), and Ed bends down to shake hands and reach out to the front just to Mike’s right.

Mr. Vedder tells us they are going to end the show a little differently, perfectly defined by the sliding, beautiful stand-up bass intro and timpani like drums as “Indifference” filled the room.  I felt better about the Ohio crowd as I looked around, watching people sing the line to Ed “I will scream my lungs out till it fills this room.”  Thank you, and goodnight Cleveland.  Sorry I didn’t get the Stone pick that had earlier sailed to me, bouncing off my thigh and into the row in front of me, I was stoked to see my boy crouching down and handing the security guy a bunch of picks and pointing out specifically  to give  them to the guys that were giving Stone love in the front. You go, boys.

Below photos by Kathy Davis, credit us and/or TwoFeetThick.com please if you nab them.

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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