Madison Square Guardians: Night One

by John Reynolds on May 21, 2010

Courtesy of George Reilly

Courtesy of George Reilly

Feelin’ Hot! Hot! Hot! There were no conga lines at last night’s Pearl Jam show at Madison Square Garden, but the sunny weather outside and the sweating inside made for a sensational atmosphere for the boys’ first of two shows at “The World’s Most Famous Arena”.

Kathy wrote a million words on the Mid-West, Jess thumbed her way on her blackberry for the last few shows, and this night she looked at me and said “JR, here’s the baton … you’re on!”. Knowing this ahead of time, I had some planning fun and you chose August 25, 2000 Jones Beach #3 as my car listening music (a portentous choice, more on that later), and the 1992 World Jam shirt as my frock. Today stay tuned for “boxers vs. briefs”, jk.

After picking up my tickets (Sec 1, Row C, Seats 1-2 – Stone’s side), I milled about the plaza and eavesdropped on tons of Pearl Jam conversations, including MSG security “Frank, deez guys are like da Grateful Dead of their generation”.

Off I goed then to Irish Times for the Wishlist Party and a great meetup with all the Touring Fans. Met lots of new fans, including the bewhiskered tour traveller Zach Newman. In “his own way” he gave me shit for letting the 2006 Concert Chronology remain sparse, but then volunteered to transcribe the whole tour for us by next Monday. Thanks Zach! ;)

Since I go to so few shows, I headed in as early as possible to get my seats. As a long time fan whose always had good seats to shows, I’ve been an big advocate of the Ten Club lottery. I just like to sit and watch the looks on the fans faces as the ushers sit them first and second row. It’s usually a “are you kidding?” followed by an “Oh My God!” and a “Holy Shit” … in that order. MSG security also really treat these fans like royalty, smiling along with them, with “great seats, huh?” and all that. It’s sweet. It is funny, too, when they’re asked to hold out their hands for the floor-only bracelets. They say “sure!” with an expression that leads you to believe they’d endure a cavity search if asked, as long as they can keep their seats.

I was not a huge Black Keys fan based on their studio work, but I could tell they’d be a great live act. Dan Auerbach reminded me a lot of Phish’s Trey Anastasio (looks too) with his ability to fill a rock band’s guitar responsibilities with a fat fuzzy blues sound. They brought on a bassist and organist to play new songs, which was cool, and the Garden was indeed about half-full, which should be expected from a city of rock lovers. Jeff could be seen taking photos on a modest digital camera, just like us fans.

8:45 PM isn’t just a time, it’s the two-minute warning. It’s the time you better be out of the bathroom, you better be out of the $10 beer line – the “get your ass in your seat time”. A few minutes later, the lights were down, the house was full … and here we go again … “MSG #7″ if you want to think about it that way.

“Sometimes” started us off – the same opener on the August 25, 2000, show I had listened to in the car ride up. More on that later. I love this song full band, I love it with with just Ed. Ed started really growling the “Sometimes I speak of nothing at all” at the solo shows, and he’s brought that to his mates as well. Can’t wait for the boot on that one. He extends the “dear God” implores the heavens to join him on the floor and “Come down here … God”.

Ed is sporting a Public Image Ltd (PiL) T-shirt. PiL, fronted by former Sex Pistols, reunited and performed just this past week on the Jimmy Fallon show, whose music schedule is directed by Pearl Jam uber-writer Jonathan Cohen. As Kathy says, “Circle of life, dude … circle of life”.

“Breakerfall” is a nice treat, followed by my personal favorite, “Last Exit”. These aren’t Ed’s deepest lyrics, not the band’s most orchestral arrangement, but for some reason this song is in my blood like a virus (a good virus, I guess) and it was a real big treat to hear it. Can I get a “hell yeah” from my “Last Exit” lovers out there?

“Animal” brings it as always, and then the super-fun and NY Met Jason Bay walk-up music “The Fixer”. The house lights come on for this during the “Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs” which is a really nice touch. With the house lights up, the back of the stage is going nuts, and makes me realize that I’ve yet to see Pearl Jam live with the “Backspacer” typewriter-keyed backdrop. Honestly, I’d rather see the band surrounded by its fans. It’s like one big comfy “Unplugged”, just … er … plugged. Discuss.

Ed mentions to the fans behind the stage that they are like their own little “small town” and that although he’s going to sing the song facing front, that this one is for them. “I Am Mine” could be considered a treat, since it hasn’t been played yet in 2010.

Kathy mentioned this in her early reviews, and it hit me at this show as well, that the band and crew are now operating like a NASCAR pit crew between songs. The guitars are prepped, ready to go, plugs going in and out, and the switches are fast. Looking at old setlists recently, it did make me realize that the shows were still over two hours, but they were only playing ~25 songs. These quick changes have now allowed them to hit the 30-song mark almost consistently, and still playing the same amount of time. With “Comatose” though, the quick switch almost got the best of them, with Ed and Matt starting, and Mike rushing to get his Les Paul cocked and loaded, but ultimately strumming when the full band joined in.

If it was possible to “cool down” with “Force of Nature”, then that’s what we did. Introduced as a “song about a good person in a bad relationship”, the performance was flawless, and got a good reaction from the crowd.

“Even Flow” pops and jumps with loose precision. It’s here, being on Stone’s side, that I start “Stone-gazing”. This song, this riff, is his baby, and it fascinates me to watch how he plays the song with all the energy that they probably had in 1991. He has certainly mastered the “guitar face” and sometimes looks like he’s babbling something, as if you’re watching a video where the vocals are for one song but the audio is for the other. His fingers are flailing but his stare is somewhere we can only imagine. Sometimes he looks like he’s counting the fuzzies on his side-monitors, or he could be thinking about a bill he forgot to play. Who knows, who cares, he brings it. Also, with the “long” hair, he’s doing this head swivel thing which I personally coin the “car wash”, becaues he looks like those spinning car wash brushes, but could easily also be called the shaggy wet dog. Sorry, that’s my visual.

“Low Light” – played at the June 8, 2003 MSG show (then, only it’s 3rd performance) and captured on “Live At The Garden” DVD – is introduced by Ed as “out of all Jeff’s songs, the one he loves singing the most”. Also, Ed mentions a son-to-father dedication from two nights prior in Newark where “Just Breathe” was for son James who misses his sick dad. Well, tonight, James’s dad Jack is in the house, sitting directly behind the band. With the spotlight on, Jack is ear-to-ear smiles, pumping fists, and Ed imploring them to “be careful!”. From my seat, I see that Jack has his arm around his son for most of “Low Light”, and it’s a really nice moment. Tears … they’re not just for girls.

“Down” is fun, with Mike throwing a bushel of picks in the air just prior to Ed singing “I think I’ll throw / all my picks away”.

This next set of songs was quite interesting. “I Got Shit” is one song off a two-song EP, with both songs carrying the weight of a 14-song LP. Ed is intense, drilling into the lyrics with force. There’s a vocal I always look for, and Ed delivered it tonight – going high and long for the “Stare back at me-e-e-e yeah-ah-ah” line. 1995 … vintage.

Staying serious, Ed dedicates “Army Reserve” (another personal fav) to Lt. Colonel John McDonough (thanks PJ forum for the spelling), his wife Ruth, and his 4 children. According to Ed, this soldier served multiple tours in the Middle East and just got home last night to be with his family. Either from mounting sweat or tears, Ed is very focused. “Insignificance” brings another heavy-theme power drop.

Ed references the tendency of the Garden floor to shake and rumble when the fans start pogoing (most famously the “Do The Evolution” from 2003, a feeling I can still remember). Ed says this is “a feeling I hope we get tonight” and says “Unthought Known” has the potential to create this disturbance, which he cleverly describes as “not necessarily an enjoyable experience”. It seems to work for fan-favorite “Unthought Known” and continues with “Do The Evolution”, with Ed singing the “2010 watch it go to fire” line then waving like a football referee signals a “no catch” sing “no, don’t let it”.

High energy first set with many ebbs and one (even) flow. No shocker here.

Ed tells funny story about his off-day Wednesday. Just outside the garden, he’s hanging out on the sidewalk and a car passes by. This guy sticks his head out the window and says something to Eddie, but simultaneously a Taxi comes and nearly side-swipes him. For the guy, these two incidents mash together and he ends up screaming to Ed “Hey Eddie, great show last night FUCK YOUUUUUU”, with Ed joking “You never know, it could go the other way”.

Strings … yeah, Strings! Cello (Angel Wood), Viola (Amy Kimball) and Violins (Robin Zes(?) and Larinza(?) Johnson) are in the house for the first time this tour. Ed, Boom and Strings perform a flawless version of “The End”, introduced as “the saddest song we know”.

Donning his white Fender Strat, “Lukin” is jammed with the Strings. The musicians were probably briefly prepped, and not sure how far to go at first, but Ed’s encouragement had them really bowing (bowing?) hard and laughing their asses off when the song was done. Ed mentions how that rendition is a “dream come true” and jokes that that the song was written at 4AM with beer bottles strewn around, thinking “this would sound great with strings in it”. “Just Breathe” is gorgeous, with the lush arrangement filling the arena.

“You Are” – a truly unique song that the typical “they haven’t written anything good since Vitalogy” fan has probably never heard – is up next, getting some consecutive play love for the first time in probably quite awhile. During the ending “You Are”s, Ed keeps spinning and spinning, shooting glances at all the “yous” around.

“Love Reign O’er Me” is epic. It just starts, builds, explodes and somehow lands. Everyone’s going crazy, including some security guards who – based on their age – probably rocked to The Who performing it at this very venue. Following, Ed leads the crowd in a hearty “Happy Birthday Pete” chant. “State of Love and Trust” and “Once” follow, with the latter telling us “it could happen to you / it could happen to me / it could happen to you…”.

“Porch” owns. For the TEN-lovers, they’re all up singing, goin’ crazy. The casual fan is hearing the jam and saying “hey, this isn’t the 3-minute song” I know. There isn’t a ton of lateral movement from Ed on stage tonight, but he drops to Mike’s side to have some fun with the crowd. The rest of the band lock into a really great groove that’s tough to verbally describe. Check out the boot. The hook will catch you.

“Jeremy” kicks off the second encore, with Ed asking for some vocal help at the end. I know he does that a lot, but I had hear that earlier on the aforementioned August 25, 2000 boot earlier. Again, circle of life. “Leash” is next and oddly, admittedly, seems to do nothing for the crowd. Not sure why it fell flat, but this song should own, but somehow doesn’t.

In a “Wh-wh-what?” moment, Stone comes to the mic to sing “Mankind”. Wait for it … wait for it … that’s right? That was on the August 25, 2000, boot as well. With it’s kinky tempo changes, I think they actually played it better this time around, with Ed singing backup and playing a very precise tambourine directly in front of Matt. What a treat!!

“Crazy Mary” has Mike doing laps around the stage, scaring Boom when he finally appears to jam with the finger-flyin’ Hawaiian – I just made that up! There seem to be a number of frontrow-ers with empty cups, and Ed brings the bottle down to them and pours many a drink.

“I Believe in Miracles” is dedicated to Joey Ramone. From my view, I see Ed’s tech and former Johnny Ramone tech Ricky Ramone (donning a Ramones shirt, of course). That’s a lot of “Ramone”s in one sentence – there’s another! Maybe I’m over-thinking it, but I notice the often statue-like Ricky standing side stage head bobbing and toe-tapping, then seemingly self-ware hulking behind a drop in the stage as if “In Hiding”. Whether he was just doing his job by staying inconspicuous or consumed by his deep Ramones history, that’s not for us to know. Discuss.

The anthemic “Alive” signals the apparent end to the heavy section of the show, and with Jeff instantly sitting on a stool behind the upright fretless bass, it’s clear the closer will be “Indifference”. Ed makes a special effort to signal each band member to “play soft” during the final verse and this allows the crowd to completely take over and put the final douse of holy water on the heads of the uninitiated in the crowd.

2400 words later, I’m going to end this review like the song “One Note”. Why? I’ve got to take a fuckin’ shower. Just a few more hours before MSG Night 2!

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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