Ten days. Five shows. Four countries. One band. I don’t know exactly what spurred me to go see Pearl Jam in Europe. It just didn’t make sense. Flights looked expensive. None of my friends could take the trip with me. The shows would be GA, not for the faint of heart if you wanted to be close. Conventional wisdom said an American show or three would be announced. But I couldn’t resist. Arras, Prague, Berlin, Stockholm. I went, mainly alone, and had possibly the best trip of my life so far.
Certain moments keep popping into my mind. Eddie dancing like a semaphore signaler during “The Fixer” in Stockholm, his full-watt blue-eyed stare into each face up close at Berlin 1. Stone having a laugh (at what?) in Prague. McCready walking through the photographer’s pit at Stockholm during “Crazy Mary,” the huge sing-along on “Baba” at Berlin2. Those flashes stayed with me unaided (it’s pretty hard to take notes in a pit), and sitting down to write, they brought the whole sprawling experience into focus.
1. June 30, Main Square Festival, Arras, France
“Come, here it comes, there it goes, grasp what you can.”
Standing in La Citadelle in Arras, France, several rows back from the front, but grateful the rain had stopped finally, I stood there at the Main Square Festival singing my heart out, thinking just how true that line in “Breath” was.
It was the first of the five shows of this Pearl Jam European tour I was going to, and months of detailed planning — twisting my mind in knots — was turning into reality, now it was time to just catch the wave, to ride it, to open my eyes and as John Lennon said, “be here now.”
Arras, which I brought my mom to as her first Pearl Jam show with the caveat that a festival wouldn’t feel like a regular PJ show, proved a challenge. How to get there. How to get back to Paris. And then the rains came, dousing us all day and only relenting during Florence and the Machine’s excellent set (as Eddie would later note). It came to mind that it was the exact 12th anniversary of the Roskilde tragedy, which had also taken place at a rainy European festival, but the pall of the past didn’t seem to hang over the festivities.
We rocked in ponchos, well back from the stage, mud streaked, the band talked of the surprisingly good crowd. I noted the better than average festival setlist (“Arms Aloft,” “LowLight”), I taught mom the hand motions in “Do The Evolution” but it was “Breath” that made it click for me. “Jeremy” was the key song for her. And then we were away into the night speeding down the A1 in a rented car, jetlagged and jangled. I knew it was just the beginning.
2. July 2, Prague, Czech Republic, O2 Arena
I’d felt Prague would be a special show before I ever landed there, now on the rest of my epic European adventure alone, but as soon as I was on the ground, the magic of the place seeped out of every street. I went to the fan meet up the night before, and someone bought me a Pilsner before they even asked my name just because I was a fan. But I’ve already detailed that concert experience in a standalone Prague review here:
3. July 4, Berlin, Germany, O2 Arena
A five-hour morning train took me from Prague to Berlin, a city I faced with a gut feeling these shows would be much more aggressive. The fans that slept in July 3 had a much more eventful ride: Mike McCready took the 12:30pm train and hung out with the fans onboard. I can believe it.
The day of the show was bright hot, and the 10 Club early entry line, an area fenced in with high white temporary walls and filled with snaking barricades had been set up on the concrete, complete with a trio of porta-johns. By 11am, 150 people were baking in the hot sun. By mid-afternoon, a world of little shade tents improvised from the various flags fans had brought for the show made for a sort of town of all nations. By showtime, my number in line (which each person wrote on themselves in black marker) was suntanned into the back of my hand.
Once we were inside, the wait, the sun… it didn’t matter. A run to the front and I made it to second “row” near Stone, surrounded by the easy-going “Touring Poles” (ie. Polish fans in matching t-shirts). X was still finishing it’s soundcheck, but everyone cheered for them anyway. Frontwoman Exene Cervenka, amused, said, “thank you Pearl Jam fans. We’l see you in a minute.” And so they did, getting a good welcome from the Berlin crowd — between bassist John Doe whipping up the crowd at stage right and Billy Zoom giving that friendly zombie stare at various people in the pit while he peeled off his solos. This was well before a second microphone came out and Exene announced a special guest, which of course turned out to be Eddie, duetting again on “Devil Doll,” to everyone’s delight.
After a dulcet “Long Road,” Berlin got rougher. The crowd roared the chorus of “Why Go” a cappella and the floor began it’s crush forward, side to side, like waves. We were soon thankful to be a few people over from the central corridor in front of Eddie, epicenter of the pushing and crowdsurfing. During the course of the night, Eddie would address it a couple of times, telling everyone to take a few steps back. With strong arms and some looking out for each other, we were fine where we were, minds mainly on the music.
Amid the more usual fare (“The Fixer,” “Even Flow”: both welcomed), the less expected gems popped up. Down front, “In My Tree” made a big impression. “Hard To Imagine,” which Ed began pointing into the crowd on Stone’s side and saying “over there, to New York City,” was a treat.
“Hard To Imagine,” 7/4/2012
“Daughter” got a rise out of most on the floor when the “Blitzkreig Bop” bits morphed into the special “It’s Ok” tag, with everyone singing along. “Blitzkrieg,” a nod to both Germany and the Ramones, was the first Ramones moment of the night. After Twitter had been abuzz the night before of lucky fans (@Anestha particularly) running into Ed at the Ramones museum (Gremmie.net’s Facebook page has the picture of Ed’s note in the guest book), it wasn’t a big surprise that onstage Ed gave a big shout out to Flo and Robbie who run the place and encouraged PJ fans to visit before pounding into “I Believe In Miracles.”
No mention of the American holiday (it was after, all, the 4th of July) — though at least one fan down front brought the stars and stripes, not a usual sight. It was sort of a Pearl Jam holiday though, Eddie welcomed Mike McCready’s mom onstage and led the arena in singing happy birthday to her, him enunciating “Louise” (check out those “Ten” liner notes) while the crowd happily sang “Mike’s mom” and Mike looked particularly pleased.
After McCready unspooled his “Alive” solo to all the synchronized cheering that comes with it and Ed, changed into a Rocky t-shirt, went about leaping from amps and gathering flags, an ambitious group of fans with a truly gigantic banner got their request at the end of the second encore with a lights-up, tambourine-obliterating “Rockin’ In the Free World.”
“Rockin’ In The Free World,” 7/4/2012
On the way out after “Indifference,” a lot of people were talking about going right outside and getting back in line for the show the next night, but not me. A long, hot shower, that tiny hotel bed, the snacks I had stashed in the room, all calling my name.
4. July 5, Berlin, O2 Arena
The second show in Berlin was a wilder, meaner beast and it was apparent as soon as I got to the 10 Club line at a little after 8 in the morning. The fans that had slept there were wobbly with fatigue, the July sun was out again and not being kind, the porta-johns were almost full. The mood was one of wariness.
It’s hard to call it a long day though. Time passes swiftly among Pearl Jam fans, especially far from home. There’s always someone else to meet, some other remarkable story to hear. At Berlin 2, I heard my share. Waiting in line 12 hours was a girl, from Slovenia I think, wearing latex gloves, I asked why, and she explained in a matter of fact way that she had OCD. “A general admission show must be a nightmare for you with all the sweaty people pushed against you and everyone drinking from the same water cups,” I said. “Yes, it’s a nightmare, but it’s worth it only for Pearl Jam,” she said. Another girl, with a hard-to-miss Marilyn Manson tattoo had seen Pearl Jam for the first time in Amsterdam a few days earlier and had been bitten by the PJ bug immediately and hopped onto the road waiting all day in the 10 Club area hoping someone had an extra wristband. Berlin 2 was her fourth show.
Inside, I was in roughly the same spot as the night before, perhaps more directly in front of Stone in the second “row,” a pair of Americans and the tiny Australian woman who’d bravely organized the ad-hoc Berlin 10C line-up directly in front of me. They’d slept out and were exhausted but determined to enjoy, I was feeling ok, but wary of the crowd which was pushy even during X (which again featured a duet on “Devil Doll” from Ed.)
Even before Pearl Jam took the stage, things were plenty rough. A handful of people, too weary or smooshed to endure where they were, got themselves pulled out before the show started, including a girl next to me who fainted. But again, Stone’s side turned out to be a haven: we closed ranks in our area, with those in row two holding the barricade around those on the rail, forming a cage of protection, row three locking arms to prevent surges, everyone shouting out warning when bodies with kicking legs crashed over our heads. And this was all away from the roughest area: in front of the always energetic Mike McCready and again, that corridor right down the middle in front of Eddie. From the start, Eddie seemed really concerned and upset. A few times during the show, he went over to the side to confer with security, and several other times he paused the show and asked everyone to move three steps back in the interest of safety. He did manage to find the balance, though, and the show rocked forward.
“Oceans,” Berlin, July 5, 2012
“Oceans” was the calm, unexpected, and to me perfect, opener. After “Small Town,” Ed whispered something to the other guys and they slid into a mid-tempo improv jam with an emphasis on a Stone-groove, easy as you please, so that Ed could go off to the back of the stage to get his in-ear monitor set up adjusted. For no reason at all, other than the fact that Mike was feeling it, he tossed up a few bits of Van Halen’s “Eruption” and “Runnin’ With The Devil” between “Even Flow” and “Sad.” Mike uncharacteristically hit a few wrong chords opening “Present Tense,” and apologized, but it didn’t hurt the song any, the singalong coming full-throated just a few bars later.
Johnny Ramone was once again on Ed’s mind. He again gave a shout out to the Ramones museum. I thought that “Come Back” was particularly heartfelt.
“This next song, I think you’re going to like it,” Ed said at the top of the next encore. “There’s a reason why we’re playing it tonight, because we’re very close, we’re right across the street. So here we go.” And, in an arena in the former East Berlin, a few thousand meters from parts of the actual Berlin Wall still standing, Pearl Jam played Pink Floyd’s “Mother” (“Mama’s gonna help build the wall”) making its European debut.
“Mother,” Berlin, July 5, 2012
Soon, Ed’s makes a speech about all the shows Pearl Jam’s played, and all of the shows they’ve played in Berlin, saying “Sometimes it’s hard to believe any of it really sometimes,” and waxing nostalgic about openers X. “You know, I was 19-years-old and standing in front of Exene the singer. And now we’re traveling and friends with them over the years. So maybe there’s somebody in the front row up here that might be on this stage or a stage like it some day and now we’ll open up for you.”
And before I knew it, “Alive” is ringing out, Ed’s leaping from amps, trying on a Lucha Libre wrestling mask tossed from the audience and gathering flags. A big “Baba,” and with the opening notes of “Yellow Ledbetter,” Eddie’s paraphrasing himself, saying “You can call me Ed, just call me.” By song’s end, Mike’s finger-tapping a solo with Jeff Ament taking close-up pictures. And it’s over and I’m off into the rainy night to pass out in bed for a mere two hours before a dawn flight to Stockholm.
5. July 7, Stockholm Ericsson Globe
I had a feeling, as in Prague, that Stockholm would be really my kind of Pearl Jam show as well as my kind of city. Leaving at 7am from Berlin on a plane full of Pearl Jam fans figuring out what percentage of all PJ shows they’d seen (14% for me) strengthened my openness to Sweden. I had a good feeling, though so tired, walking all around Stockholm the day before the show. My friend Simon was flying in late that night from England to come to the show with me. His emails said, cryptically, “how do you feel about camping out?” So I fortified myself with a long nap from about 6pm until he arrived at 11pm. We’ve seen many Pearl Jam shows together, in the most random places… State College 2003, Philly 2009, Seattle 2002, and I think he’s good luck, because when I’m sharing tickets with him, they seem to turn out to be the best seats, shows, or both. We talked until midnight and then he said, “Um, want to go to the venue just to see what’s going on?”
A half-hour later we were at the dark, deserted Globe, but getting closer to the 10 Club entrance, we could hear some voices and music. Six people in line. No surprise, but I knew then and there we weren’t going anywhere. It would be the last show of the tour for us both, we were rested and ready. We took numbers seven and eight, I unfolded my tourist map of Stockholm to sit on, and we sat and snoozed right there on the pavement, talking with the growing line of fans who came through the night. I won’t lie and say it was fun, but it wasn’t too bad. After a break at 6am for a shower and breakfast, on this perfect 70″ Saturday, I honestly enjoyed “Globe City” which had great ice cream, a good mall (hooray for real bathrooms) and a SkyView ride which was a glass elevator that rode on the outside to the top of the Ericsson Globe. You could see all of Stockholm from there, and as Simon pointed out, it was certainly the first time either of us had been on top of the venue we were seeing Pearl Jam in.
When they let us in we headed for Stone’s side, but we ended up right smack dab in front of where Eddie’s microphone would be, right on the rail. Here came X, a mostly different set of songs this night, and McCready rocking with the band on John Doe’s side. And in a blink, it was time for PJ itself. It turned out to be a 2hr 55minute thrill, one of those big, easy, free-flowing shows. It wasn’t too rough, though there was certainly no personal space. When you’re standing there front and center, it’s pretty hard to find fault with anything.
Fans 1-6 in line had made a giant sign, “All Those Yesterdays,” involving one letter on 18 pieces of cardboard for friends and strangers to hold along the front rail. It said “Let Stone Sing” on the other side. the band had a good chuckle about the “Stone” side, but a good-natured Ed said “You fuckers,” and suddenly Pearl Jam was playing that underrated “Yield” closer (though, fair enough, it was already on the setlist). “State of Love And Trust” came about later as Eddie momentarily asked for (and got) suggestions from the crowd — SOLAT being shouted by the massive Italian contingent. At one point, PJ brings a couple of members of the crew onstage for birthday wishes. The whole night just feels happy, that’s the word. A happy band. A happy crowd.
“All Those Yesterdays,” Stockholm, July 7, 2012
“Love, Reign O’er Me” is welcome and intense. Into the second encore, “Better Man” gets its huge sing-along, it’s “Save It For Later” tag, and then Eddie is windmilling that blonde Telecaster, Townshend-style, so hard he makes his fingers bleed through the next two songs. There’s a moment, frozen in my mind, of Eddie with his eyes closed, holding that long “miiiiine” in “Black,” with that bleeding hand wrapped around the mic stand.
Tambourines fly during “Rockin,” lights up, with members of X welcomed to the stage to join in. And when “Yellow Ledbetter” fires up, you feel the end of the show coming, still Ed’s down on the speakers on Stone’s side, holding people’s hands and looking them in the eye with a smile here, a hand over the heart there. McCready’s tearing it up, treating all to some bits of “Little Wing.” When the music stops, Ed invites a random girl from the crowd to take the bow with the band. And then they’re gone. The lights are on. It’s over.
A PJ crew member hands me a setlist with an Ed pick carefully taped to it. I’m dazed and grinning. Nearly three hours of PJ, and this amazing unexpected souvenir.
I left for home the next morning, losing my smartphone in the Stockholm cab and getting it returned to me immediately at the airport. My connecting flight in Reykyavik is oversold by one person, I volunteer to get bumped a few hours and get a free international flight out of it.
I still don’t know what inspired me to go for Europe this time around. It wasn’t cheap or easy to arrange, and I did it mostly alone, but it was easily one of the best times of my life. Five shows, each with a different flavor and set of challenges and rewards, a selection of countries and adventures, none of which I would have had if it hadn’t been for Pearl Jam.