Months before Pearl Jam ever rolled into Moline, Illinois, a small town on the Mississippi river bordering Iowa, there was a buzz that this show would be something special, the cool, unpredictable kind of special that only comes out in the most random of places. In Moline’s small iWireless Center last night (October 17), after the very apt “Small Town” opener, the buzz turned into reality when the band launched into “Sometimes,” without a word.
With the opening notes of “Hail Hail” next, a happy question mark lit up in some folks’ minds. By the time Matt Cameron was thundering out the polyrhythmic intro to “Who You Are,” die-hard fans throughout the venue were having their minds blown, cheering. It was happening. Pearl Jam was playing all of “No Code” in order. Something they’ve never done before. And it didn’t happen in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or any other big obvious city. Here we were in a little arena on a chilly Friday night, in Moline, Il. being treated to a whole album.
“Smile” swung around, with Stone manning Jeff’s big pink bass, and Jeff on guitar. After “Off He Goes,” Ed noted “end of side one” before the band crunched into “Habit.” A chant of “Stone, Stone, Stone” erupted well before Mr. Gossard took the mic for “Mankind,” so it was fully clear to many by then that “No Code” in full was afoot. Even a false start on that tune, with Mike having to switch to a differently tuned guitar, didn’t slow the momentum. The dulcet “Around The Bend,” carried “No Code” to a close, with Eddie Vedder explaining that it had been written as lullaby for then-drummer Jack Irons’ toddler son Zach but that it also works in a darker way as a song a serial killer could sing to a victim.
Soon, Ed is telling the crowd how grateful he is that they were open to hearing a whole album, noting they’ve only done it once before. If you’re curious, the show he was referring to was March 13, 1992 in Munich, Germany, when PJ played “Ten” in order. Those with an eye for PJ stats may also remember all of the songs on the self-titled album (the Avocado) were played in Torino, Italy in 2006, just not in order.
After “No Code,” it felt like the rest of the show was a bonus, and quite a bonus it was. The energy was high as “Given To Fly,” “Interstellar Overdrive / Corduroy,” “Mind Your Manners” and “Brain of J” (with Ed singing a bit of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” a cappella as an intro) whizzed by. After “Even Flow,” he reached out to the front rows collecting signs with song requests on them, inspiring them to play “Gone.” The feeling overall is that they’re tweaking the setlist as they go.
Mike, Stone, Jeff and Matt got into a deep, driving groove for the jam in “Porch” and Eddie went jogging, hopping off the stage, running down the side of the floor and then stopping in the aisle between GA and the seated floor sections in the geographic center of the arena to belt out the last bit of the song. And that was just the main set.
At the top of the first encore, Eddie came out alone, announcing he’s written a new song “finished right before we walked out here.” After a tentative first try at the tune (titled “Moline” on the setlist), he strummed his acoustic guitar, explaining the song’s premise. “It’s a similar song to ‘Better Man,’ he says, “where this woman is in a relationship with a complete and utter asshole prick abuser misogynist mutherf*cker. But she leaves, unlike the one in ‘Better Man, this one leaves. And then she’s finding a place to escape to, to get away to and start all over.” And then he powered into the pensive ballad.
“Bee Girl” is next, and after “Imagine,” there’s a roar as Stone and Mike’s guitars ring into “In Hiding.” By the time they wind through “Why Go,” a few songs later to close the encore, “why go home?” is exactly what I am thinking. It seems like the night could and should go on forever. As it is, they’ve got four more in them, Mike’s dextrous guitar acrobatics on Van Halen’s “Eruption,” a joyous “Alive,” and then lights up for ‘Fuckin’ Up” and “Yellow Ledbetter,” right up to the three hour mark.
Thirty-five songs (36 if you count “Interstellar” separate from “Corduroy,”). A full album played in its entirety for the first time. A new song. Three hours of music. All in the little city of Moline, on a random Friday in October.