Friday, May 05, 2006

The Best Thursday Ever (Pearl Jam on Letterman webcast)

Yesterday, the Mrs. and I lined up outside of the Roseland Ballroom on West 52nd Street around 3:00 PM.

We were among a select group of 350 fans of Pearl Jam who were about to be treated to a special "aftershow" "mini-concert" that was to take place after the taping of The Late Show with David Letterman.

We were #57 and #58 in line, and despite some tense moments when a terrible woman from the August Wilson Theatre where the play Jersey Boys is showing came out and made a huge stink that the line was blocking the doors to their box office. We weren't, but she was acting as if the terrible rock 'n' roll hoodlums were roughing up her patrons as they tried to enter the theatre. Whatever.

Shortly before 4:30, we entered Roseland to get our tickets to the show. For the next hour, we hung out on the floor of the ballroom, chilling and talking to other fans.

Around 5:30, they led us in a procession to the Ed Sullivan Theatre where we were queued behind some VIPs that didn't have to wait in line like the rest of us. Someone on the message boards said that members from the band The Strokes were present.

When they let us in, we took our seats, and depending which way you turned, your seats may have been better than people who were ahead of you in line.Thanks to the Mrs.' quick thinking, we ended up fourth row center. Amazing! The studio is much smaller than it appears on tv and it was very intimate.

They started on time and treated us to an incredible performance that ran from around 6:00 to 6:45.

The band started with their hit single "Worldwide Suicide," then went right into "Comatose." They sounded great and right on mark. You could tell that this was an audience of die-hard fans, as the crowd sang along word for word on these and subsequent songs, all from the new album that has been out less than a week.

Although, one of the most ridiculous things I had ever seen was the woman in front of us who had all the lyrics printed out and was illuminating them with a small flashlight so she could sing along, presumably. Never seen that before, nor do I expect to ever see it again.

After "Comatose," Ed spoke to the crowd: "All right, I don't know what you all had to do to get in here tonight but...all we had to do was dedicate our lives to music, stay in a band for sixteen years, put out a bunch of records and practice for the last few months. But I somehow feel that whatever you did that it was maybe a little bit harder than that." He then thanked Letterman, and the crew, for allowing the band to "communicate some feelings" and play.

The next song, Ed said "about psychotropics," was "Severed Hand," which was the second song they performed on SNL, and one of my favorites from the new album.

As the band reset for the next song, Kenneth "Boom" Gaspar made an appearance at the keyboard at the back of the stage. Boom has quite a following, and is often referred to as the sixth band member. His work on "Crazy Mary" in concert is phenomenal. I like him more since he is a musician who resides in Hawai'i, and he exchanged a few "shaka" signs with the crowd after he was introduced after the next song "Marker in the Sand."

Next came "Gone." Then, "Unemployable," the B-side from the "World Wide Suicide" single, and another great one. No one was told how many songs the band was going to do and so far everything had been from the new album, so I started wondering if this was going to be it, all new stuff, and that last would come "Life Wasted." I was wrong, they didn't play that one, which makes sense because they had played it on the Late Show before the webcast.

After "Unemployable," Ed spoke to the crowd again about how, when "Unemployable" leaked to the web before the album came out, many people were misquoting the lyrics as "scared of life" as opposed to the correct lyrics "scared alive." He ruminated on that a bit and used it to segue into the next song ("this song could just about be titled the same thing, 'scared alive'."

They then broke into "Present Tense" from the album No Code. The woman in front of me started scrambling through another sheaf of papers, looking for the lyrics for this one, which would have come in handy. Ed sang the first stanza and then the first line of the chorus: "You can spend your time alone, re-digesting past regrets, oh...". Then he held the mike stand out to the crowd and beckoned, "Wanna take it?"

I still get chills thinking about this.

And we complied, en masse, with the rest of the chorus:

Or you can come to terms and realize
You're the only one who can't forgive yourself, oh
Makes much more sense, to live in the present tense

They brought the house down. And then they cranked right into "Do the Evolution" from Yield, which is one of the band's favorite songs to do in concert. The audience harmonized beautifully on the hallelujah chorus.

Could they be doing anything else? Yes. And they did.

In the next break, Ed referred to the fact that the crew could back them up on the fact that "this is the warmest this building has been since the early Sixties," a nice illusion to the historic setting, standing on the stage where the Beatles took America by storm.

Now before the show, someone in the audience passed out copies of the following page to people in the audience:

This of course refers to the song "Leash" from Vs. The band last played "Leash" in April 1994 at the old Boston Garden. It had been played 85 times at that point, and has achieved a cult status in that it is the song that is requested most and not played. When I saw them at Madison Square Garden, Ed read all the signs people were holding up and one big one taunted "Play Leash You Pussies!" He announced last Fall at a show at the Borgata in Atlantic City that they were going to play "Leash," and then when the crowd went wild, announced he was just joking. On the bootleg of the show, audience cries of "Leash" can be heard for the remainder of the set.

It's the Pearl Jam fan's equivalent of "FREEBIRD!" except they don't play it.

Some audience members were ambivalent about holding up the signs, thinking it would piss the band off. But fortunately, they have a sense of humor, and Ed at this point in the show held up one of Letterman's cue cards. He said "I didn't write this but somebody else made me show this to you. I'm just doing my job. This was the cue card they made up for Dave to announce it himself." The card read "LEASH will not be played tonight." The crowd booed good-naturedly.

Then, as the crowd chanted "Leash! Leash! Leash!" the band seemed to have a discussion and there were some of us who thought, "Could they possibly do it?" Ed answered: "Uh, we had one more song but then they said we had some extra time, so..." the crowd went wild.

But it wasn't "Leash," it was "Why Go" from their debut album Ten. Awesome.

One more song. Also from Ten, one of the most-played (#5 on the all-time list), came a blistering set-ending finale of "Porch." Ed had the crowd joining in at the end, and even threw in a few referential (and reverential) choruses of "I wanna hold your hand!" As the song wound down, he approached the audience and I couldn't believe how close he was to us! As the song ended, he thanked everyone and flashed the peace sign.

Despite chants of "One More Song!" that was it and what a show it was.

Far and away one of the high points of my concert-going career. It is unlikely we will ever get the chance to see the band in a setting like that again. They're playing Irving Plaza tonight, another small venue. I'm sure it will kick ass, but I doubt it will match the intimacy of such a small show that we were treated to.

Thanks Pearl Jam!

Added 4/04/08: Clip of "Present Tense" You can see us in the extended crowd shot during the first chorus...I am standing next to the right of the guy in the orange shirt, row 4. The Mrs. is next to me.


Benjie516 said...

Wow. Need I reiterate that I am not a PJ fan. But I am exhilirated for you.

I can't think of a corollary in my own "concert-going career".


Mellomouth said...

The Mrs here.
Ok maybe I shouldn't say this here for fear of a BIG Pearl Jam fan getting pissed off, but orignally I thought maybe Bill should have brought someone else. I like Pearl Jam a lot, but I am not obesessed like the Fan Club fans that were there. More a Stones, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Fishbone FANATIC. But, now, I'm sold. It was awesome.
I've sat in the 3rd row before at concerts. Twice. Both at Madison Square Garden (U2 and INXS AND that was 21 and 18 years ago respectively) but it doesn't compare. At such an intimate venue you can't help but fall in love. Ok, well, I might not have been a Pearl Jam fanatic before but definetely been in love with Eddie Vedder since seeing him in "Singles."
Now I am really looking forward to the concert in June.

Benjie516 said...

Must be nice when parents get to the age that they can go see a concert TOGETHER and leave the kids safely at home.

THe last concert I took Steph to was Steely Dan in Maui and she was preggers at the time. Since then I've had to go stag to David Byrne and Bad Religion.

heather said...

This sounds AMAZING, thanks for the description. I saw PJ at a secret show in Santa Cruz, CA in 1997 when they were here to open for the Stones. THAT was the high point of my musical concertgoer career as well. I am looking for a good quality boot of the show, but I must admit I don't know where to find one. Any ideas?

heather said...

And that video with the JUBILANT crowd singalong is one of the best concert vids I've seen. Thanks.

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