Seattle's tour de force Pearl Jam set off the bunker busters last night at New York's famed Madison Square Garden, proving they are the world's best, currently touring rock and roll ensemble. Show was a sell out at 19,000. Everyone was thoroughly satisfied, except maybe the large-armed Evenbro in Section 116 who pouted and left after spilling $100 of beer all over his Jersey Shore costume.
The Garden is family owned and, like many other east coast icons, is revered despite not being entirely clean. Thanks to skilled American craftspeople, the Garden has undergone a slow but complete renovation in the past 10 years, adding bunker suites, socio-economic dividers, and rafter seating. At least $1,000,000 of concrete, steel, glass, uniforms and radios have been devoted solely to dissuading seat-hoppers from diluting the value of the seats that aren't theirs. Our seats were Mike-side first row. Other than the Evenbro beer sprinkler, our seat neighbors were civilized and hailed from Los Angeles, Maine, Syracuse, and Westchester County.
No opening act. Pearl Jam took the stage with the house lights up 65 minutes after showtime with union bosses checking their watches. Pearl Jam remains Boom Gaspar on keys, Jeff Ament on bass, Stone Gossard on rhythm guitar, Mike McCready on lead guitar and Eddie Vedder as choir director. Mr. Vedder still does his Mookie Blaylock moves, with his limbo and spread eagle mixed in with homilies and sincere gratitude. Despite Mr. Anastasio being in attendance, no Phish songs were played.
Go: "Please don't go out on me..." The PJ's have pulled out their discographies and are eyeing the Vs track list. Mr. Vedder does the limbo.
Mind Your Manners: "Self-realized and metaphysically redeemed...." This is the hopeless, motherless, starched hanky soundtrack for the walk down Seventh Avenue to The Garden.
Corduroy: "I don't want to take what you can give..." Pearl Jam speeds up the tempo on this Garment District shoutout.
Hail, Hail: "All hail the lucky ones, I refer to those in love..." Muddled. Maybe too many guitars?
Given To Fly: "Arms wide open with the sea as his floor..." Mr. Vedder dons his wingsuit and climbs the drum riser. He addresses the crowd acknowledging Muhammad Ali and thanking Billy Joel for taking the night off.
Low Light: "Can I be here all alone?" Soulful.
Release: "I'll ride the wave where it takes me..." Baritony. Mr. Vedder dedicates the song to a friend.
Even Flow: "Even flow thoughts arise like butterflies..." Mike has this one memorized. He can play his part behind his back, or from the front row. Mr. Vedder plays along, dropping his corded microphone into the crowd for the fans to use. A technician reels the cord back in, marlin style.
I Got ID: "An empty shell seems so easy to crack..." Beatlesesque. Gives these two musical buddies a chance for some call and response.
In Hiding: "I shut and locked the front door, no way in or out..." Eddie Vedder might be the most visible member of Pearl Jam, but even Mike McCready and his cute backpack and Jeff Ament and his skateboard get noticed on the street. Mr. Vedder reminisces about Pearl Jam's first New York City show in July 1991. He calls Madison Square Garden octagonic and then tectonic. Indeed, it appears Madison Square Garden is round.
Rats: "Ben, the two of us need look no more..." Fast plaid scat rap.
Down: "Cry me a river dried up and damned..." Catchy and poppy for a song that presumably is depressing.
Wishlist: "I wish I was as fortunate, as fortunate as me..." Mr. Vedder dedicates the song to American historian and author Howard Zinn. Mr. Vedder muses about running for president, like he does when Pearl Jam covers Pink Floyd's Mother. Mr. Vedder makes an anatomical joke about Mr. Trump who apparently did not make his hometown show.
Jeremy: "Jeremy spoke in class today...." Freight train style.
Do The Evolution: "It's evolution, baby..." Stone carries this tribute to Darwin, baby.
Why Go: "What you've taught me put me here..." Somebody has diagnosed the New Jersey Evenbro in Section 116 who has now spilled all of his friends' beers on himself and his penumbra.
Lukin: "I find my wife, I call the cops..." Yelling in synch, Mudhoney style.
Rearviewmirror: "Saw things so much clearer, once you..." During the group clap, the MSG mop lady arrives to mop up after the shameless Evenbro beer fountain. He wins the wet t-shirt contest and leaves to a standing ovation.
The End: "Slide up next to me..." Jeff on stand-up bass. Mr. Vedder touts medical research.
Future Days: "I can see our future days of you and me..." Collective hopefulness. Nobody cries at a Phish concert.
Off He Goes: "Nothing's changed but the surrounding bullshit..." Pearl Jam has kept it real for 25 years.
Footsteps: "Don't even think about reaching me. I won't be home..." Western tinged, like the Rockford Files theme song.
Chloe Dancer/Crown Of Thorns: "This is my kind of love..." Prettiest girl in Box #6 gets her call. Beautiful. Can a grunge band have a beautiful song? Pearl Jam's If I Could.
Unthought Known: "Up with love!" Dorkiest boy in Box #6 gets his call. Thoughtful. Can a grunge band have a thoughtful song?
Mr. Vedder accepts a request, but hedges, saying he does not want to screw up in The Garden. Mr. Vedder admits he is not Lou Rawls.
Takin’ It To The Streets: "I ain't blind and I don't like what I think I see..." Lots of brothers in the audience, but not a doobie in sight.
Whipping: "Don't need a helmet, got a hard hard head..." Fast paced.
Better Man/Save It For Later: "She dreams in color, she dreams in red..." Mr. Vedder climbs the drum riser and does a spread eagle. He may need the number of Mick Jagger's physical therapist.
Porch: "Hear my name. Take a good look. This could be the day..." Mike justifies the guitar lessons his parents got for him at Roosevelt High.
Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town: "Hearts and thoughts they fade, fade away..." Mr. Vedder changes by not changing, and everyone accepts that.
Lightning Bolt: "She's rock and roll. She's a lightning bolt..." Pearl Jam continues to use the Grateful Dead/Kiss/SS logo, lighting it up and everything.
Black: "The pictures have all been washed in black, tattooed everything." Elaborate, moving and intricate. Pearl Jam's Harry Hood.
Alive: "Son, she said, have I got a little story for you..." Mike is wireless and peripatetic, taking laps and running the stairs. This version was almost as good as the Israeli school kids' version.
Rockin' In The Free World: "We've got a thousand points of light for the homeless man..." Young Ray Cameron joins the lights-up fracas on guitar.
Indifference: "How much difference does it make..." Being sung by hundreds of middle aged men leaving the venue, like your dad leaving church on Christmas.
Pearl Jam remains a world party: combining talent, sincerity, verve and perseverance all wrapped in obvious true friendships among the band members. With encouragement, Pearl Jam might even be persuaded to play its home state every now and then. See you tonight at The Garden!