Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man: Pearl Jam, Live in Virginia Beach, 6.17.08

This summer marks my 10-year anniversary of Pearl Jam concerts, a long, exciting, wonderful journey that has crossed eight states (and one nation’s capitol) over the course of 10 shows. Tuesday night in Virginia Beach was my 11th PJ concert, and even after all these years, something happened which I never could have imagined: Eddie Vedder threw me a tambourine.

But that’s at the end of the story. It started, as usual, with the Ten Club. Pearl Jam’s fan club is treating its member tickets a little different this year by randomly selecting people to fill Rows 1-2 and 9-10; previously the seating arrangement was based entirely on seniority, so the same people who have been in the club for nearly two decades always got the best seats in the place. Joining in ’98, my spot typically falls somewhere around the 20th row—not complaining, I assure you, but when I received my ticket Tuesday night and it put me in the dead-center of the second row … well, I was a bit shocked.

Our seats (I took my brother for his birthday) were literally right under frontman Eddie Vedder’s microphone, about 10 feet from the stage—closer than I’ve ever been, or could ever have hoped. I nabbed the photo at the top of this post from someone over at the Red Mosquito message board; if you look close, right in front of Ed, that's my bald head and arm raised high (my brother's head is just to the left, also above the crowd). My first glimpse of anything PJ-related was Vedder’s appearance during the last song of opener Kings of Leon’s set; he came out to trade verses and bash a couple tambourines. Very fun.

But the real deal started about five minutes before 9, when the band came on and drifted into “Long Road,” the same song they opened with during their last stop in Va. Beach back in 2000 (and, nicely enough, the very first song I ever heard them play in person, way back in Camden, N.J., in 1998). That show was a special and scary one for the band, as it marked their first performance following the June 2000 deaths of nine fans while PJ performed at a festival in Europe. That tragedy almost marked the end of Pearl Jam, and as Eddie would relate later, he wrote “I Am Mine” the night before that last Va. Beach show in a hotel room down the street from the venue.

After the opening strains of “Long Road,” my memory of Tuesday night’s concert comes in fits and spurts. At that close range, the music washed over and past me, as I was in complete sensory overload. I was too awestruck to even get goosebumps when some of my favorite songs were played. All 25 sort of blur into one another in my mind, swirling into a two-hour mist of holy-crap-I-cannot-believe-where-I-am goodness. Each song would register when I heard the opening notes, but then I would be back into the flow of the overall show and just lose myself in the feeling rolling off that stage. The most picture-perfect memories of the night are small things, like:

• During “Sleight of Hand,” a strong breeze picked up from the right side of the amphitheater just as Ed roared into the first chorus. He turned into the wind, raised his arms to the side, and it was almost as if he was flying, hair and shirt flapping straight out behind him.

• Several times throughout the night I made one-on-one eye contact with lead guitarist Mike McCready—I would raise my hand to him and he’d point at me and nod his head in between guitar licks. McCready and Vedder are the two dynamos in the live setting—they are constant motion (especially Mike) and I was constantly swinging my head back and forth between them like I was watching a tennis match. During “Severed Hand,” Mike played his entire solo with the guitar behind his head. He rarely stops moving the entire night.

• I couldn’t see drummer Matt Cameron well (he was blocked almost entirely by Vedder), but I swear there were a few times when I could hear his drum kit naturally, not through the speakers.

• Ed spits a lot in between lines—big, honkin’ loogies of spit. Oh, and he should stop smoking and drinking so much wine, and then maybe his voice wouldn’t start to get weary by the end of a two-hour show.

• Bassist Jeff Ament really digs down low at times, almost to the point where you think he’ll end up in the splits.

• Eddie holding the mic basically right in front of our faces from the very front edge of the stage to let us sing along to both “Jeremy” and “Alive.”

• It’s so much easier—and more fun—to act like a total crazy person when you’re that close. The band—especially Mike and Ed—do a lot to get the crowd up front involved, and definitely feed off it. My brother and I were jumping, bobbing, raising hands, pumping fists … basically all the clich├ęs Blue Man Group make such good fun of during their concerts. And you know what? It’s totally fun. That’s why I don’t remember much about the individual songs (more on that in a bit)—I was too busy having the time of my life. Mike launched literally dozens of guitar pics into the first few rows, and he also handed out his setlist after the 1 hour, 30-minute main set. Jeff launched a wristband and a pic or two, and Matt threw a bushel of drumsticks out after the show.

And then there’s Eddie and his tambourines.

The big moment of the night came during the show’s closing song, the always welcome—and almost always epic—“Rockin’ in the Free World,” originally Neil Young’s but now fully owned by Pearl Jam. As is his wont during this free-for-all, Eddie beats the living crap out of as many tambourines as his roadies can toss his way, and then throws some out to the crowd. At one point, someone threw Ed a tambourine from the wing and Ed charged across the stage like a dog chasing a Frisbee, snagging it just before it hit the ground and letting his momentum take him all the way across the stage where he leaped over an amp. I’ve never even come close to catching one, but before the show started I mentioned to my brother, “Hey, maybe I’ll catch a tambourine,” mostly in jest, never thinking such a thing possible.

As "RITFW" drove on into the first big guitar solo break, Eddie did what Eddie always does during that part: he prowls the entire stage like a wild man, and occasionally pitches around some tambourines. I was pretty sure I had made some good eye contact with Vedder throughout the night—he really couldn’t miss me, as I was right in front of his face with a big “Ramones” logo on my shirt. As he was getting ready to toss the first tambourine of the night he walked back toward the front center of the stage, looked right at me, pointed right to me with the instrument in hand so everyone around knew exactly who it was meant for, and threw it my way.

It came right to me, right in front of my face—a perfect throw—and I snatched it out of the air with one hand like a Frisbee. The whole thing happened in about 5 seconds, and I caught the tambourine before I even realized what was happening, reacting completely on instinct, and I honestly thank God for allowing me to catch it cleanly and not botch it up (if you know what my vision is like, and how hard it is for me to snag any object—football, basketball, baseball, Frisbee, whatever—then you understand my mix of elation and relief). It wasn’t until a heartbeat later, when I looked down and saw what was in my grasp, that I realized what had just happened; I held it aloft and screamed for all I was worth, my brother just about tackled me with joy, and then we went jumping mad for the rest of the song.

It’s hard to type what I’m about to type without sounding like a complete gushing fanboy, because I realize Eddie Vedder is just a guy, and I certainly don’t worship him like some sort of rock god. He drives me crazy half the time, as it is. But that being said, it gives me a flip of the stomach to know that, for one night, he could tell how much I love his music just by how into the show I was. This wasn’t a random gesture or some fluke. It was a very specific act. His throwing out tambourines is one way he thanks people that come to his shows, and the first person he thought to thank Tuesday night was me. In my head, I like to imagine he saw me at various times throughout the show and thought, "Man, that guy gets a tambourine tonight!" Though he certainly had no idea how much it would mean to me, it feels like a reward for 15 years of dedicated fandom. Two days later, it still makes me proud.

If you want to see it for yourself, here are two different angles I found on the Internet:

If you cue up this first YouTube version to about the 3:15 mark, watch the far right side of the screen. It's tough to see me, but you can definitely see Ed's point and throw. If you freeze it exactly at 3:29, you can see my blurry self holding the tambourine in my hand. I gotta tell you, this is so cool.

This next one is from; cue it up to about the 50-second mark.

And here's another YouTube angle I found Friday, at about the 3-minute mark:

As for the show itself, I’ll need to hear the official bootleg in a few weeks to make a final judgment on how good it was—you know, when I can actually comprehend all that I’m hearing. It wasn’t as big a night for b-sides as I’d hoped, nor was it as long a set as they’ve played in the past, but I can attest through visual evidence that the band members had a great time up there, and that passed on into the audience. A few highlights of this nature that I do remember:

• “Insignificance” was probably my favorite performance of the night. One of the best songs off 2000’s “Binaural,” this version was intense and tight (despite an intro foul-up by Ed).

• Eddie’s aforementioned intro to “I Am Mine” was touching and remarkable. This one looked to be an early audible, which I think was inspired by Ed’s view of a gorgeous full moon hovering just above the lawn.

• Vedder had another quality song intro later, this one for “Betterman.” He mentioned there were some Iraq veterans in the audience that night, and that no matter what the band’s political beliefs—and whether they differ from the soldiers’—he hopes the veterans know the band does everything according to what it thinks is right, and hopes the soldiers understand Pearl Jam respects and loves them. It was an uncharacteristically composed, poignant political moment from Ed. Despite my difference of beliefs with him, if he was able to relate his thoughts this way from the stage (instead of his typical rambling, incoherent, drunken, immature, talking-points babble), then I wouldn’t mind if he takes a minute out of a show to share them. Here’s hoping there’s more like this to come.

• I didn’t realize it until someone on a message board pointed it out, but there were FIVE songs from “Yield”—one of my all-time favorite albums—on the setlist. “Faithfull” and “Lowlight” are particularly rare, while warhorses “Given to Fly” and “Do the Evolution” were particularly taut and excellent.

• “All Night” from 2003’s b-sides collection “Lost Dogs” has never done much for me on CD, but really takes off in the live setting—it seems to expand, adding extra brawn and fervor. A definite highlight of the night.

• Ed’s solo effort, “Guaranteed,” was a fantastic surprise. It’s the first time this tour he’s played anything off the “Into the Wild” soundtrack, so hopefully this trend continues, as well.

• And, finally, “Evacuation” had its first airing in nearly five years. I can understand why they don’t play this song anymore, because it basically shreds Ed’s vocal cords; it seemed like he did a pretty good job of protecting them Tuesday night, and this version sounded to me like there wasn’t any rust on it at all. Tremendous surprise—and, as a bonus, it means I’ve now heard every track off “Binaural” in concert, the only PJ album for which I can make that claim.

All right, that about does it for this show, which will certainly go down as one of the most memorable experiences of my life (wow, twice in one week!). I didn’t have a camera with me, but the nice person sitting/standing next to me brought her so-cool dad to the show, and he had a camera; they’re hopefully going to send me some photos, which I’ll post later (on a side note: a few minutes after Eddie threw a tambourine to me, he threw another one to her, so her dad took a pic of us holding them up as proof).

I’m going to Verizon Center in D.C. this Sunday for PJ’s show there. Like always, I have no idea what will happen, but I’m confident it will be something memorable. With this band, you come to expect the extraordinary.

Pearl Jam
Verizon Wireless Amphitheater at Virginia Beach
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours, 10 minutes

Slow Night, So Long (Ed w/Kings of Leon)

Main Set:
Long Road
Severed Hand
All Night
I Am Mine
Small Town
Given to Fly
Green Disease
Not For You/Modern Girl (Sleater-Kinney)
Sleight of Hand
Even Flow
Do the Evolution

First Encore:
Why Go

Second Encore:
Guaranteed (Ed solo)
Rockin’ in the Free World

1 comment:

Megan Schoolie! said...

Jeff called me this weekend to let me know what happened and I got goosebumps when he told me. That's so awesome! Congrats! :)