My friends, even my sister, are hanging out around Wrigley Field right now. They started showing up yesterday. The merchandise trucks showed up first. The lines for posters, T-shirts, and stickers will be a solid 3 hours for their 5 day existence. The line for the front row also likely started yesterday. Sleeping outside a baseball stadium for two nights is the current cost of front row, dead center for a Pearl Jam show. The day leading up to a show can be long, exhausting, crowded and stressful, but it’s always worth it. The longer the day, the more interesting the circumstances leading up to the show, the sweeter that first note is. For me, and for a lot of people I know, there is nothing quite like a Pearl Jam concert. Whether it’s Aye Davanita or Philip Glass, once the pre-show music starts there is a flutter in your heart and a chill on your skin. Ed’s deep voice greats you with “Good Evening” and the band starts with one of a handful of “standard openers.”
My prediction for the 8/18/2018 Wrigley Night 1 Show: Long Road. (I was wrong, they opened with Wash)
Speaking of long roads, my first Pearl Jam concert was June, 1998, Minneapolis, Target Center. I was just 19. I don’t remember any lines for anything other than beer. A lot has changed in the 20 years since I first saw Pearl Jam. You could also say that absolutely nothing has changed. That first trip to see Pearl Jam, I had no idea that seeing this band, going to these shows, would become a lifelong hobby. I was just a kid going to see his favorite rock band. I was really excited. It was a crew of 4 of us going, all around 19 or 20 years old, and all pretty inexperienced in travel and concert-going. We had a plan though (although not an hour-by-hour itinerary like the Made in America Fest trip) and the first part of the plan was that my friend, and I don’t want to name names so I will just call him Mason Roli, was supposed to pick us up at my place around 8 am. It’s a 4 hour drive and I guess we wanted to get there as early as possible.
When 8 am came around, Roli didn’t show. I can’t remember if there were cell phones then or just pagers, but I remember we called all around looking for Roli. We tracked down who he was with the previous night, what he had done, where he was last seen, but we couldn’t find him. Time went by- 9 am, 10 am…we ended up having a different kid in the group borrow his mom’s minivan, and we left town around noon, without Roli.
So with the minivan secured we headed up I-35 toward Minneapolis and things were finally going smoothly… for about 3 hours. Then we hit “big city” traffic and our backup driver basically had a panic attack on the interstate. He freaked out and slowed the vehicle way down to like 40, maybe 45. As you can imagine, that didn’t make anything easier as upset motorists were surrounding us. Like I said, we were super inexperienced. The driver was the oldest and probably the toughest guy out of the bunch, but he was having a full-blown panic attack heading into downtown Minneapolis because of the 3 pm traffic.
As soon as we checked into the hotel, we tried to reach Roli again. This time he called back the hotel phone (which makes me think it was all happening via pagers) and he was pissed! He had “overslept” (more on that soon) and when he woke up and came to my house, my mom told him we had already left without him. He proceeded to drive at speeds over 100 mph, which was confirmed by the speeding ticket he received on the way there, all the way to Minneapolis and had ,in fact, beaten us there. I have to assume he passed us during the panic attack. However, driving a 90’s Pontiac at those speeds for that amount of time is not recommended, and upon reaching downtown Minneapolis, Roli’s transmission blew, so he had to drive in reverse for 8 blocks (allegedly) through downtown to get to a Goodyear service center. In Roli’s mind, it was my fault that the transmission blew because I made the decision to leave Des Moines without him. He was really mad. I told him we’d be right over to the service center to get him. Oddly enough, the service center was right across the street from the hotel. When we met up with him, we got the details of the drive in reverse through downtown and the speeding ticket in northern Iowa, but then we asked the obvious question: where the f*** had he been?
Turns out Roli had started prepartying for the concert the night before. After a long night of partying he went to Hardee’s on 9th street and planned to come pass out at my house, to be ready for the morning commute. He never made it to my house from that Hardee’s about 10 blocks away. Apparently he pulled off to the side after getting his food, had Pearl Jam blaring in the car and got out to take a piss on a tree. Sometime that next morning a guy mowing that lot woke Roli up… “hey man, you gotta wake up, I gotta mow right there”… the way I remember it, Roli’s pants were still unzipped, the car door was still open, the food was untouched, and Pearl Jam was still blaring.
Despite all of the turbulence getting there, the show went off without a hitch. It was amazing. Pearl Jam was on fire! For Roli and I , this was the start of an incredible journey. An introduction into an amazing community. The start of the long road.
It was hard to believe that anything could ever top that first show and all of its excitement, but I’d like to believe every single show (30) since has been better than the previous.
I looked back on the setlist for that first night. They opened with Sometimes and they ended the 24 song show with Porch. That show basically equates to the first of 3 sets they’ll play tonight at Wrigley. I assume they’ll play 3.5 hours and over 35 songs. For the people in attendance it will be a night most of them will never forget.
The evolution of my life allows me to be really happy for them tonight- really excited for them. I am always bummed to miss out, but I know that I’ve been so lucky to have seen Pearl Jam 30 times, including 3 at Wrigley. I am totally cool with adulting this year- getting a new bathroom instead of going to 5 Pearl Jam shows.
And I want to tell you a bunch of really great stories about some of the 30 shows- the people, the places, and the things that made each show so special to me. I want to tell you about shows that I drank at vs shows I’ve seen sober. For now I will tell you this, because I love stats: I started seeing shows sober in 2009. I didn’t get sober for good until 2011, because it’s fucking hard to get sober for good, but I have seen 23 of my 30 shows since seeing the first one sober. In 10 years of trying to get to shows while living a life of drinking, I saw 7 shows. In 10 years of seeing shows sober, I saw 3 times as many and I remembered all but 50% of one of those shows (relapse).
Sure, I could continue to tell you ridiculous tales like show #1, with other terrible aliases like Bean Banana, Phillip Tonys, Balakay King, Dan Marino and The Soup-Man…but more than any of that I want to tell you about how this band, its music, and its fans, have been deeply important to me at all points in my life. How my appreciation for what it means to me has grown over the years. How music, in particular the music of Pearl Jam, has guided me through good times and bad; has given me hope during the darkest times.
And maybe I’ll tell you why I have EVEN FLOW tattooed on my knuckles.
Until then, Be Sound.
And I wished for so long cannot stay.
All the precious moments cannot stay.
It’s not like wings have fallen cannot stay.
But still something’s missing cannot say.Holding hands of daughters and sons,
And their faiths are falling down.
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today.Will I walk the long road? Cannot stay
There’s no need to say goodbyeAll the friends and family.
All the memories going round.
I have wished for so long.
How I wish for you today.And the wind keeps rollin’,
And the sky keeps turning gray.
And the sun is set
The sun will rise another day.I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today.
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today.Will I walk the long road?
We all walk the long road– Long Road (Eddie Vedder)