Madison Square Garden
New York City, NY
July 9, 2003
in the Free World
is the best band in the world!" Ben Harper said onstage during
a guest appearance at the first night of a two-night Pearl Jam
stand at Madison Square Garden. That statement is debatable, but
as far as the 90s generation goes, it would be hard to argue.
Having been at the second night, it is undeniable that when you're
in the same building with the band and part of the amazingly intense,
floor-shaking energy of the live show, it is an experience not
When the tour itinerary was first released, these
two shows at MSG were the final ones of the tour. As a result,
there was a massive demand for fan club tickets as diehards converged
on New York City to party. (Lead singer Ed Vedder mentioned at
one point during the last night that fan club numbers were 7000
the first night, and 8000 the second night.) More tour dates were
added, so this was not the tour-ending celebration which was anticipated.
Still, fan turnout meant that 40% of the audience on the second
night was hardcore devotees
The energy of the crowd made the floor and the
stage shake. This phenomena scared the band to death at first,
but MSG staff told Vedder during the first night that it was safe,
so Ed encouraged it the second night. Ed was told that only The
Grateful Dead, Iron Maiden, and Bruce Springsteen had caused the
stage to shake like that in the past, so that's the company Pearl
Jam is in now.
so many hardcore fans in attendance, it was somewhat foreseeable
that the first night's set would be rather peculiar and idiosyncratic.
Eight songs were played from last year's Riot Act album,
as well as rarities such as Mother Love Bone's "Crown of
Thorns," and "Breath" from the soundtrack to the
1992 Cameron Crowe-directed movie Singles.
Fortunately, the set list for the second night
at MSG was much more balanced and friendlier to general audiences.
No guests on this night, but a better show to attend for a first-timer
at a Pearl Jam concert, with the inclusion of old familiar favorites
like "Alive" "Corduroy", and "Elderly
Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town." No more than four
songs were played from any one album, which is ideal for a good
overview of a 13-year career.
That's not to suggest that that there weren't
any surprises. The band shocked much of the crowd as soon as it
hit the stage by opening with a cover of "Crazy Mary"
by Victoria Williams. This move wasn't unprecedented, but unanticipated.
Considering the high visibility of homeless people in NYC, this
tale of the life and death of a mentally-disturbed, alcoholic
was fitting in retrospect. Instrumentally, the song has become
a particular favorite, with a feature organ solo from the new
keyboardist Boom. The interplay between the guitars and keyboards
is great to hear. It is an element the band lacked to its detriment
on past tours.
surprise happened midway through the main set when Vedder placed
a cell phone call to Johnny Ramone of the legendary New York punk
band the Ramones. Unfortunately, Johnny was not home to get the
call, so he didn't hear the cover of the Ramones' "I Believe
in Miracles" the band was about to play. The punk influence
was especially evident this show, with a cover of "Know Your
Rights" by the Clash in the 2nd encore as well. It was also
great to see some older songs like "Deep" from Ten and
"Glorified G" from Vs which were brought back this year
after long absences. Pearl Jam believes in the idea of leaving
no songs behind (Well, very few anyway.)
a vantage point three rows from the very top, it was difficult
to distinguish individual parts. Fortunately, official recordings
of all shows from the tour can be ordered from www.pearljambootlegs.com
in order to get a better sense of those details. However, the
house mix seemed to get clearer as the concert progressed.
Here are some impressions one can get only from
being there. It was entertaining just to watch lead guitarist
Mike McCready go in circles and run all over the place as the
band launched into more upbeat numbers like "Save You"
"Hail Hail" and "Whipping." McCready's frantic
movement is even more noticeable when compared to the basically
sedentary state of all the others. Yet, when McCready had a showcase
solo, like in a great long version of "Even Flow," he
became surprisingly still. Overall, he seemed to move less than
what has been reported from other shows.
It was a night for serious concentration and musicianship.
No political talk at this show. Vedder was in fine form and had
very few of the lyrical flubs that are usually all too common
for him. He considered climbing the lighting rig during "Porch"
like in times past, but thought better of it. Those days are over
now. Some fans don't seem to understand, though. Ed made a big
fuss over a rude request sign by a fan trying to insult the band
into playing "Leash." However, lyrics like "Drop
the leash, we are young. Get out of my f-ing face" don't
resonate with the band members when they're pushing 40. Some things
are best left in the past. Like the song says, "It makes
much more sense to live in the present tense."
There's a great sense of communal joy being with
a large crowd of people that knows all the words and knows the
cues in the songs-Arms spread during "Given to Fly";
mock prayer during the "Hallelujah" section of "Do
the Evolution"; Raise your fist during the "Hey, Hey"
chant during "Porch" Chant "YEAH,YEAH" on
the snare drum beat of the outro to "Alive" etc. It's
great to be part of an audience that gets the point.
Speaking of "Alive," this is a song
that should be an everyday fixture. It's the band's signature
song. The Stones play "Satisfaction" every night. The
Who play "My Generation" every night. Led Zeppelin played
"Stairway to Heaven" every night. Pearl Jam should play
"Alive" every night. It's that big. It is incomprehensible
that it is played only half the time.
"Better Man" is another song like that.
Unfortunately, it was not repeated from night one. There are just
some fundamental songs that should never be messed with. After
all, it's an honor and privilege to write a song that gets that
big and touches millions of people. Show those songs off with
pride as permanent fixtures.
allegedly having to pay a $14,000 fine for going over curfew and
playing nearly to midnight the first night, the band started and
finished earlier this time, but the set was the same number of
songs. In Vedder's words, the challenge was to make the second
night as intense as the first one. As the band bowed and waved
goodbye after 30 songs and nearly three hours, it could be stated
firmly that Pearl Jam rose to the occasion. If the band isn't
the best in the world, it's certainly close. Hopefully they'll
be a contender for that title for many years to come.
Crazy Mary (Victoria Williams cover)
2. Save You
3. Hail Hail
6. Red Mosquito
8. I Am Mine
9. Get Right
10. Given To Fly
12. Even Flow
13. I Believe In Miracles (Ramones cover)
17. Present Tense
19. State Of Love And Trust
21. You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Ed Vedder
solo acoustic, Beatles cover),
22. Elderly Woman
23. Glorified G
24. All Or None
25. Do The Evolution
28. Know Your Rights (Clash cover)
29. Rockin' In The Free World (Neil Young cover)
30. Yellow Ledbetter