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Pearl Jam

(31 Oct 2009: The Spectrum — Philadelphia)

This was Pearl Jam’s final night out of four at Philadelphia’s Spectrum and during the surreal evening, Pearl Jam astounded the audience with rarities and unleashed their energy in a fitting finale for the historic Spectrum. Addressing the audience, Eddie Vedder suggested that if the band got enough encouragement “We’ll play some real fucked up shit”. He need not have worried because encouragement he would get, as excitement and anticipation enveloped Pearl Jam’s fourth Philadelphia show and the crowd sensed they were in for a real treat.


Pearl Jam’s energy could hardly be contained for their final North American tour stop, but the additional atmosphere of the Halloween reverie, the fact the Phillies were facing adversaries the Yankees next door for Game 3 of the World Series and the event being the final show at the historical Spectrum, gave the evening a unique and surreal twist. Pearl Jam paid their respects to the Spectrum for its fantastic sound, its rich musical legacy, and its glorious sports moments, as home to the Flyers and the 76ers, by sharing the spotlight with it throughout the evening. Mournfully, Vedder asked “If the Romans kept their Coliseum, why can’t we keep ours?”


Pearl Jam has a loyal and rabid fanbase, following the band around for show after show comparing each and every little detail. Combined with the fervent Phillies fans, whose pent up team spirit seemed verging on explosion, the audience reciprocated every ounce of energy from the band. The screaming (and testosterone) increased at the appearance of a decked out ring-card girl carrying the score from the rivalry next door, at least while the home team was in the lead, adding to the circus mood.


In recognition of the venue’s legacy, the band took stage to the “Rocky” theme, following a video montage of legendary Spectrum moments, as Vedder proclaimed “This is it!” In a later heartfelt moment, Vedder showed appreciation for the service of a stagehand, 89-year-old Charlie Difabio, who has worked at the venue its entire 42 years, by giving Difavio the opportunity to see the arena from the stage. Taking advantage of the setting, bassist Jeff Ament, dressed up in a Wilt Chamberlain 76ers jersey, sang “Sweet Lew” about his feeling let down after meeting Kareem Abdul Jabaar. Vedder meanwhile dribbled a basketball over on the side then tossed it into the outstretched arms of the audience. This was just one of the rare songs Pearl Jam played, the others equally strange and unexpected.


While a ukulele in hand may not be an exceptional sight, Vedder seemed outlandish strapping on an accordion bathed in the green light. The appropriately odd, Sprechstimme “Bugs” resounded from this contraption, but failed to succeed initially leading Vedder to express his desire to smash it. But with the help of positive reinforcement from the audience, the accordion survived and the second attempt at “Bugs” went off without a hitch.


Cryptically talking about a message Backspacer artist, Tom Tomorrow, received from a mysterious donor with a request that a song be played in exchange for a large donation, Vedder advised the donor to get out his check. The presence of the music stand at his side became more transparent when the band went into “Out of my Mind”, a song not heard live since ’94 and one I that never heard at all, when Vedder began tossing lyric sheets out into the crowd. Another request came from a lady in a bright red Phillies jersey near the front and was fulfilled, prompting the crowd to cheer loudly for “Rats” from the VS album. Someone in the crowd even hurled two fake rats tied together up to the stage, which Vedder dangled from his mic stand, and things became progressively more absurd as a giant rat ran across the stage.


Pearl Jam even got into the Halloween spirit at the beginning of the third set. Returning to the stage in Devo costumes, garbed in yellow jumpsuits and red pyramid hats, they performed “Whip It”. Whip in hand, Vedder and the boys played the song with a blithe spirit for the amusement (and digital cameras) of the audience. 


In so much as routine Pearl Jam songs go, third song “Corduroy” got everyone clapping along, while on “Elderly Woman” (and just about every other song) the audience sang. Before “Better Man” specifically, Vedder explained that he just wanted to hear it again in the venue, and let the audience sing the lead for a while. The song had the standard bit of “Save it For Later” tagged onto the end while earlier “Its Ok” and “Another Brick in the Wall” were pinned onto the end of “Daughter”. The band played favorite live standards “Do the Evolution”, “Porch” and “Black” mixed in with the new “Speed of Sound”, “Amongst the Waves” and “Just Breathe”, the latter two featuring the assistance of a string quartet.


Neil Young’s classic “Rockin’ in the Free World” appeared to be the final hurrah for the Spectrum, when massive amounts of confetti started shooting into the air and balloons rained down from the ceiling, but in a unexpected encore, with the house lights on and people already leaving, the band came back to the stage, stomping balloons to clear the way and rock out with classic closer “Yellow Ledbetter” and finishing with Mike McCready soloing a fiery rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.


The night earned its place in history for Pearl Jam devotees, as it will stand out as one of the most memorable shows for the special songs as well as Pearl Jam’s energy that spiritually brought down the house. Just as the Spectrum will forever remain ingrained as a cultural landmark, Pearl Jam’s performance reinforced their rightful place in the rock pantheon. Vedder asserted that it was their night when he debunked the rumors of special guest appearances, like Young or Springsteen (or Dave Matthews or Bon Jovi). Jokingly asking “Who the fuck starts those rumors?” Vedder reassured the audience that “We don’t need those guys because you’ve got me”.


Full disclaimer: This was reviewer’s 16th Pearl Jam show and he has been a 10 Club Member since 1998.


Setlist:
First Set: Why Go, Last Exit, Corduroy, Severed Hand, The Fixer, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town, You Are, Amongst the Waves, Evenflow, Pilate, Unthought Known, Daughter/It’s Okay/Another Brick in the Wall, Part II, Johnny Guitar, Rats, I’m Open, I Got Id, Glorified G, Out of My Mind, Black, Insignificance, Life Wasted


Second Set: Just Breathe, The End, Low Light, Speed of Sound, Jeremy, Inside Job, Bugs, Spin the Black Circle, Porch


Third Set: Whip It, Got Some, Crown of Thorns, Satan’s Bed, Sweet Lew, Do the Evolution, Better Man, Smile, Alive, Rockin in the Free World, Yellow Ledbetter/The Star-Spangled Banner

Sachyn Mital can be reached at mital () popmatters dot com. He is based in New York where he serves as a Contributing Editor and an events photographer for PopMatters. If you prefer to communicate in 140 characters or less, you can try @sachynsuch. Visit his site sachynmital.com while you're at it.


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