Pearl Jam closed out their 2016 tour on Monday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago with their second of two marathon shows, a sentimental homecoming for local native and lifelong Cubs fanatic Eddie Vedder. There was no opener, only a heightened sense of finality and ceremony reverberating among the crowd, flooded in light under the famed ballpark’s epic architecture.
The electrified roar of the crowd at Wrigley, packed to its 41,268 person capacity (and then some, with rooftop views from the “cheapskate seats” across the street, as Vedder called them), entirely justified the fact that Wrigleyville and the surrounding areas had been completely covered in Pearl Jam over the previous few days. Bar signs, buses and billboards, PJ memorabilia pop-up shops and more all tuned into the tour-closing frequency of the best live band on the planet with a devotion that rivaled a Cubbies pennant run.
The group rose to the challenge, playing for more than three hours on a sustained energy that eased in from the entrancingly gorgeous Oceans and Footsteps and built to a 36-song dream setlist of rejuvenated classics, deep-cut rarities, beloved covers and a glimpse of what’s to come.
It was a performance which defied every misstep of the band’s surprisingly underwhelming Bonnaroo set from two months prior, where rain delays led to early drinking and excessive heat built tensions on the field. Not a single lyric was mangled throughout, and the band was a well-nourished beast of precision and explosive intensity on the current of a wild energy that flowed like a tide between the stage and crowd.
Lead guitarist Mike McCready was flush in the zone, peeling off sharply articulate solos and, at one point during live mandate Even Flow, coming totally unhinged as he flailed around the stage with total abandon – and the occasional handful-of-picks toss to the crowd. Wrigley also had the pleasure of seeing the often understated Stone Gossard, the rhythm guitarist who probably wrote your favorite PJ song, get behind the mic to run vocals for Don’t Gimme No Lip, warmly received by the ecstatic devoted-fan family.
The moments of distinction are too numerous to count. I thought my euphoria peaked when singing along with Vedder’s a capella snippet of Summertime Rolls by Jane’s Addiction, before curving into a Corduroy that may have been the tightest and most passionate of all the times I’ve seen it across 56 shows. The entirety of the stadium got ahead of ourselves in a deafening singalong of “Everything has changed, absolutely nothing’s changed…,” to which Ed brought us back with an intensely beautiful call and response volley between us and him. The moments which, on playback, bring tears of passion back to cloud the vision.
Then the surging Of The Earth followed, an unreleased tempo-shifting euphoria inducer track I’ve been obsessing over since it debuted in Dublin six years ago. Matt Cameron’s galloping percussive rhythms guided the band through several changes in a churning beast of a song which, if translated properly in the studio, will undoubtedly anchor any release it arrives on.
Then Ed stops a furiously fast Lukin to kick out an unruly prick who was aggressively pointing his finger in a girl’s face – picking up right where they left off for another furious 15 seconds. Wild guitar windmills during a searingly intense climax to Better Man. Vedder climbing on surprise arrival Dennis Rodman like he was a jungle gym during a surprise audible of Black, Red & Yellow, on which the former Chicago Bulls power forward guests.
Vedder arrived solo onstage for the first of two massive encores, with an endearing cover of fan-beloved track Hunters & Collectors’ Throw Your Arms Around Me giving tear ducts a workout all across Wrigley. Man of The Hour followed, batting cleanup for any remaining dry eyes in the house with a poignant sendoff dedicated to the recently departed brother of a fan in attendance, as well as the late Layne Staley, who would’ve turned 49 that day.
Lifting the mood with Last Kiss, a song about teen death by car crash, a four-song run led to the guttural, maniacal power of Sonic Reducer, giving way to a throat-shredding performance of Blood to end the first encore. Our heads were left spinning from the tectonic impact of the two tracks, with enough momentous power to end the show on their own – but everyone in the house knew better.
Moments later, the second encore began with a hypnotizing cover of Victoria Williams’ Crazy Mary, during which Vedder took a bottle – in this case an enormous wine bottle – and passed it around among the front row, emptying its contents completely.
The intoxication of the moment was literal to many, though we were getting carried away for a damn fine cause – a few of them, in fact. Eddie stopped at one point to share the fact that PJ’s Vitalogy Foundation donated $1 of every ticket sold from their August 20 & 22 Wrigley concerts to two local nonprofit organizations: YMCA-Chicago’s Urban Warriors program, as well as Intonation Music. The Foundation To Be Named Later and Cubs Charities will provide additional support to these beneficiaries.
Vedder, whose mom still lives in town, is a Cubbies acolyte through and through. A story about the beloved Ernie Banks included a hilarious impression of the legend by Eddie, before playing an earnestly loving version of Someday We’ll Go All The Way with the jerseys of Cubs heroes displayed around the stage.
Then, after two more covers (Cheap Trick’s Surrender and The Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today) and a blistering run through a track they’ve unquestionably co-opted from Neil Young, Rockin’ In The Free World, the momentum of finality was inescapable – but at least one person onstage was desperate for the moment not to end. Before an enormous marble-mouthed singalong to Yellow Ledbetter, Vedder seemed to be nearly pleading with an amused Cameron to play “two more, just two!”
Then came I’ve Got a Feelin’, a Beatles cover I treasured from a bootleg I had as a teen from their ’92 show in Den Haag in the Netherlands. I wore that cassette to nothing, my sonic serotonin during a few pivotal pubescent years. I disappeared into that song as a kid, mindblown and enchanted that a song could sound so much goddamn fun.
“25 years ago, this is the last one we played,” Vedder reminisced, recalling the band’s performance from March 28, 1992 with the Smashing Pumpkins. Clearly having a blast, Vedder rode the moment with ebullient gusto, leaping from monitors countless times while running back and forth around the stage. You could see the kid who grew up cheering the Cubbies from the nosebleeds, now on the field itself, performing an end to another chapter of an incredible musical tale.
From traveling 2,000 miles on nearly no sleep, to front and center, five rows deep, we knew as it unfolded that this was one of those ultimate peak moments, to be reminisced upon for decades down the road. My faith in the best live band on the planet was tarnished by a Bonnaroo set that was inarguably a misstep in the scope of what these boys are best known for, as well as a hostile superfan experience. But the fan community is as colorful and passionately invested as ever, as evidenced by the Wishlist Foundation fundraisers and various peripheral efforts.
Sure, aggressive entitlement weaves through the best of the superfan tribes, but nine hours of Chicago sunshine on a sidewalk with beautiful, spirited Fan Club members before the show reminded me that a far higher saturation of heart and passion exists within this network of people than most of us will ever be lucky enough to meet by our own devices.
Somehow, 25 years into their career, Pearl Jam are at the very top of their game. There is no live band that comes close, especially now that the Tragically Hip have said their final farewells (coincidentally, during the exact same moments Wrigley 1 was taking place). You don’t leave a PJ show with an empty heart. Not by a long shot.
And when the show was finished, when the thick atmosphere of electric-adrenaline finality dissipated to the cool night air under Wrigley’s lights, tens of thousands of fans filtered into the streets with an undiminished elated energy. In every direction, PJ was blasting from bars and pizza joints, wide-eyed fans recounting highlights at every turn. For just a few more moments, we were able to ride that beautiful wave.
Pearl Jam – Wrigley Field 8.22.16 Setlist
3. Off He Goes
4. Better Man
6. State of Love and Trust
7. Why Go
9. Given to Fly
11. Black, Red, Yellow
14. I Am Mine
16. Of the Earth
18. Mind Your Manners
20. Throw Your Arms Around Me
21. Man of the Hour
22. Last Kiss
23. Got Some
25. Even Flow
26. Don’t Gimme No Lip
27. Sonic Reducer
29. Crazy Mary
32. All the Way
33. Time Has Come Today
34. Rockin’ in the Free World
35. Yellow Ledbetter
36. I’ve Got a Feeling