HomeReviewsOn StageOn Stage: Pearl Jam in Chicago

On Stage: Pearl Jam in Chicago

If you’re popping in after reading my notes from the St. Paul show, the answer is no, my first Pearl Jam show would most definitely not be my only one. So taken was I with the live experience of America’s venerable road warriors, I packed up the car and headed to Chicago for the second of their two shows at United Center. My new friend Jim from Palos Verdes had gone on to Chicago for both shows, so it made perfect sense to meet him there.

On my road trip, I really got to thinking that Pearl Jam are the ultimate distillation of American FM rock radio. They were raised on it, they dominated it, and now they channel it. You can hear Springsteen, Zeppelin, Seger, Aerosmith, Petty, Ramones, Floyd, the Doors, the Stones, The Who, all woven through their 30+ year career.

A Pearl Jam show is a unique shared experience that’s vastly different every night. FM rock radio created similar moments in which a bunch of people heard the same thing at the same time. Can’t remember when I first heard Pearl Jam on the radio, but their shows are a connection to that spirit of shared culture, which now seems to be fading. They get how personal this is for us, because it’s personal for them too.

So, it seemed appropriate that Eddie Vedder expressed his delight during the show that the Rolling Stones are releasing a new album of original material this fall. These guys grew up listening to the Stones on their FM dial, and collecting Stones records.

Believe me, I’m back into vinyl like many other collectors, but we’re pretty big on the compact disc format around here. So it also seemed appropriate to round up my Pearl Jam CDs and spend the five-hour drive from Detroit stepping through an anthology of their recordings, on the format of record during their mega-sales days. (Confession – I only have the first nine, as I have yet to purchase Lightning Bolt or Gigaton on CD.)

Eddie shared that they’ve performed 25 shows in Chicago, the most of any city, including Seattle. So I was off to Pearl Jam’s home court. Sure, you can get to Chicago in an hour by air from Detroit, and it’s the same time as when you left. But it’s more fun to load up the car with snacks and the Pearl Jam CDs and hit the road with trusted ride-along, Teddy. Here’s my video travelogue of the journey. Yeah, uh-huh!

For this show, they surprisingly opened with “Elderly Woman” off Vs. It’s just that they’ve been opening each set on this tour with a variety of lesser-known tunes, often with darker themes. This song seems to be best when it follows one of their more apocalyptic excursions, as a kind of release after tension. But no matter, it’s a great song that’s been in many of the sets so far.

“Daughter” has also been included in most of the sets, and it was a highlight for me in St. Paul. I did notice that my vocals on my St. Paul “Daughter” video were a little lazy. I vowed to support with my diaphragm if they played it in Chicago. I tried to make Ed proud.

The third number in the seated portion of the program was a pretty deep cut from the “avocado” album. (Avocados are so good for you.) Honest to god, I never owned this album on disc until recently and I didn’t recall “Come Back.” McCready cowrote with Eddie and is undoubtedly the source of the ’50s heartbreak-blues-rock-weeper vibe.

If you watched my travelogue of my drive, you’ll recall I shared that my boy Dan from Davis, CA assured me that they would play “Present Tense” on this night. Quoth Dan via text, “You are going to see a great show. I would bet the farm that they are going to play “Presentense” [sic] tonight.” It’s another McCready tune, this one from No Code. The spotlight on Eddie from behind the stage gave him a sort of prophet vibe. “It makes much more sense to live…” and the assembled respond, “…in the present tense.”

After laying back for the first batch of tunes, “Why Go,” from their smash debut Ten, was a great way to get them off their Mtv-Unplugged asses. McCready kicked the shit out of his chair at one point, proceeding to stalk his side of the stage in a series of circular patterns, like a hungry lion in a cage. The guys were ready to blast off, and the crowd responded by singing every word, with special emphasis on, “She’s been diagnosed by some stupid FUCK!” The f-bomb even got its own lighting cue.

After they dipped into their latest recording Gigaton with “Whoever Said” and “Seven O’Clock,” they busted my bracket by hauling out “Tremor Christ” from Vitalogy by fan request. I gotta say I didn’t have this on my bingo card. It’s one vocal that overtly evoked the late Chris Cornell.

This show was really dark. By that I mean the stage lighting was quite low and moody. Perfect for a run of deep cuts – “Green Disease,” “Immortality,” “Marker in the Sand,” and “Deep” – bookended by two signature tunes from Ten, “Even Flow” and “Black.” (The lighting was so low on “Black” that my camera couldn’t maintain focus.) Things brightened up and they powered into the break with “Lukin” and “Porch,” two songs they’ve been playing consistently on this tour. Matt Cameron drove these two tunes hard. [Editor’s note: Kind of weird to watch now, knowing that Cameron was probably already positive for Covid at this point.]

Honestly, this show was so Chicago, it got a little cringey for this Detroit boy. I kind of felt like I was at a Blackhawks game. They even brought out Chris Chelios, a friend of Eddie’s, and announced the team would be retiring his #7 next February during a Blackhawks/Red Wings game. When Eddie referred to Cheli as a three-time Stanley Cup champion, I yelled out, “Remember, one of those cups was with the Wings,” and started chanting “Let’s go Red Wings.” The dude in front of me wanted to fight me. The band proceeded to dedicate “Given to Fly,” from Yield, to Cheli and all donned #7 hockey sweaters. I preferred Red Wing Cheli, but I love this tune!

This portion of the show couldn’t really be called an encore, because Eddie stayed out there and did his Chelios/Blackhawks thing. They went on to play a nice version of “Smile” from No Code for the folks behind the stage, and dipped back into Ten for three more – “Once,” “Garden” (surprisingly), and “Alive” – for a total of eight selections from their first record.

Then, as if to support my point regarding their connection to FM rock radio, they hauled out some classic rock covers from the canon, the core of ’70s rock. Dig Eddie’s quasi-Mick moves during McCready’s solo on a ripping version of the Stones’ “Street Fighting Man.”

While they were at it, they paid homage to their long-time heroes, The Who. My wife texted me from home excitedly, “You got their cover of Baba O’Riley?!!” To which I responded cheekily, “Not sure about that, but they did Teenage Wasteland 😉” Eddie donned a throwback Cubs souvenir batting helmet and for some reason did a couple laps around the stage (McCready of course followed him).

After those classic covers, they closed with another McCready tune, the non-album track and crowd favorite “Yellow Ledbetter.” Having seen them play live a couple times now, I have new respect for Mike McCready. I always kind of dismissed him in their early days as a sloppy blues/rock soloist, recycling Skynyrd and Stevie Ray licks. But he’s matured as a player, and his presence is the anchor of PJ’s live show – the stick that stirs the drink, if you will. And he seems like a really good dude. He left us with a tasty little solo, sporting a Soundgarden shirt, while Eddie passed out tambourines.

I have to admit that, as great as this show was, it was not worth the ten hours of driving on a 17-hour turnaround. But my deal with my wife was that I could go if I made it back in time to get our son to school on Friday. I took Jim from Palos Verdes and his delightful wife Mindy back to the Westin, and then it proceeded to piss rain on me all the way back on I-94. Teddy and I jammed some Prince, U2, and Zeppelin to keep our energy up, and we rolled in around 5:30am, just as the sun was coming up. I’m told that’s how it’s done.

Now, gather ’round for my slide show of my trip, kids!

Teddy’s ready
Hoop Dreams merch theme
Sean & Brian from the parking lot
Got lost trying to find the upper deck, but grabbed this of the Chicago skyline
Found it! (thank god Jim hooked me up with a sweet seat upgrade)
Mindy & Jim with the writer
Ed shared a photo from his sightseeing trip
Apparently Rodman gave Ed’s grandma his jersey after the Bulls clinched a title at United Center
“Seven O’clock”
Ed pointing at me
Ed & Cheli share a moment
Fans light it up for Rocky Wirtz, late owner of the Blackhawks
#1 in our hearts!
I rocked this set list playlist while moving 5 yards of top soil and 5 yards of mulch, and I have to say that I enjoy this as a playlist almost as much as I enjoyed the actual show. Great mix!

I was at the St. Paul show too

On Stage: Pearl Jam in St. Paul


Learn more about what we're up to at 360°Sound.