Pearl Jam in the Pacific Northwest
There could not be a more appropriate track than “Gonna See My Friend” to kick off the newest Pearl Jam release, Backspacer. I, too, am gonna see my friends, and I’m gonna see them in Seattle for a big week of Pearl Jam and friends. With the new album dropping on the day before the band begins their west coast tour, this has been a much highly anticipated week of festivities. So accordingly, I arrive back in Vancouver just in time to resurrect the Touring Van to do the 2 hour drive south of the border.
Joining me in the van is my friend Mike (a long time Pearl Jam fan from England coming for his first show), Steph (my lil sis and pupil in training), and Lester (who is not only the new Tak but also the new Stefan for this trip). The crossing of the border goes smoothly, strangely, and we arrive at Seatac airport just in time to pick up Pablo from Argentina and Carlos from Mexico to add some spice to the van, as we head off to West Seattle and Easy Street Records for the big Backspacer Bash.
Sep 19, 2009 – Backspacer Midnight Release Party in Seattle
I am lucky enough to find the prime parking spot, directly in front of Easy Street, with a number of people standing on the open space in reservation for the van. We enter the venue for tonight’s big album release and scope out the situation while the store is still empty. I joke to Carlos that I would have to take his credit card away from him to control his shopping after he spent hundreds of dollars the last time I took him to Easy Street. However, it is Pablo who flashes the plastic by purchasing literally a handful of cds and vinyls including the entire Alice In Chains collection. Then, as we attempt to exit the store, Carlos makes a purchase for one item, a very expensive item: Pearl Jam’s Super Deluxe Ten reissue box set. Placing nearly $300 worth of music into the van, we then head next door for some pre party drinks in anticipation for the release of the new album. Backspacer is the ninth studio album released by Pearl Jam, but their first as an independent band, and there has never been this much hype over a release generated by the band themselves. They want this to do well and we are here to make that happen.
The party begins at 9pm at Easy Street, and like a concert, a queue begins to form outside along the street. As usual, it is a reunion of old friends from all over including Europeans and Australians. Many people have come a long way just to cram into the tiny record store to make the purchase at the strike of midnight. This is always the best part of these trips and I even meet some new exciting faces to share a few drinks with. At the peak of the party there are roughly 600 people in a 300 capacity record store, the same location where Pearl Jam played a secret show in a few years back. But there is beer being sold and good music being played, the key elements for keeping Pearl Jam fans happy. At 11:00pm, the new record is played and I get to listen to it for the first time, but I am hardly paying attention. A round of prizes are given away and then a line up forms that snakes through the store, for the purchase of Backspacer.
I stand nearby and watch the excitement at the cashier till. Nearly every person purchases more than 1 cd of the new release as well as the vinyl. I, myself, am going to buy 3. With the amount of consumers in the store, the band is going to sell well over 1000 copies of the new record in a matter of minutes, just at this store alone. I think this will be a successful album. After our mandatory shopping is completed, most of us hang around for a few more before finally leaving the record store at 2:00am. Thanks to Matt and Adam at East Street for a fun release party. When we return back to the van, I notice 3 new stickers on it to go along with our new passengers. With Mike, Carlos and Pablo hopping off to their own accommodations, Barbara and Hinny jump in along with David and Lisa, who we are staying with, just a few blocks away in West Seattle. This is our base for the week.
Sep 20, 2009 – Day off in Seattle
The next day is a rather casual one. While most head to Safeco Field to catch the Mariners vs Yankees game, Barbara and I hang around and welcome Eli to Seattle. He had taken a 3 day greyhound trip all the way from New York just to have Mexican food with us in West Seattle. But it was oh so delicious. Around mid afternoon, we meet up with everyone else in front of the Showbox, which I found street parking in front of luckily again, and we go for a piss up at the Pike Place pub. It is sunday, so football rules the tv sets, and with nearly 20 of us, there are plenty of Giants and Cowboys fans around for the featured game. After a couple of bowls of ‘chow-dah’ along with an incredible sunset at the waterfront, we return to our base, with pizza, wine and Barbara keeping us entertained until 5:00am on hula hoops.
Sep 21, 2009 – Pearl Jam show #1 in Seattle
With a minimal amount of sleep, we are up early on the day of the first show. There is lots to be done, as Lisa is one of the organizers for the pre-show benefit party in Seattle, so we need to be there by noon to help setup. These benefits are fundraisers put on by The Wishlist Foundation and run by volunteer Pearl Jam fans at each show, raising money for different causes. For Seattle, the beneficiaries are 826 Seattle and Young Survival Coalition, and the venue is at TS McHugh’s Irish Pub on the corner of 1st and Mercer. I am, once again, lucky in finding a parking spot at the entrance setting up the van to be one of 2 magnets to draw Pearl Jam fans into the bar for the fundraiser, with the other magnet being the other Easy Street Records directly across the street.
To help accommodate for the enormous turnout, the bar has opened up it’s back parking lot as a beer garden with a live performer. Perfect for a sunny day. The party begins at 2:00pm and the place is just packed, a good sign for the benefit. I mingle with various people throughout the afternoon but can’t help but concentrate on the television screen showing Monday night football featuring the Miami Dolphins and the Indianapolis Colts. Every hour or so, I help empty the food bank box into the van, as people trade perishable food items in for raffle tickets for the prizes. By the end of the party, I have enough food to last me for a 2 month road trip. The first day is a smashing success, raising over $6,500, a single day record for The Wishlist Foundation. Not that it is really required at all, but these events get the fans pumped up and a little liquored up for the show. We enter the Key Arena on a high, before we say hello to our favourite band.
The show starts off with Long Road, one of the best openers of all time, before picking up momentum with a run of rockers, including 2 of my favourites off the new album Gonna See My Friend and Got Some. It is very nice to see these new songs performed live, especially because I haven’t really spent any quality time listening to the new record yet. So this is, essentially, my introduction to the new material. My exposure to the previous album, The Avocado, was the same and that turned into a huge success, although I am not going to do the whole world tour this time around. But I must say, I am impress with a lot of the new songs after hearing them live.
The show is basically a Backspacer showcase, which is just fine with me. It is a good show and a good way to start their tour on, but that is exactly what the show is, a warm up show, much like Shepherd’s Bush was a month ago. But it is a solid show and I am taking a liking to a lot of the new stuff, my favourite being Unthought Known. Johnny Guitar is probably the one that I am least excited about. On a production level, the new backdrop and stage setup is quite eye catching and alluring, as I’m sure most people are probably a bit sick of the old wave backdrop from the past few years.
When the final notes of Alive are struck, we walk back up 1st ave to Mercer Street and back to TS McHughs for some after show drinks. As with most shows, the mood is vibrant afterwards, a mood that continues on all night into West Seattle with another bottle of wine for another night of entertainment courtesy of Babs, this time with Lisa out dueling her on the hula hoops.
Long Road * Corduroy * Gonna See My Friend * Got Some * Hail Hail * Amongst The Waves * Daughter * Even Flow * Johnny Guitar * Unthought Known * World Wide Suicide * Small Town * Off He Goes * Down * Save You * The Fixer * Life Wasted
Just Breathe * The End * Inside Job * Rearviewmirror
Given To Fly * Do The Evolution * Better Man * The Real Me * Indifference * Alive
Sep 22, 2009 – Pearl Jam show #2 in Seattle
With one show under our belts and a couple of days roaming around Seattle, this place is starting to feel like home, if it wasn’t already. It is another rough morning however, so to cheer everyone up, I take them all to one of the highly ranked burger joints in all of America, The Lunchbox Laboratory. I have heard nothing but good things about this place, and with the on going quest to find the best burger I have going with Stefan, Tak, Lester and Tamara, 2 of which are with us down south, I thought this would be appropriate for breakfast. The place is rather small despite the quantity of food that it serves, but the cozy atmosphere only adds to the experience. With 11 of us in attendance, we take up the entire seating area inside. I carefully examine the menu, which is spread out on 3 separate chalk boards, and come up with the decision for a 1/4 pound Burger of the Gods and it tastes every bit as good as it sounds.
The size of the burgers are enormous on their own, and then you have to add the lettuce/onions into it as well. For sides, there are normal fries, yam fries, onion fries, or taters with your choice of salts. And matching the variety of salts is the variety of milkshakes you can get. I order the nutella milkshake, which should be renamed the milk shake of the gods it is so good. We all have a blast enjoying, undoubtedly, the best burgers that I have had, before we make our way to TS McHugh’s for the fundraiser, where my good fortunes continue with parking.
The party is more of the same, minus the football game, which allows me to be able to fully hang out with all of my friends. By the end of the party, the trunk in the van is completely full of non-perishable food items and Wish List has equaled the amount of money raised from yesterday, bringing the grand total to a whopping $12,962 raised over 2 days. Incredible. This is yet another record for them, surpassing the $10,000 raised in Chicago last month. Awesome work Laura and Eric and all of the volunteers for this event. And thanks to all the fans that turned out to make these parties a smashing success. I know TS McHugh’s more than happily enjoyed our company.
The second Seattle show is a little bit better than the first one, with a more variety of songs including a personal favourite of mine, In My Tree. In addition, Babs is sitting with me tonight and she adds a tremendous amount to the fun factor. Overall, the show is another solid one, but still not quite the epic show that these Seattle ones have been thought to be. With the amount of hype put on these home town shows, the first in 5 years, it can be said that expectations were not met. This seems to be a pattern as most of the highly anticipated shows often fail to deliver the specialness and momentous proportions that is expected from them.
However, is this not our fault, as fans, for building this up too much? Are we expecting and wanting too much because the bar has been set so high so many times? Is it just me? Because I know I am spoiled. These shows, along with 99% of all others, have been amazing, yet I am not as satisfied as I should be or have been. Does this band no longer have that little extra something or is it me that no longer has it? The latter is probably the case. As I creep near my 100th Pearl Jam show, I still find them incredibly spectacular, but their feeling of significance has greatly diminished for me. This is because of all the events that occur coinciding with a Pearl Jam show. These include some of the best people and best friends I have met and will ever know. They have always been the reason why I travel to all these places to see the same band in concert. But now, these friends and the fun that they bring along with them, have surpassed the band so much for me that the shows are almost completely unimportant. They are almost anti-climatic after a full day of jubilance. I can’t wait to get back to TS McHugh’s for the after party 🙂
At the after party, everyone is in a celebratory mood and acting as if the nervousness of the show has been let loose along with many rounds of beers. I bring in my guitar for Joel to begin strumming away at sing-a-longs that no one seems to know the words to, even though we had just screamed them out together inside Key Arena an hour earlier. Come closing time, we are kicked out of TS McHugh’s and continue chatting away and saying our goodbyes for a good hour. Most of the people, though, we will see again in the coming days. We meet a ghetto version of Ben Harper, who is surprisingly, very knowledgeable about Pearl Jam. This is perhaps the highlight of the night. Some group photos are taken and then I cram 10 people into the van and we are going back to West Seattle for more hula hoops and wine.
Sometimes * Why Go * All Night * The Fixer * Dissident * Johnny Guitar * Faithful * Lukin * Not For You * No Way * Unthought Known * Unemployable * Comatose * Insignificance * Present Tense * Got Some * Go
Just Breathe * The End * Black * In My Tree * Spin The Black Circle
Supersonic * Do The Evolution * The Real Me * Porch * Yellow Ledbetter/(Star Spangled Banner)
Sep 23, 2009 – Meat Puppets in Seattle
Today is the first of 2 off days. What I wanted to do originally was to take everyone back to Vancouver early and show off my home town before the show on friday. However, with everyone’s insistence on catching Alice In Chains at the Moore Theatre tomorrow, we decide to stay put in Seattle and sleep in a little bit. The afternoon is spent at Alki Beach, where we have lunch at Duke’s Chowder House only because we wanted to say “Chow-dah.” After a stroll along the beach, we head back into the city, more specifically 1st and Mercer again, for an In-Store concert by the Meat Puppets at Easy Street Records. Many of the Pearl Jam fans also make their appearance for this free concert, which was advertised conveniently on the marquee all week for us to notice. How much does Easy Street love Pearl Jam for bringing in so many of their fans to the store, and everyone spends money every time they enter. The show is interesting, with a garage door opening at the back of the store, unveiling the stage. Looking over to our right, we notice Guy Maddisson, the bassists from Mudhoney standing in the aisle of cds next to us. I peak down at my shirt and realized that I am wearing my Mudhoney shirt.
After the show, we grab some delicious Thai Food across the street at Racha Thai and then a few beers at the Lava Lounge in Belltown. Inside the Lava Lounge, we watch Eli put on an impressive display on the Mrs. Pac-Man video game that acted as our table as well. We also take turns playing shuffle board, keeping the night very relaxed and easy after a couple of messy ones. We return to West Seattle with our nightly pizza and bottle of wine, but everyone passes out early one by one. It has been a long week, jam packed with nothing but excitement.
Sep 24, 2009 – Alice In Chains in Seattle
Our last morning in Seattle is a complete write off. Everyone is dead tired with little to no energy to move. To wake us up, Lisa makes Bloody Mary’s for Babs and I. It works. By early afternoon, we are all up on our feet, so we decide to try out another highly regarded burger joint nearby, Zippy’s. The burgers are not quite as good as the other place, but for under $6, it is a great value and a tasty one as well. Satisfying our stomachs, we laze around some more and somehow convince Lisa to come along to Vancouver with us. All it takes is a ride offer from myself, a ticket offer from Hinny, and a ticket shuffling process that will put Lisa and Barbara on my tickets. With our work done, we head out to the city for the Alice In Chains show.
The show is taking place at the legendary Moore Theatre, a venue I’ve been looking forward to for some time. We walk in with a crowd of people dressed up as if it was 1993, and it is a circus inside. Every grunge stereotype is on display here, I even recognize Tad Doyle from the band Tad. The theatre itself looks almost like a church in side. We scramble around to look for free seats, as it is general admission, and finally find a couple near the back. Then a sudden rush to the stage occurs, so we follow suit to make this a true general admission, only with seats in the way. Half an hour later, Alice In Chains come on and totally blows our minds away. With us standing within a couple of feet of Jerry Cantrell, the band pumps out some good sounding new material, while leading us in sing-a-longs to the old classics. The new singer, William Duval, is quite the entertainer.
We go next door for some final drinks afterwards, to celebrate our great week in Seattle, and to say goodbye to some friends. Thanks to Lisa and David for allowing the whole touring van crew to crash at their sweet pad. It is greatly appreciated and was highly enjoyable as well. Carlos, Pablo, and Rafo are without Canadian visas, so they can not come along with us to Vancouver. They will be greatly missed but they can take care of Eli, who is without his passport and can’t enter Canada. With Stian, from Norway, jumping into the van, we make the drive north, followed closely behind by Sergio and Patricia from Portugal in their rental car.
So the van reaches the US/Canada border at 2:30am with 2 Asian Canadians, a Canadian living in the US, an Australia and an Italian living in UK, and a Norwegian, while being followed by a car of Portugese. The Touring Van has become the Smuggling Van for internationals crossing the border. However, much to our surprise, the border patrol only asks to see the passports and faces of the passengers without having to get out of the van, and then we are let off the hook. Had we known it would be that easy, we would have really tried to smuggle people in. We reach my house by 3:30am, where everyone is staying. After a quick couple of beers, everyone calls it a night. We are no longer in Seattle.
Sep 25, 2009 – Pearl Jam in Vancouver
Vancouver, the home town show, the one that I was looking forward to the most. It’s been 4 years since our band has played here last, and since that last show, I’ve gone all over the planet following the Jam and have brought some friends back with me. This will be special. To make up for the lack of sightseeing time, I wake everyone up at a bright and early time of 9:30am. They were warned. Dragging everyone out of bed, I then drag them up a few blocks from my backyard to Grouse Mountain, taking them straight to the best sightseeing in the city, The Grouse Grind. This is a hike that takes you 3kms in total distance and 1km in elevation up the mountain. It is called the grind for a reason. An average person takes anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to complete, so it’s kind of like an hour of constant stair climbing. I use to jog up this twice a week, back when I resided here and when I was at the prime of my athletic career. It has been 2 years since I last did it. For everyone else, this will be their first time.
Everyone seems a bit nervous but also excited about what they are about to undertake. As we slowly ascend up the mountain trails, I joke to the others that they will probably want to kill me during the hike, but they will have to catch up to me in order to do so. I also warned them that the first quarter will be the worst, so they shouldn’t be discouraged and continue on. Fully concentrating on all the nature around us, we blow right by the first quarter mark without even noticing the sign. At the half mark, I wait for the others to make sure everyone is still alright. Stian, Lisa, Lester and Hinn all arrive shortly, with the others not really in sight, but I spot Sergio down the hill, so Patricia and Babs should be close behind. Then after about an hour of climbing, we reach the top and the reward that comes with it, the best view of Vancouver. Without a single cloud in the sky, the weather is simply perfect for it as well.
Lounging out on the porch of the restaurant, we enjoy a beer and wait for the others. We speculate that they may have gone down, so if that is the case, perhaps they will take the sky ride up to meet us. But when Sergio reaches the top a little bit latter, we figure that the others should still be behind taking their time. However, after another hour of waiting around, I decide to hike back down a quarter to look for Babs and Patricia, but they are no where to be found. They must have gone back down, but why did they not take the sky ride up? We return back to the mountain base via the sky ride and find Babs and Patricia waiting patiently for us. They did not feel up to the task at hand and also had no money on them to take the sky ride up. It is too bad because everyone agrees that the grind is the perfect activity to get you ready for a show and thanks me for dragging them up the mountain. With the unexpected extra time spent on the hike, we only have enough time to all clean up and then head to the task at hand for tonight, Pearl Jam in Vancouver.
Pulling into downtown Vancouver, I am able to find a parking spot in front of DIX BBQ, sight of tonight’s fundraiser party. Everyone is there in full concert mode already, including Stefan and Tak. It was Tak’s birthday yesterday, so we are celebrating it today with many drinks and many shots. For tonight’s show, everyone seems to have found good luck with their seat locations. Steph and Brandon won the ticket lottery separately and are sitting next to each other in the front row. Brian from Lethbridge also won the lottery giving him 2nd row tickets. Our ticket buddies could not be any better as well. After all the shuffling around, Tak is with Stefan, Babs is with Lisa, Stian is with Hinny, and I am with Christian from Peru.
We walk into GM Place with total excitement, and my seat in the 6th row doesn’t hurt either. I spot many friends nearby, as everyone is so close to the stage tonight and there seems to be a good vibe going on. When the band hits the stage, we are hit with the first surprise, In My Tree. Christian and I go ape shit. This is followed by an entire set of pure rock. They do not give us a break and we are just going nuts for everyone of them. Christian shares a similar level of energy as me, which is high, and we seem to rock out well together.
Following an electrifying first set, the band continues this momentum with an unbelievable amount of energy for the encore, starting with I Got Shit, much to our appreciation. Normally, the encore is a lot more mellow, which usually kills the energy, but not tonight. A few songs later, Breath comes out of no where and we almost bring the roof down. The crowd is extremely loud and everyone on the floor is rocking out to the max throughout the night. This is beyond fun. This is one of the best shows I have seen in a very long time. Maybe I have the right amount of alcohol in the system, maybe I have the right ticket buddy beside me, but the band is on fire, the fans are deafening, and the selection of songs are unpredictable. Even though they should stop playing Johny Guitar, I am feeling it again, at a level that I thought I had lost.
The show is so exhilarating that we hang around our seats afterwards just to gather ourselves together again. Everyone has a giant smile on there face, claiming that the only thing missing from tonight was Smile. We gather around back at the van, the central meeting spot for most of us, to say our goodbyes. It has been a jam packed week of festivities ending with a bang here tonight. The fun factor was definitely through the roof, as we were with some awesome company. Some are leaving for the next show in Portland, some are going home. I am already home and happy to stay here after a show like tonight. This show has brought me back to 2006. I’ve got it back. I’ve got my band back. I can not wait for Halloween in Philly!
In My Tree * Save You * The Fixer * Severed Hand * Johnny Guitar * Given To Fly * MFC * Even Flow * Amongst The Waves * Sad * Unthought Known * Light Years * Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town * Grievance * No Way * Got Some * Rearviewmirror
I Got Shit * Love * Reign O’er Me * Breath * State Of Love And Trust * Alive
Last Kiss * Indifference w/ Ben Harper * Wasted Reprise * Better Man/(Save It For Later) * Yellow Ledbetter