Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Rock Music is good for babies

Listening to: Lost Dogs - Pearl Jam, plus a couple of old CD singles, Jeremy and Go.
Drinking: A nice cleanskin South East Australian merlot

Rock music is either good for babies, or conducive to making them, if the number of pregnant women I saw at the Pearl Jam concert on Friday is anything to go by.
Charlotte has already been to a Shihad gig and it didn't do her any harm (although she was admittedly in utero at the time):

Anyway, this post isn't about babies or baby making (fun as that is), this post is about the Pearl Jam concert I attended in Auckland a few nights ago.

If you aren't a Pearl Jam fan, you should probably skip this post, since I drop the too-cool-for-school act on this one and go all fanboy on your arses.

They wouldn't let me take my camera in, so instead of pictures of the actual gig, I can only give you a shot of happy punters leaving the stadium:

There are only so many ways I can say 'awesome', so I'll repeat what I have already said to some, and just say the gig was made of it.

Every music fan has an artist or band they have grown up with and old together. Pearl Jam is that band for me. I got into this band in my mid teens, half my lifetime ago. I bought 'Ten' on cassette way back in April 1993 (about 18months after it was released) with the first pay packet from my first 'proper' after school supermarket job, after hearing a lot of good buzz from schoolmates, and hearing it played in a music store. Funny to think it was the only Pearl Jam album then. Nine albums later I am still a fan, have all the albums, a lot of singles, a few live editions and all the compilations and liking them all in their own way. Its been 11 long years since Pearl Jam played in New Zealand (and I saw them live for the first time on that tour); when these dates were announced back in August getting a ticket was a no-brainer.

So after months of anticipation NotKate and I along with a couple of her flatmates flew up to Auckland on Thursday night for our Pearl Jam roadie (although technically speaking, since we flew, there wasn't much of a 'road' element to things, unless our tiki-touring around Auckland lookout spots on Saturday counts). After a pre match barbecue and drinks we arrived at Mt Smart Stadium as the afternoon turned to evening on a fine early summer day, stopping to check out the merch on the way in. The selection of souvenir T-shirts was above average, and there were several I could have taken home. In the end I grabbed only one and a pretty cool tour poster to go with it, which had beer spilled over it mere seconds after I bought it. Luckly the damage was minor and of the character adding variety rather than the complete waste kind.

Not letting the tragedy that was the only beer available being Lion Red, we found a nice spot on the grass to hang out in the sun before things kicked off in the form of Liam Finn. Once the music started the girls deserted me to seek their spot in the forward GA section, leaving me to make my long and lonely ascent to my seat in the upper tier of one of the grandstands. On the way I stopped for drinks and something that was optimistically called fish and chips for tea.

I missed most of Liam Finn's set. Just not that into him. I missed slightly less of Ben Harper and the Relentless 7's set, but I have seen him live before. A highlight was Eddie Vedder joining Harper mid set for a cover duet of 'Under Pressure' that for my money was better than seeing one of the original artists (David Bowie) perform the song a few years ago.

I should probably introduce at this point Mark and Nathan, the relentlessy entertaining young oil engineerng apprentices from Taranaki who had driven up that day in their van and were now sat beside me in the stand. They reminded me of well, me a long long time ago and made the evening much more interesting.

Having used the support acts to make sure I was fed, watered and toileted (not wanting to miss any of the main), I was well ready and anticipated when Pearl Jam took the stage right on sunset, and played for the next two and a half hours.

And it was brilliant, epic, awesome, amazing, enthralling, and a whole bunch of other superlatives. The crowd was right into it from the start, singing opener 'Daughter' along with Eddie. From my perspective I could see most of the crowd, and watching and hearing 30,000 people sing along was pretty cool, and a phenomenon that would be repeated again and again. It was awesome.

From 'Daughter' they went straight into 'Severed hand', and from there into a personal favourite 'Corduroy' and I just about floated out of my seat it sounded so good, and I was there and one of my favourite bands was right in front of playing one of my favourite songs and totally owning the place.

I've often said there is nothing quite like seeing your favourite songs performed live by the people that created them, and I'll freely admit I was getting a bit emotional by the middle of the set, in a good way. I may even have gotten misty eyed a few times, both for the exhiliration of being there, and at the reminders and evocations of good and bad times and people gone by (some of them long gone now indeed) elicited by the music. 1993 was a long time ago. I liked how Eddie dedicated 'Faithfull' to the local fans for turning up after an eleven year absence, and promised it wouldn't be so long before they return.

The vibe around the whole stadium felt good, and the crowd seemed pretty well behaved, apart from a troublesome group in the moshpit who Eddie called out twice ("Maintain!") in an amusing for the rest of us series of admonitions and requests to play nice. Twice the crowd was asked to move back between songs, and watching arond 15,000 people simultaneously take three steps back was neat. Also neat was the father behind me who brought his two pre teen children along to experience what proper quality rock and roll looks and sounds like (through earplugs).

For a bunch of guys now in their mid to late forties, Eddie, Mike, Jeff, Stone and Matt's stage presence is no less intense, dynamic and commanding than they were when I last saw them. They have a deserved reputation as one of the best live acts in the world, and they lived up to it on Friday. To be that intense at the end of a tour, and maintain it for more than two hours on stage was very impressive.

Also impressive was the setlist, with tracks from all but one album (nothing from 2003's 'Riot Act' was played), b-sides, covers, and rarely heard live tracks (full setlist here (link) ). Sure there were songs I would have liked to have heard ( a few more tracks of 'Vs', maybe 'Inside Job', 'You Are' or 'I am mine'), but thats far outweighed by the epic set that was delivered. One of the things I like about this band is that the quality of the recorded output they have delivered over the years is so high that they can pick and choose almost anything from their back catalogue to play and it will stand up, and in fact they do vary the setlist quite a lot. 'Alive' and 'Jeremy' weren't played in Auckland for example, but were played in Christchurch two nights later. In fact the Christchurch setlist (link here) is pretty much half different to the Auckland one, including yet more rarities and non-album tracks.

A few highlights:

- Eddie asking the crowd to step back for the second time, then simply saying "Here's Mike McCready", who then launched 'Even Flow'. Cue massive 30,000 strong sing along. Epic.
- Playing 'Black', then Eddie retrieving a "'Please play 'Black'" banner from the front of the crowd and draping it across the pickups.
-Noting there are still a few cigarette lighters being help up along with all the cellphones.
-Being old school enough to know all but one or two of the 28 song setlist.
-The funked up solo intro to what became an epic and sprawling verision of 'Porch', one of my favourite songs off 'Ten' and one I hadn't heard live before.
-Ben Harper playing slide guitar on 'Red Mosquito'
-The band starting to play 'Go', then seamlessly moving into 'Why Go' instead.
-Seeing them play longtime live cover 'Keep on Rockin' in the Free World'.
-Noting that the newer material is just as good as the older stuff live.
-Eddie Vedder still having the same amazing vocal range and power after all this time.
-Seeing one of my favourite songs from the 1998 concert ('Do the Evolution') performed again.
-Feeling the stand wobble as people jumped up and down
-The cover of Chris Knox's 'Not Given Lightly' with the Finns at the end.
-Closing with 'Yellow Ledbetter'. Expected and tradional, but none the worse for it. The last verse and bars of that song are particularly evocative of a certain time for me.

I could go on.

Nothing much else to say, except for a long time fan, this show was just made of awesome, and am still on a buzz four days later. Worth waiting eleven years for, and easily in my top five or even top three gigs of all time (now I just need to figure out what the other contenders are, plenty of choice there...) . That good, and damn glad I got to see it.

*For a slightly less rabid review, read here (link), and here (link).


Maureen said...

Wow, sounds like an awesome concert. Glad you enjoyed it! I am a fan of Pearl Jam but have yet to warm up to some of their newer stuff. Perhaps I need to listen to the album in its entirety. It is their first #1 album after all.

R said...

Ah, I feel relief now - the blog was well worth the wait! Glad you loved the show, and that love shows through in your writing. I am not a Jammer, but I have always had respect for Eddie Vedder after seeing him in a doco (that I am sure I saw with you, though I can't recall the name). Great to read that he can still deliver.


Off-Black said...

Thanks guys! Maureen you meant the first #1 this century right? ;) All of their first four albums got to #1. 'Yield' (1998) was the first one that didn't :)

Maureen said...

Hmm, I dunno. I heard on the radio it was their first #1, but maybe the radio people lied.