I don’t know when Pearl Jam evolved from just being grunge runners-up and moved into its current super-American icon status. I like it, though.
(Note: A friend and Pearl Jam fan read my blog and said that my declaring PJ a grunge runner-up was offensive, that it was always Nirvana’s equal. “Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, those were runners-up,” he said.)
I should’ve known it was going to be a super special show. A few days ago, while looking up tickets on Craigslist for their secret show at the Vic Theater, I saw that people were offering everything from vacation rentals up to $5,000 for a ticket.
On Sunday at Lollapalooza, it seemed that everyone was lounging around and taking it easy, as if conserving their calories for Pearl Jam’s 8 p.m. set. An hour before their performance, everyone — and I mean everyone, including food vendors and staff — started trekking to the main stage. That was good for TV on the Radio, which was playing nearby, and bad for Cafe Tacuba, who was on the other end.
I just couldn’t have been more surprised to see a whole park, with tens of thousands of people, crammed into every nook, under every bush and on top of every stairway, lifting their arms up and singing along to 15-year-old hits like “Evenflow” and “Alive.”
Pearl Jam’s performance was another one of those music moments that made you realize why you were a fan of music. It was two hours that I will remember as a concert highlight for the rest of my life. The band rounded up its performance with pyrotechnics (fireworks went off behind the main stage as Pearl Jam was playing), values (Eddie Vedder thanked everyone from the audience to Perry Farrell to the blades of grass), pathos (Iraq vet joined them on stage), anger (rant against BP Ameco, who dumps its waste into Lake Michican, rant against the criminal occupation of Iraq) and pure love (it turned into a famous people-athon onstage after Ben Harper, Iggy Pop, et. al joined Pearl Jam…with Dennis Rodman carrying Eddie Vedder on his shoulders at the end of the show).
I’m not even a huge Pearl Jam fan, but I found myself tearing up at how a band could mean so much to so many different people. The sight of an outdoor field of people, all singing and dancing to music that mattered to them — to songs that did mean a lot to me at one point in my life — that was special. This, I thought, is why music matters.
Obviously I wasnt’ the only one who thought so. Even after the last song (“Rocking in the Free World”) was played and the massive crowd was satiated, on its way out, everyone was still cheering and laughing on Columbus Street. It was a music high, brought about by the great show and Pearl Jam’s inimitable spirit.