This Friday night, after 23 years of fandom and so much bad luck, I’m finally going to see Pearl Jam play live music for the first time. It’s been quite a journey.
Why did it take so long? I don’t know. Obviously, in my prime years of band chasing in college, the Ticketmaster thing didn’t help. They just weren’t touring then, at least not anywhere near me. So there’s that.
But as the years have passed, it wasn’t enough to just see them. I mean, I live in Iowa. We’re flyover country, after all. I hate saying it, but there’s this fear that we’re not getting a band’s best show. We always feel like we’re the warm-up show before they play in Chicago or Denver or Detroit.
(A good example: I remember seeing the Black Crowes (who, like Pearl Jam, is a band that never plays the same set two nights in a row) in Des Moines a few years ago. It was an amazing show, don’t get me wrong, but I checked our setlist with the ones that surrounded it, and both of those shows were better on paper. I remember thinking, “Really? You can’t even play ‘Remedy’? Really?”)
Anyway, when it comes to Pearl Jam, it got to the point that it wasn’t enough to just see them.
No, it had to be an event. I mean, like I had to see them IN Seattle or something.
Or more realistically, I could have seen them for their headlining gig at Lollapalooza 2007 (the last year I didn’t go to a summer festival, by the way); their two-day 20th anniversary festival in Wisconsin three years ago (couldn’t get off work); or, most egregiously, their concert at Wrigley Field last summer. I tried in vain to get tickets to that show. Pulled every string I knew. Made every call I could think of. No fucking dice. To add insult to injury, my friend Stacy went to that show. Stacy, who in the entire tenure of our friendship, has never given me even an inkling of reason to believe she’d even heard of MUSIC, let alone Pearl Jam. And to make it worse, when the rain famously hit, she left. Basically, she and the other chicks she went with missed the whole fucking show (yes, shooting a sour glare in your direction, too, Kris and Jill). I promise you, if I’d gone, we might have had to sleep in a gutter at Sheffield and Waveland, but we wouldn’t have left. NO way.
But, at the core, this is really about one thing. One gigantic missed opportunity.
Twenty-three years ago, I could have seen them. When they were still nobodies. At the dawn of the alternative-rock explosion of the 1990s, the greatest era of music in the history of man. Seriously, at that point in time, no one in Iowa – at least where I was from, we were still drowning in hair metal and the lucky ones loved thrash metal – had heard of Green River or Mother Love Bone, so who the fuck was Pearl Jam?
On October 19, 1991, they played in Ames, as the third act on a bill with the headlining Red Hot Chili Peppers (on the cusp of their mainstream breakthrough with the just-released Blood Sugar Sex Magik) and with another no-name band I had just discovered named Smashing Pumpkins.
The show was on a Sunday night, and I got a call from my buddy Steve Chase. Did I want to go? Hell yes I wanted to go. But in truth, that night it would have been all about the Pumpkins for me (I didn’t know it yet, but Gish was on its way to becoming my favorite album of all time).
But for whatever reason, I couldn’t go. I think I had to work at my shitty high school job bagging groceries at Hy-Vee. In all honesty, I don’t remember why I couldn’t go. I think it’s one of those traumatic repressed memories not unlike those that victims of abuse somehow block out. All I remember is that I couldn’t go.
Not long after that, I saw the video for “Alive” for the very first time and thought, “This is the band I could’ve seen that night? Fuck off!”
(For what it’s worth, that night’s setlist at Setlist.fm lists only three songs, and I have no way of knowing if this is just an incomplete document. The Pumpkins setlist that night isn’t listed at all, so who knows?)
It’s one of the biggest regrets of my life and I think karma has made sure I never forgot it, evidenced by all the times I’ve struck out trying to make it happen now.
So yeah, Friday. I’m finally going to see them. It’s in the Quad Cities (Moline, specificially). The fear is still there … will we get their best show? I have no doubt – this a legendary band who doesn’t know how to half-ass it. But they’re playing in Detroit the day before us and St. Paul, Milwaukee and Denver right after, so I can’t help it if it crosses my mind.
Plus, I’m afraid about the seats we got. Right on top of the stage to the side. If there’s a big set of speakers and amps there, we might be in trouble in terms of sight lines.
But I took a chance. I just didn’t want to wait one minute longer, even if we’re not a big market. I think two-plus decades of regret is penance enough.
So, illustrious gentlemen of Pearl Jam, for your consideration:
- Please play “Oceans.” Please play “Garden.” Please play “Release.” My favorite songs from one of the greatest albums of all time and one of the most important albums of my youth. The thought that I might have missed these in 1991 in Ames has haunted me for decades.
- Since the Singles soundtrack is another seminal album in my lifetime, please consider “Breath.” And since I know it’s on the menu now, the thought of hearing “Crown of Thorns” is too exciting to contemplate.
- The Merkinball EP, one of the most underrated offerings of the era. Either song – “I Got ID” or “Long Road” – would be a treat.
- And finally, Yield was the album that sucked me back in at a time when life and other circumstances had me not paying enough attention to music. I’d take any of the radio hits of that album, but in all honesty, I’d piss myself with glee if you played “Faithfull.”
- Then after that, anything and everything for the other two-plus hours would be fine with me.
Can’t believe it’s finally here. After two decades of regretting that missed opportunity in high school, I’m gonna see Pearl Jam in concert. It only took 23 years.