Diving Into My Pearl Jam Bootlegs

I decided to relive all the Pearl Jam shows I’ve attended over the years via the fantastic bootleg series the band have provided fans since 2000. It took about a week to listen to all the shows in chronological order but I’m glad I did it. Some of the moments on these bootlegs literally transported me back in time. Maybe some of you were at these gigs as well. Looking forward to a new Pearl Jam album and tour in 2019. Enjoy. 

Phoenix, October 21, 2000

My first taste of the Pearl Jam live experience came my freshman year of college at Arizona State on the Binaural tour. It rained all day and night. The first rain I ever encountered while living in Arizona made for a wet and sloppy time on the lawn that evening. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Eddie even remarked during the show they only put this stop on the tour so the band could finally get some sunshine. Highlights of the gig included hearing both “Long Road” and “I Got Shit” in the same setlist (That has got to be a rare combination), a  hilarious Uncle John story, a cover of The La’s “Timeless Melody”, “Betterman” with the “Romanza” guitar intro with Eddie belting the final chorus note for almost 20 full seconds and lastly “Yellow Ledbetter” ending with a medley of Van Halen riffs (“Ain’t Talking About Love” & “Eruption”). Unfortunately this concert is now known as “the show before the show”. Pearl Jam’s 10th anniversary concert was looming the following night in Las Vegas and with that came all the glory, hype and the first ever Pearl Jam performance of “Crown of Thorns”. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the Phoenix show because it was my first, the setlist was energetic and it left me hungry for more. A lot more.

Camden, July 5, 2003

In stark contrast to the rainy Phoenix show back in October 2000, the Camden/Philadelphia gig over 4th of July weekend was a hot and steamy affair. Temperatures were in the high 90s and the humidity was extremely dense. The band took the stage and rifled through “Can’t Keep”, “Brain of J”, “Save You”, “Do The Evolution”, “Spin The Black Circle” and “Green Disease” at a breakneck pace before finally acknowledging the crowd after “Given To Fly”. Mike McCready’s ferocious guitar solo in “Even Flow” seemed to last about 2-3 minutes in length with the crowd loving every second of it. What made this show unique for me was what occurred in the middle when fireworks were being displayed over the Delaware river right above the Tweeter Center amphitheater. The band when realizing this during a 9 minute, politically charged version of “Wishlist”, decided to launch into “Rockin’ In The Free World” mid show for probably the first time in the band’s history. Eddie said it would be the soundtrack to the beautiful sights above but also the “sounds of Afghanistan”. Other highlights in the set included “Breath”, the joyous b-side bounce of “Down”, an epic performance of “Black” and a tender cover of “Hide Your Love Away”. Not a bad way to spend a 4th of July weekend in the city of Brotherly Love.                                    

New York, July 9, 2003

Night 2 at Madison Square Garden had very big shoes to fill after the legendary setlist that was unleashed the night prior. That evening saw Ben Harper joining the band for two songs (“Daughter” and “Indifference”), a cover of John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth”, the 4th ever performance of “Crown of Thorns” by Pearl Jam and the stage shaking noticeably after the run of “Breath”, “Betterman” and “Do The Evolution” to end the first encore. Needless to say, night 2 had its work cut out for it. Pearl Jam kicked off the festivities by playing a rip roaring version of “Crazy Mary” with some incredible organ work by Boom Gaspar. By far my favorite ever version of this song. Please check it out if you’ve never heard it before. From there the boys leaned on some old faithfuls to get the crowd fired up; “Hail, Hail”, “Corduroy”, “Dissident”, a soaring “I Am Mine”, “Given To Fly” and “Even Flow”. Following “Even Flow” Eddie decided to call Johnny Ramone from the stage and play him a Ramones song. Johnny’s phone went to voicemail so Eddie and the Garden sang him “I Believe In Miracles”. Other highlights from the first set were “Untitled”, “Present Tense”, a gorgeous rendition of “Nothingman”, the punky love ballad “State of Love and Trust” and a super charged “Porch”. The first encore break was memorable for Ed reading fan made signs in the crowd that included my personal favorite which read “PLAY ‘LEASH’ YOU PUSSIES!”. Didn’t happen but funny regardless. Eddie also told stories of how people met, fell in love, married and named their children after band members. The final stretch of the show featured a lively crowd singalong to “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”, the understated “Alone of None” and a fist pumping “Alive” to end the first encore. I always believed Pearl Jam could easily end their performances with “Alive” rather than the cliche “Yellow Ledbetter”. Great song but it’s tiring when 90% of their gigs end with it. MSG night 2 will never get the glory and prestige of the first night which got a special DVD release but for me, pound for pound, song for song, night 2 is just as good as anything the band did the night prior. Great show. Fantastic bootleg. 

Newark, June 3, 2006

Another hot stormy evening in New Jersey as Pearl Jam looked to complete the final gig on their current tour leg. Severe thunder and lightning storms were plaguing the area for much of the last two days or so. This would later impact the show for a few minutes when several microphones cut out in the middle of “Animal”. I’m not the worlds biggest fan of their self titled/Avocado album so I wasn’t sure what to expect with the show tonight. All in all it felt like a pretty eclectic setlist overall. Songs like “Rats”, “Garden”, “Hard To Imagine”, “Don’t Gimme No Lip” and “Leaving Here” were dusted off. It seemed like the band was going to empty the tank tonight with a month off before their next gig. It was great hearing Stone take lead vocals for “Don’t Gimme No Lip” and finally hearing “Hard To Imagine “ which was on my bucket list for years. If memory serves correct, Mike had a double neck red guitar like Jimmy Page for “Inside Job”, by far my favorite track off the Avocado LP. So glad they performed it. 

Newark, August 7, 2008 (Eddie solo)

Pearl Jam do not sell bootlegs of solo Eddie gigs so I’ll have to rely on my memory to paint a picture of the evening. First off the NJ Pac Center is absolutely beautiful to look at. Eddie even mentioned during the show that NJ Pac is now his favorite venue to perform at. Despite being solo Eddie did not lay up for one single second. He still performed a robust 29 song set with a strong mix of solo compositions, cover tunes and Pearl Jam throwbacks. The moments I really locked in on during the performance were Daniel Johnston’s “Walking The Cow”, Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy”, “Man of The Hour”, an unreleased Pearl Jam song “Unthought Unknown”, “Rise”, “Porch”, Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open The Door” and “Hard Sun”. A fan asked Eddie near the conclusion of the gig what the lyrics for “Yellow Ledbetter” are. He then went into a very emotional tale on the origins and subject matter for the song. Some deep stuff on a Persian Gulf War veteran returning home and basically being shunned from the community he grew up in. Echoes of Vietnam could be felt strongly in Eddie’s words. Lessons are still being learned it seems. I took some pretty good videos during the show (including the “Yellow Ledbetter” story) that were quickly taken down from YouTube based on copyright infringement. A shame really. Gigs like this should live on just like standard Pearl Jam bootlegs. That story was tremendous and worth a listen from all Pearl Jam fans. 

Newark, May 18, 2010

My third straight Newark show. Each one vastly different than the previous one with great surprises along the way. This was my first time in the new Prudential Center and it is a beautiful arena. Pearl Jam would break it in with a rather unique setlist approach. The running order of songs felt like the band were picking the tunes out of a hat. Early appearances of “Alone”, “Immortality” and even “Whipping” popping up in the second encore. That seemed out of place to me but that was the overall theme on the evening. The biggest surprise song for the night was by far “Brother” (with lyrics) getting played. I think it was the 8th time ever and hasn’t been performed since this Newark show. So honored to get this old Ten era throwback. Another shocker was getting the lone Backspacer tour performance of “Footsteps”. Been dying to hear that one live for many many years and it did not disappoint. Other highlights of the gig were Eddie wearing a Walter Payton jersey, getting a Tom Waits cover “Jersey Girl” for just the second time by the band and “All Along The Watchtower” assisted by Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. It was nice for the show to end with something random and fresh as opposed to the standard “Yellow Ledbetter”. 

New York, May 2, 2016

The energy for a Madison Square Garden show is always next level stuff. I hadn’t caught a Pearl Jam show there since July 9, 2003. The second of two epic stops at the world’s most famous arena. That was almost 13 years ago. Where did all that time go? All those yesterdays. Crazy man. Crazy. The band came out with roaring renditions of “Corduroy”, “Mind Your Manners”, “Once”, “Animal” and “Given To Fly” to open the Garden Party. Next Eddie welcomed two of the newest members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to the stage….Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick to perform their monster 1978 hit “Surrender”. Already this gig had the feeling of a very special night. Next the band launched into the “MAN” trilogy but this time with a little wrinkle to kick things off, “Elderly WoMAN Behind The Counter In A Small Town” into “NothingMAN” followed by “LeatherMAN” and finally “BetterMAN”. An incredible four song run that really brought the Garden to a boiling point. I’m not sure how many times prior the band played these four songs together like this. I’ve seen prior setlist over the years feature the “Nothingman”, “Leatherman” and “Betterman” trilogy but never with “Small Town” mixed in. Either way it was an awesome experience to say the least. Pearl Jam went all meta on us next by busting out “Garden” while in the Garden. I wanted this badly back in 2003. Glad I got it in 2016. Underrated Ten track and my buddy Anthony’s go to strip club jam. It took over 16 years but I finally got to hear “Jeremy” live. Bad ass tune as always and like millions of others when they were 11-12 years old, fell in love with the band via this song. I’ve always been a fan of the slow burner “All or None”. The guitar solo reminds me of mid 70s Pink Floyd. That flowed into my favorite track off Lightning Bolt, that being “Pendulum”. Great atmosphere created not only in the studio but also in a live setting. Really dig the lyrics as well. Another standout moment during the gig was the back to back appearances of “Breath” and “State of Love and Trust” from the movie Singles. Gotta be a rare combo to hear both like that. Stellar stuff. Pearl Jam had one final surprise up their sleeve for the audience. Sting joined the group unannounced for a cover of “Driven To Tears”. Definitely didn’t see that coming. Nobody did. Interesting that no songs from Binaural, Avocado or Backspacer were performed thus the setlist had a greatest hits feel to it. The lesson of the night is to never miss a Garden Party if you have the opportunity. Pearl Jam always slay at these gigs. 

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