There was a strange vibe Friday at the Patriot Center. The news of Kurt Cobain’s death was ultimately overwhelmed by the energized show put on by Pearl Jam.
The show had been sold out for months. They announced at 3 p.m. on Friday that tickets would go on sale at 4 p.m., and I missed out, as many people did. I was relentless in my pursuit of tickets, badgering friends and offering people ridiculous amounts of money. I even sat on the Quad holding a cardboard sign that said “Will Sell Body For Pearl Jam Tickets.” Unable to get tickets by Friday, I had quickly gone over to the Patriot Center upon rumors that several hundred tickets would be released for sale. I was prepared to sacrifice my hard-earned cash to a scalper if I couldn’t get tickets any other way. However, they did release seats and I got mine.
The mood outside the Patriot Center was very odd. Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide had been confirmed several hours earlier, and some people were extremely depressed. Many expressed their frustration and grief over why a man with his millions, plus a wife and kid, could possibly do this. It felt like he had betrayed them, abandoned them to their fate. Others made light of the situation, trying to dispel the tension with macabre jokes. Overriding it all, though, was the excitement over seeing Pearl Jam live, and it served to dissipate the strain.
Mudhoney began the evening with a set of mostly originals. Their songs were a raucous wash of guitar and drums with a healthy dose of feedback. Not having heard them before, I was hard-pressed to differentiate between any of their songs, with the notable exception of a Jimmie Dale Gilmore cover, which was played so slowly I could actually understand the lyrics.
After Mudhoney left the stage, the crowd’s noise started increasing. Every time a new roadie walked on stage, the crowd got louder. Finally, following a noticeable delay, Pearl Jam took the stage. The lights went out, and all that was visible was several dozen candles burning on speakers next to the drums. Barely visible forms moved around on stage as the crowd’s noise became deafening. Then the tunes of a guitar became audible as Pearl Jam eased into “Release”. The lights remained off during the rest of the song, until lead singer Eddie Vedder addressed the crowd: “I think you know what’s on our minds, let’s do this thing”. The lights then burst on as the band exploded into the first two songs from their new album, “Go” and “Animal”.
The people on the floor seats seemed like they would like to throw their chairs away and create a mosh pit, but security was fairly strict about their remaining in their seats.
The band continued with “Dissident” from Vs, then went back to Ten for “Why Go”, “Deep” and “Jeremy.” Bassist Jeff Ament pulled out a stool and a standing bass guitar for “Daughter,” which was very well received. Eddie embellished the song by breaking into Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)” and Don McLean’s “American Pie” at the end, a strange place considering the subject matter of the song, but appropriate with the day’s news.
Pearl Jam next rocked through “Even Flow” and followed with their two contributions to the Singles soundtrack, “Breath” and “State Of Love And Trust.” Next was a rarely performed song, “Footsteps,” the third song in a trilogy about a serial killer, along with “Alive” and “Once.” “Footsteps” was also performed (with different lyrics) on Temple of the Dog as “Times of Trouble” with lead vocals by Chris Cornell of Soundgarden.
The set concluded with an emotional “Black”, a charged “Alive”, and a psycho “Porch”. Earlier, Eddie had complained about the man-made barrier between the seats and the stage, as well as the height of the stage, although he thought the band had just reached an elevated state and could fall. In the middle of “Porch” he eased down off the stage and up on to the barrier as he continued singing. He offered the microphone to the crowd, the first couple rows of which had surged to the front and attempted some crowd-surfing.
The band soon rejoined us for an encore. They started with “Rearviewmirror” and continued with two new songs, “Corduroy” and “Not For You”. Next was the slow but popular “Elderly Woman In a Small Town”, followed by the frenzied “Blood”, which had Eddie pounding his microphone through the stage.
After the band left the stage again, some idiot brought the house lights up and people started to leave. The majority of the crowd refused to budge, and grew louder until Pearl Jam returned. They went into the laid-back “Indifference,” then Eddie spoke to the crowd one more time. He thanked everyone for coming, and exhorted everyone not to die. Then the band kicked into their closer, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” and the crowd rocked along.
Afterwards, everyone looked drained and euphoric. The band was fantastic and the show was incredible, and one can hope that the Patriot Center might continue to attract acts of this caliber.
[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]