Kick Out the Pearl Jams!

Photo Karen Loria

Photo Karen Loria

In 1991 Jim Olson and I had developed an interesting strategy about buying music; we would go to Tower Records and they had a spinning rack of new music and we would just randomly pick two of them, take them home listen to them and switch. At 17 years old, neither of us would understand what a POP (point of purchase) stand was but that is exactly what it was.

As I remember the story I picked up Shogun Messiah "Second Coming" which oddly enough wasn't the worst musical buying decision I had made in my life up until that point because I owned this too:

But I digress...

I also purchased the album that would change my music life going forward, that album? Pearl Jam's Ten. Jim picked up Ned's Atomic Dustbin because we both dug Grey Cell Green and while the album was really good at the time, it hardly stands up today.

For me, the instant I put that record on, I knew they were different and I knew I had changed. I liked Nirvana but it wasn't until much later that I grew to understand how amazing those records were...but Pearl Jam was right away. From the beginning of Once to the final note of Release, I have listened to that album more than any other album I have ever laid ears on.

So Thursday night I had the opportunity to see them again and despite being a Ten Club member on and off every year since about 1993, I had never used the fan club ticket system. So I entered the lottery, (which works as brilliantly as most of their fans systems) scored tickets, and invited someone who had NEVER seen them before. Which, is something I had never had the pleasure of doing.

Turning people on to music has always been something I enjoyed because music is, for me, one of most powerful connections the brain can make and the art allows you to experience olfactory delights and create your own meanings in a way that other art mediums do not.

We used to say at the radio station that we were creating "soundtracks for people's lives" and that strategy was born out of the research and interest I have in how music affects the brain. Which leads us back to Thursday night, the 6th time I have seen them:

1992 - Lollapalooza 

1995 - Soldier Field, Chicago

2004 - Deltaplex for the America Coming Together tour, Grand Rapids

2005- Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids

2013 - Wrigley Field, Chicago

2014 - Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

You can see that while I have not seen them often, I have been very fortunate to see them in some very cool places. Thursday was no different. Despite having been to Detroit 12 times the band had never played "the Joe" and right away that set the tone for the night. The crowd was amazing and after opening with "Release" and "Oceans" you just knew it was going to be a special night. 

I took my friend Julian and I would say about 3 songs in I could see that switch that happens to people who just fall in love with these shows. That isn't to say I have not seen a lot of great shows, I have. But the community surrounding this band is so special and so fun to be around it makes these experiences ones that you want to remember forever.

Last year I was at the Wrigley show with one of my dearest friends Brian. The two of us had been to the debacle that was the Soldier Field show where Pearl Jam attempted to fight off Ticketmaster and they made it so impossible for PJ to create the experience for their fans they wanted, the protest barely lasted a year - so perhaps Brian and I are cursed.

This time around a thunderstorm sat over the top of Wrigley Field and delayed the show (after it had started) by nearly three hours. In those hours at nearly 90 degrees under the ballpark everyone was so well behaved, we shared beers with people we just met, passed the time and prepared for the insanity that was Pearl Jam past midnight in the Windy City. My guess is that if that were Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry - they would have just cancelled it.

My point is that it is rare to see magic in real life and I feel this band is magical in the community that surrounds it. 

That magic comes from the music, it comes from the band, it comes from the energy, and perhaps is comes from things like putting "Stranglehold," "Detroit Rock City," and "Kick Out the Jams" in your setlist when you are in Detroit. They don't need to do those things, but they do because it adds to the experience of the night. 

Or the next night in Moline where they play "No Code" from front to back, those are things that seem to be missing from most "modern" artists which is a shame. Because for a band in which all its members are at or near 50, there is no logical reason that they need to invest that much into the fan base. The show would sell out without all of the extras, but the extra is what makes it magical, the magic is how you get a fan base for over 23 years, the magic is why you remember. 

What is the most magical thing you have experienced?

Eric HultgrenComment