It was 2 a.m. on Labor Day morning. After 90 minutes of waiting in line, I was finally getting out of the “parking lot” (which is basically a grass field) of Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. All around me I was surrounded by sounds of engines and angry car horns. Normally, I would be pissed as hell about being stuck in traffic, but this night had been anything but ordinary. My mind was still focused on the events of the concerts that had just transpired. I was still trying to figure out how I was lucky enough to have been witness to some of the best concerts I will ever see.
On September 3 & 4, Pearl Jam’s PJ20 Festival took place at Alpine Valley. During
the afternoon, there were two stages set up in the back corner of the venue where a variety of acts played throughout the afternoon(s). They also had a “museum” set up where they had a variety of posters, instruments, and stage props on display. Sadly, the line to see it was about a two hour wait, so I decided not to see it. I was also impressed by the obsession of other Pearl Jam fans and how much merchandise they are willing to buy. When I got to the venue on both days, all of the concert posters for the festival were sold out, and are now selling on eBay for about $150 each. Pearl Jam also has come up with a clever strategy of making sports themed shirts for each city they visit. For Wisconsin they had
Packers, Brewers, & Bucks themed shirts. Not surprisingly, the Packers one sold out pretty quickly, and the Bucks shirt sold the fewest.
On the main stage, Mudhoney, Queens of the Stone Age, and The Strokes put on impressive displays which featured plenty of special guests from the other bands on the weekend’s bill. My personal favorite was when Eddie Vedder did guest vocals with The Strokes on “Juicebox,” as Eddie’s vocals added to the
intensity of the song. I came away from the shows gaining an additional appreciation for all three bands, but especially for The Strokes. While they can be criticized for making three albums that weren’t as good as “Is This It,” they were a much tighter live band than I thought they would be. As for the earlier acts on the side stages, I recommend listening to Liam Finn. He gave an intense and energetic performance, and he showed a sense of humor that fellow New Zealanders Flight of the Conchords would be proud of.
Obviously the main reason everyone descended on Alpine Valley was to see Pearl Jam. On night one Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike, Matt, and Boom leaned towards deeper cuts from their back catalog, while night two saw a setlist that was much more familiar to the casual fans sitting in the back of the lawn. They had plenty of special guests as well, including Josh Homme (who did guest vocals on the live debut of the Lost Dogs track “In The Moonlight.” Is there any other band in the world who would have guests join them and then perform a rare outtake for the first time ever with them?), members of Mudhoney (for a cover of MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” to close night one), John Doe, Dhani Harrison (the son of George Harrison, whose band thenewno2 played in the festival) and most importantly Chris Cornell. During both nights, Cornell joined Pearl Jam to pay tribute to the late Andrew Wood (he was lead singer of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament’s pre-Pearl Jam band Mother Love Bone, but died of a heroin overdose in 1990). They performed several songs from the 1990 album Temple of the Dog including “Hunger Strike,” “Reach Down,” and “Say Hello 2 Heaven.” They also played the Mother Love Bone track “Stardog Champion.”
These songs were all played in addition to many old Pearl Jam favorites like “Better Man,” “Alive,” and “Yellow Ledbetter.” Guitarist Mike McCready was, as always, a riot to watch, as he constantly ran around his spot of the stage in circles and played blistering solos. He was even doing complete laps around the stage during “Spin the Black Circle.” Eddie Vedder even unveiled a new song that he had written during the second day of the festival. It was worryingly happy, as the theme of the untitled song was “We
Finally Made It,” which is a far cry from the depression and angst of songs like “Deep.” But the song certainly fit the mood of the weekend, which was one of celebration. The band certainly seems to be gaining positive momentum (its last studio album, “Backspacer” was their first number one album on the Billboard sales charts since 1996’s “No Code”) and publicity after fifteen years of relative anonymity following the band’s meteoric rise to fame in the early 1990s.
Two weeks later, I sit at my computer and I’m still going through withdrawal from these shows. Pearl Jam live is a religious experience and I thoroughly recommend that you drive, fly, walk, run, swim, or crawl to see them in concert whenever you can. You won’t regret it, even if you get stuck in traffic for 90 minutes afterwards.
In case you’re interested, here are the setlists, according to Pearl Jam fansite TwoFeetThick.com:
Night 1: main set: Release, Arms Aloft, Do The Evolution, Got Some, In My Tree, Faithfull, Who You Are, Push Me Pull Me, Setting Forth, Not For You/(Improv), In The Moonlight, Deep, Help Help, Breath, Education, Once, State of Love and Trust, Better Man, Wasted Reprise, Life Wasted
first encore: Rearviewmirror, Stardog Champion, Say Hello 2 Heaven, Reach Down, Hunger Strike, Love Reign O’er Me, Porch
second encore: Kick Out The Jams
Night 2: main set: Wash, The Fixer, Severed Hand, All Night, Given To Fly, Pilate, Love Boat Captain, Habit, Even Flow, Daughter(/It’s Ok), Leatherman, Red Mosquito, Satan’s Bed, Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town, Unthought Known, The New World, Black, Jeremy
first encore: New Song, Just Breathe, Nothingman, No Way, Public Image, Smile, Spin The Black Circle
second encore: Hunger Strike, Call Me a Dog, All Night Thing, Reach Down, Sonic Reducer
third encore: Alive, Rockin’ in the Free World, Yellow Ledbetter (/Star-Spangled Banner)