Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
I’m not sure about the four other guys in the band, but I’m 99.9% certain that Eddie Vedder would bring Pearl Jam to play at Wrigley Field in Chicago every summer for the rest of his life if he could. The admiration and awe the frontman shows for this hallowed American institution during his time spent onstage is unmistakable. You can feel it when he sings while wearing an Anthony Rizzo jersey, which he later tossed to a fan on the front railing. You can feel it when he dials up footage of his beloved Cubs winning their first World Series in over a hundred years on the big screens on either side of the stage. You can feel it in the joyful way he sings “Rebel Rebel” by David Bowie in the presence of the trophy itself. You feel it, most of all, when he wistfully tells the story of visiting this place for the first time in a game against the Pirates when he was “seven or eight years old,” recalling in perfect detail the exploits of Roberto Clemente on what would have been the departed right-fielder’s 84th birthday. This place means something to him in a deep and profound way.
Pearl Jam first came to the “Friendly Confines,” back in 2013, delivering one of the most infamous gigs of their career. A massive thunderstorm rolled through in the middle of the show, causing an hours-long delay that sent the band and their fans scurrying for cover. It was only because of a last-minute intervention by the owner of the Cubs and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel that they were allowed to go back on, ultimately playing until the wee hours of the morning. They returned in 2016 for a pair of fantastic gigs that were filmed and released as the concert film Let’s Play Two, and this year staged another pair of shows in part of a larger tour of renowned Major League ballparks that also included Fenway Park in Boston, and Safeco Field in their hometown of Seattle.
Pearl Jam have entered a rarefied zone as one of just a few rock bands on the planet capable of consistently selling out 40,000-seat venues for multiple nights on a set tour. The list of other acts capable of pulling this off is pretty damn slim and includes the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and The Rolling Stones, all ’60s and ’70s rock acts that came from a generation before them. Of their Gen-X contemporaries, no one really comes even close to touching this band’s drawing power. Smashing Pumpkins for instance, who are currently in the midst of a highly publicized reunion tour, are reportedly having difficulty selling out several arenas they’ve booked along the way. For what it’s worth, they’re putting on a tremendous show.
There are a multitude of reasons for this, of course, chief among them is Pearl Jam’s ability to deliver the goods. When you have a ticket to see this band, you know you can expect to see a roughly three-hour-long exhibition of unmitigated rock and roll excellence, but that’s it. You don’t know what they’re going to play, because the setlist changes every single night — sometimes it changes during the show itself with Vedder calling audibles on the fly — and you don’t know what kind of guests might appear, because everyone it seems, loves Pearl Jam at least a little bit. For the show at Wrigley, for instance, one-time NBA bad boy and current unofficial ambassador to North Korea, Dennis Rodman came out in the middle of the set to deliver Vedder’s ukulele before the song “Sleeping By Myself.”
Vedder himself may not be the scaffold-climbing madman of old, but he’s still out here running from one end the stage to the other, jumping off drum risers, and picking fights with audience members, like the guy in the crowd who requested the band play “Black, Red Yellow,” on a sign that also referred to him as an “Evanston P*ssy.” Vedder responded, by noting they played the song here two years ago, and asked the sign holder where he’d been. Then he demanded Mike McCready to “Rip his head off with a little bit of guitar on this next one,” a request the fleet-fingered man holding the Fender Stratocaster was only happy to oblige, going absolutely nuts over an incendiary version of “Even Flow.”
The other main reason Pearl Jam can pack them in also comes down to simple staying power. While so many of the bands from their era have undergone numerous lineup changes, break-ups, extended hiatuses, and sadly, deaths, Pearl Jam have consistently stayed the course. There was certainly a brief lull in their popularity and cool factor for several years there around the beginning of the 2000s, but by the time they released their eponymous, avocado-adorned eighth album around the middle of the decade, they were pretty much back. Sadly, so many of the bands that Gen-X aged fans grew up loving during those halcyon days of the early ’90s are either gone, or are distinctly different than they were back then.