The Greek Theater
Los Angeles, CA
October 24, 2000
By Rob Evanoff
Only two weeks ago the announcement came over the airwaves again and again, Pearl Jam would be playing at the legendary and beautifully majestic Greek Theater, which has a capacity of about 4000. The theater is located up in the lush hills of Griffith Park, which borders the hills of Hollywood and is located amidst a forest of nature’s finest trees. The Greek has been the bed for a host of live releases including Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes Live at the Greek and Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night. Pearl Jam Live at the Greek would now join this esteemed list since it was also announced that the band would be recording the performance for a live video release.
Tickets were not easy to come by, ticket brokers had a limited supply that were snapped up for $250 a pop, and the show practically sold out before the tickets went on sale as local radio gave free pairs away for an entire week. The onslaught of these freebies were magnified with the enormous number of comp tickets for VIPs and I was warned to have a messenger pick up my tickets the day of the show to avoid long lines at will call, as EVERYONE would be on the guest list.
So the 24th arrived and off we went to the BIG show. We jumped in a cab and told the driver, “The Greek”. He popped in Bad Company’s first album on cassette and asked “Who's Playing?” “Pearl Jam!” “Who?” he retorted. Were we in time devolution? He wasn’t impressed when we explained that they were arguably the biggest rock band in the world during the 90’s. After rattling off titles of saturated radio hits, he finally claimed to have heard “Daughter” before. All of this came after he had proudly stated that he was an American cab driver and a New York cabbie transplant to boot. Yes, a head scratcher.
We arrived and The Greek was bustling with scensters and a hodgepodge of post modern socio-political music evangelist wannabees who seemed intrigued to peruse info on Nader and The Green Party, which Pearl Jam supports. The show soon began at 8:45 PM and in typical PJ fashion, the band sauntered on to the stage with little fanfare and launched into their set. They blasted through a half dozen songs before the first acknowledgement of the night, Eddie quipped “It feels as if we’re playing in a backyard, except that it’s the devil’s backyard”. Huh?
And with that, the band solidly flexed their classic rock muscles for the next two hours covering their career by breaking out favorites from yesteryear including “Rear View Mirror,” “Daughter” and “Animal” from VS, igniting the audience with “Even Flow” and “Black” from the seminal Ten and “Not For You” and “Better Man” from Vitalogy. And as with most shows in Los Angeles where it’s perceived to be unhip to actually be a fan or to enjoy yourself, surprisingly the girl seated next to us seemed to be lost in her own drama as she modified the chorus and boisterously sang “Butty Man” instead. A precious moment to witness as if her whole world revolved around the meaning of the lyrics to this song. Apparently, this “Man” had left her at the altar with nothing more than a memory in her hands. “She now dreams in color, she dreams in Red!”
Though the repertoire changes from night to night as is evidenced by the recent release of 25 CDs from Pearl Jam’s European Summer Tour, the set list definitely favors their latest release Binaural . The band drew favorable response to songs such as “Breakerfall”, “God’s Dice,” “Light Years,” “Evacuation,” “Nothing As it Seems” and a burning version of “Insignificance” that recalled the best of Crazy Horse.
The band broke at about 10:10 PM and came back to play for another half hour which brought out the first surprise of the evening, a spot on version of the Victoria Williams’ penned “Crazy Mary” off of Sweet Relief in which Eddie indulged in the song’s visceral lyrics by swigging from a bottle of wine. He then hit the microphone for one of his only other diatribes which began by him saying that he was quite sick. As a sidebar, he also said that their contract prohibits displayed advertising, which there supposedly had been, so he intimated that the band could have cancelled, but yet there he stood. Vedder seemed to want sympathy as if he, the eternal martyr, was grueling on, against his beliefs and own failing health, on our behalf. The ironic response came in the lyrics of the next song as he introduced his ukulele and strummed through “Soon Forget” off of Binaural. From there the Jammers rollicked through a heated rendition of “Fuckin Up” and finished up under the house lights with an emotional rendering of “Yellow Ledbetter” that featured a feedback drenched wall of sound from Mike McCready long after the rest of the band had departed the stage.
So all of this propaganda and nary a performance review. Pearl Jam has indeed endured and will continue to sell out arenas, though their record sales are now mediocre compared with the early days, but guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and new drummer Matt Cameron are one HELL of a band who sound phenomenal. But as the “Butty Man” fan next to me surmised at the end of the show, “I saw them back on the first tour and I recall that they were a bit more animated”. Yes, like with all great rock bands from The Stones, to Zeppelin, to Metallica to U2, there are those of us who were THERE in the early days to witness these bands, that when they were ON, destroyed all expectations and elevated the fiefdom of the power of rock N roll to that of a religious experience.
Will I tell tall tales about the Greek show when it hits the shelves as a DVD? I’m from Los Angeles, of course I will, but the real deal will always be Pearl Jam at the Cabaret Metro in Chicago in 1993. Furious Epic Records and Sony Music staffers could not gain access to their private balcony and stood outside the roped off area as it was left empty. As Pearl Jam hit the stage, the members of U2 and their entourage filtered into the VIP area prepared to judge the ‘new kids on the block’. Eddie was already reaching beyond himself each and every night but with the elder statesman of rock looking on, he led his band through a gritty inspired performance that was an otherworldly display of passion laced with the ultimate conviction of a young hungry band. “Animated” is a gross understatement. Remembering that show isn’t waxing nostalgia, it’s brazenly proclaiming, I was THERE! With this vivid memory, many of us pilgrimage to see Pearl Jam every few years hoping to catch a glimpse of the former fire and on this night at the Greek, the sonic embers drifted amongst the smell of cedar but that now mythical wick will never be lit again.