Pearl Jam stepped up to the plate at the iconic Fenway Park this past weekend; dug their spikes into the batter’s box, tapped home plate and did their best “Big Papi,” hitting the ball out of the park on Friday and Sunday night. Bringing the legendary Seattle rockers to the home of the Green Monster has been a long time coming, and something both Boston sports fans and Pearl Jam fans have been longing for. As the evenings settled for what was two perfect summer baseball nights, the band took the stage to the elated crowds that consisted of people from all over the world, ready to witness the perfect uniting of histories.
During “Alive” (both nights), “Baba O’Riley” (night one) and “Rockin’ in the Free World” (night two), fans were jumping up and down, high-fiving, singing and celebrating as if the home team had just hit a walk-off to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy. There was a grab-the-champagne, line the locker rooms and throw on the goggles vibe to guitarist Mike McCready’s last notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” Sunday night. An appropriate pile-on, upon securing the final out type of feeling.
On Sunday night, I was seated/standing/jumping/dancing literally right on top of second base in a section that allowed for folding chairs, to accommodate my wife as we are expecting twins (what a first concert!). When I looked up and admirably took in the 37,000 Boston Strong shine in beaming house lights, I was in complete awe. The pleasure of watching the crowd get so affected at a Pearl Jam show is an experience unto itself. What an incredible mirage, (even for a Yankee fan) to be physically standing in the middle of it all at a place like Fenway.
This weekend, each person with a ticket got the post-game pie to the face, champagne shower. Here are five reasons why:
The Change Ups/The Pinch-Hits
To keep fans on their toes, there were a few unexpected off-speed pitches within Pearl Jam’s setlists both nights. Rare gems such as Binaural’s “Grievance,” and “Nothing As it Seems,” were met with huge applause, as were the non-album tracks, “Strangest Tribe,” and “Angel.” To close Friday night’s first encore, the band sent in a cleanup spot pinch hitter, ripping into the thunderous, “Corduroy.” It was the first time “Corduroy” closed a set in ten years. From the opening “E” note, it had that unmistakable crack of the bat sound, you didn’t even need to look at the wall. You knew it was gone. Crushed.
The Fenway Faithful
The collision of music and sports can result in the most dynamic double play. There’s a mutual respect between both sides that when you put them together in the right atmosphere, it can generate the fiercest pitcher-catcher combo in the big leagues. Such was the case at Fenway Park when former Red Sox players Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Youkilis were invited on stage. Arroyo, a musician himself and lifelong Pearl Jam fan, joined the band on acoustic guitar for a stellar version of “Black” on night one and Youk delivered the Uke during both shows. Acclaimed baseball journalist Peter Gammons, made an appearance as well.
David Ortiz’s number was called numerous times throughout the sets, as “Faithful” was played in tribute to him and Vedder told a story of witnessing an Ortiz grand slam where the hit ball magically lifted the entire crowd.
The All-Star Break
Returning to the field, post seventh-inning stretch on night one, Eddie Vedder took a moment to share a piece of the band’s history as he reminisced about their first Boston show billed as Pearl Jam, which was at club called Axis. Vedder would take polaroid’s at each show during their early club days, but unfortunately had the Boston shots confiscated by security. The polaroid’s and Vedder would ultimately have the last laugh as security attempted to rip the photos and failed (I don’t know if you ever tried to rip a polariod?).
Vedder explained how he successfully jumped the walls of Fenway Park during that tour stop and pulled off a 007 mission to capture a few photos (which were shared on the big screen) as the team was off on the All-Star Break. He then brought us all in on a moment of gratitude as he and the band now sat on stage in center field almost 25 years later.
The Hat Tips
Pearl Jam always show sincere appreciation for the history books of the city they are gracing. Thus playing in Boston’s biggest sports landmark for the first time meant guest appearances from Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton, joining the group on “Draw the Line,” Sunday night. The band debuted covering the Aerosmith classic Friday to start the second encore.
“Down,” song #14 on night one, was in honor of one of Vedder’s favorite Bostonians, the late, great Historian, Howard Zinn.
Vedder respectively spoke of the Boston Marathon bombings as he introduced “Yellow Moon.” He described how the Pearl Jam was in the studio at the time and happened to be working on that song, which appears on Lightning Bolt.
Lastly, Amherst’s own and Dinosaur Jr. frontman, J.Mascis, came into the game on guitar for the celebratory “Rockin’ in Free World” during Sunday’s finale.
There were two ropes in particular that were incredibly heartfelt. Vedder spoke of a fan in attendance, Matthew Plummer, who recently lost his father as he emotionally introduced “I’ve Got a Feeling” in dedication. It was the first time “I’ve Got a Feeling” has been played since 2004. In fact, the last three times the band covered the Beatles tune have been in Boston (1994, 2004, 2016).
The next was right after the moving “Sirens” sing-along outro, (which paired beautifully with the New England summer sky), Vedder spoke of taking a moment to appreciate the preciousness of life. He then perfectly placed one of the greatest lines by saying; “We are all alone in this together.” Perhaps a Star Anna nod, but something every concertgoer, band member, pitcher, fielder or batter at the plate could relate to.
Follow Jeff Gorra on Twitter here:
featured photo by: kevin mazur