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Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden on 9/11/2022
Let's talk great concerts I went to in 2022. On the 21st anniversary of 9/11, Pearl Jam played Madison Square Garden. I was there with a good friend.
My wife and I met our friends Mike and Ava at kindergarten orientation for our eldest sons in the fall of 2016. Our kids had been in the same pre-school as well, so we’d sort of met them or waved in their general direction during bleary-eyed drop-offs and harried pickups. Anyone who has lived that daycare, pre-school life knows what it’s like to mobilize a kid and their stuff in and out of a building and into a car seat. It doesn’t lend itself to socializing and getting to know people. So, we really “met them, met them” that night as we both glowed in the huge financial raises we were set to receive by sending kids to kindergarten instead of the much pricier daycare / pre-school.
Because I’m me, Mike and I started talking about sports. And I probably mentioned that my friends and I were responsible for the Cleveland sports website Waiting For Next Year. All of a sudden, Mike’s face lit up. He knew the site, and connected the dots that I was the person who wrote an article about the then-2013-Cleveland-Indians making the playoffs and how it reminded me of Pearl Jam re-emerging as a vital band with the song “Sirens.” Mike was a gigantic Pearl Jam fan as well. Our families became friends. We started socializing, and Mike and I became close.
Fast-forward to 2018, probably over way too many drinks, Mike and I made a pact. We were going to see Pearl Jam. It didn’t matter if we had to travel. It was going to happen. We’re middle-aged guys. We’ve done well enough for ourselves that we could afford to travel for a concert if it was important enough. Pearl Jam had finished a run of shows at baseball stadiums that summer, and they didn’t come to Cleveland because they never come to Cleveland. So, we made it our mission to find a Pearl Jam show and just go.
We noticed that Eddie Vedder was one of the headliners at the Innings Festival in Tempe, Arizona, in early 2019. Not only that, but Incubus, Jimmy Eat World, Band of Horses, Sheryl Crow, and Liz Phair were going to be there too. I acted as travel agent for us, and we were set. 1
Eddie Vedder's solo show is an interesting experience. He plays mostly by himself on various instruments, occasionally bringing out other musicians to help fill out the sound. He played a handful of Pearl Jam songs and covers of Tom Petty, U2, and Bruce Springsteen. It was a great night of music, but it wasn’t Pearl Jam. And so no matter how awesome a weekend we had, the quest for a Pearl Jam show continued.2
When the pandemic arrived, my buddy’s family ended up being one of our quarantine families who we actually socialized with in person. Naturally, that made us even closer. Meanwhile, Pearl Jam canceled everything during the pandemic. The tour that they had planned for 2020 would finally be re-scheduled in 2022. Randomly, a friend from college had two tickets to Pearl Jam at MSG on 9/11 and posted it to Instagram to see if he had any friends who wanted them. Before even thinking about it, I leaped at the chance and claimed them. Mike and I were finally going to see Pearl Jam.
Where do you begin to talk about one of the greatest shows you’ve ever seen? Not to list my total concert-going resume here, but I feel I’ve got the cred to say that it means more when I say this than many others. Most people think they have gone to many concerts, but I’m in the upper percentile. By the end of September, I will have been to 24 rock shows in the year since my pandemic-fueled concert hiatus ended. This show had so many storylines.
For Pearl Jam, this was an opportunity to play a show on the anniversary of 9/11 in New York City. The band talked about first responders still battling health concerns from the stage, but it wasn’t an off-the-rails political evening. Eddie Vedder quoted one first responder he met, saying, "he asked me not to make it political." Vedder went on to say that supporting health care for heroes should never be a political issue. He said he is horrified that any other American would each other for their political beliefs. He compared politicians to divorce attorneys who get paid to divide us all. He encouraged us all to lean into the feelings of unity on 9/12. It wasn’t a focal point of the evening, but the date on the calendar certainly loomed largely.
This night was about music. Over 24 songs, the band pulled zero punches all night long. They played six songs from Ten, opening with “Release,” and going straight into “Garden” at the Garden. I won’t do the whole concert setlist, but they played “Even Flow,” “Given to Fly,” “Dissident,” and “Rearviewmirror,” which are all just phenomenal choices. The surprises were even better.
The band played “Chloe Dancer / Crown of Thorns” by Mother Love Bone, which they only did twice on the whole tour. That song will forever be special to me because it was part of my earliest moments of musical discovery thanks to the Singles soundtrack. They played a cover of “Purple Rain,” with former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer singing. They played an old punk cover, “Sonic Reducer” by The Dead Boys, which is a real old-school nugget for those of us who did deep dives into the bootleg scene back in the 90s. Finally, they closed with “Rockin’ in the Free World” and welcomed Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith to help out. And just to finish it off on 9/11, Mike McCready played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on guitar.
I despise the whole “only in New York” vibe that some people give off like the only place where good things can happen in the universe is a big city. I can be a defensive midwesterner, going back to my freshman year at Boston University when a classmate from Long Island asked me what time it was where I grew up in Ohio. Spoiler alert. We’re in the same time zone. My personality flaws aside, this was a show that could have only happened in New York. Serena and Venus Williams were in attendance and got a shout-out from the stage. Chad Smith coming on for the encore. It was special in a way that it just couldn’t have been in another city, let alone my beloved hometown of Cleveland.
The whole weekend too, by the way. From going to the 9/11 memorial on 9/10 to eating dinner in the village and having a solo run through Central Park early on Sunday morning, it was a really fun cliched New York City weekend.
It was a triumphant chapter closing for my friend Mike and me as well. We made a pact to go see Pearl Jam. We tried and tried and finally did it spectacularly. What an epic trip. What an epic show. It will be hard to top that one.
One thing I can honestly brag about? I’m really good at planning trips. I’m obsessive about details. I try to think of everything, including grabbing dinner reservations weeks in advance. If you need help planning something, invite me to your guys weekend. I’ll be more than additive. Trust me.
As an aside, we fell in love with the Innings Festival and have gone back two more times with larger groups of washed-up dads like ourselves. It was canceled twice during the pandemic, but we made our triumphant return this year to see Foo Fighters before the passing of Taylor Hawkins. Wouldn’t you know it we’re heading back in 2023 and Eddie is headlining Night 2.