Pearl Jam set smashes even after nearly 2-hour delay due to lightning storm
A surprise storm rolling in during Macklemore’s set on Saturday, 6/11, and caused venue management at Bonnaroo to order the evacuation of every stage and tent inside the Bonnaroo arches until it passed, but even with the mass exodus and re-entry of tens of thousands of fans, Pearl Jam still delivered the kind of crowd-pleasing stellar performance they are known for.
I wasn’t planning to go to ‘Roo this year at all as I had a job lined up for June 7-13, but when they cancelled a week before and I found out that the festival was selling single-day tickets, I was there. Left for Nashville at 6:30 AM to pick up the required shuttle bus back to Manchester, arrived there at 12, and immediately got into the line at the What stage gate to ensure a good spot up front for Pearl Jam. However I did end up parking first at the second rail for Grace Potter and I’m glad I did – what a set of pipes she has. Not sure how she could last her whole set moving around on stage like she does, in the 95 degree near-cloudless-sky heat. I had to leave when she was done as I thought I might faint in the sun. And I wanted to get in the rail line for Pearl Jam. (Bonnaroo has separate entry for each band’s rail – you can’t go up front for the first one and stay all day; they empty the pit after each set and let the next band’s group in.)
Fast-forward to the blessing of the sun finally going down and enjoying listening to Band of Horses and Chris Stapleton, followed by Macklemore’s set, which was all fun and games until it became obvious that there was a lightning storm on the brink. Bonnaroo staff announced that the entire field needed to be evacuated until the storm passed. As if this wasn’t bad enough, everyone in the rail line – who had been there for 10 or more hours – was projected into a combined state of disbelief and horror that all that time in the blazing sun was for naught. I and many others tried to “stay behind,” but the staff was having none of that. They made us all leave. There was nowhere to hide. We were instructed to go to our cars or camping spots; I had neither as I had taken the shuttle bus, but a friend I met in line offered me a waiting spot in her RV. Once the all clear was called, we raced back to the line … what had been a nice orderly respectful group of people who all knew where their spots were turned into hundreds of crashers who knew damn well they had not been in the rail line at all but saw their opportunity to push their way up front. I will forever thank the rail gods and a wonderful Roo employee named Terri who made sure that at least the first 40 or so people in line got back into their original spots. But it was scary for a bit – slight shades of Roskilde, site of a horrific accident in 2000 where nine festival attendees were trampled to death during the Pearl Jam set. We in the original line were being pushed and compressed into an ever-smaller pancake by the new people rushing in and it was not comfortable, to say the least. But the core group of us who had been waiting all day were wonderful. Some young guys at their first-ever PJ show who had been behind me in the original line ended up in front in the new line, and made sure to tell me that when the staff gave the “GO” sign, they’d step aside so I could get ahead of them. And they did. Thanks you guys, wherever you are.
Opening with a bang were three hard numbers: “Go” off 1993’s Vs. (written as “Don’t Go” on the setlist), and then “Save You” from Riot Act and the bitterly angry “Corduroy” from Vitalogy, before the band went into calmer territory with “Lightning Bolt” (title track of their latest 2013 release) and the uplifting parable-like “Given to Fly.” from Yield. A good, if not terribly deep, set of tracks followed – more of the most familiar songs from Vitalogy, Lightning Bolt, Ten, Yield, and Vs., and then a rare cover of Joe Strummer’s “Arms Aloft,” which they have played live only 14 times previously.
“We miss him to this very very day, and after The Clash he made great great records on his own. He got really into festival culture in Europe where all this kind of started, and to be here tonight at Bonnaroo, which is really one of the first ones in the States to take off and take hold and create a great energy of exuding positivity … this doesn’t come from the people who run it; it comes from the people who attend … [“Arms Aloft”] is a song Joe wrote about his festival days.” –Eddie Vedder
Also on the list were covers of “Comfortably Numb” and show-closer “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Personally I think their 2008 Bonnaroo setlist was “better” (for a long-time fan), but this was fine and typical for a festival. Not everyone there is there to see the headliner. They don’t know all the words to all the songs on all the albums and EPs and singles and demo compilations. Gotta play appropriately to the audience to some extent. As is usual, Vedder dropped out of the mic several times so he can have the audience sing back, which he has been doing since practically their first performance; and he changed lyrics several times. And he did mess up a couple times (which he clearly immediately realized, judging by the aw shit look on his face – it’s not like he was so out of it that random whatevers were coming out of his mouth). Most obvious was on “Save You.” Yes it was pretty bad. He’s human. Not a machine. They hardly ever sing that song. Overall it was not a big deal, despite what a couple strangely ironic whiney and petulant “I’ve been a fan like FOREVAH but I’m so over Pearl Jam now, sniff” persons have reported on. There was a weather delay and it was possible the whole thing might have to be cancelled. He probably smoked a bowl during the wait. Good for him. If anyone noticed that Vedder got the words wrong, it was because 60,000 people in the audience were singing the right ones as one united collective being and they were saying something different than what he was. Read that last sentence again, very slowly, and think about what it means. You know who goes to a show with their personal lyrics book out waiting like a vulture to find mistakes? People who need to take a break from shows and a Valium, that’s who. Anyways …
Regrettably, crossed off the setlist were “Pilate” from Yield, the Pink Floyd “Interstellar Overdrive” cover intro to “Corduroy”; and “Comatose” from 2006’s Pearl Jam (aka Avocado). Plus a substitution of “Rockin’ in the Free World” instead of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” All probably done due to time constraints from rearranging the set after the storm. Of particular note on the songs that did get played was an especially heartfelt version of “Black” (with Brendan O’Brien on the piano and a smoking Mike McCready lead guitar solo), complete with the distraught and hopeless “we belong, we belong together” tag on the end. “Porch” brought Vedder down from the stage to commune up close and personal with the center rail during the breakdown, after which he threw an entire bottle of wine to someone in the front. And there was an incredibly appropriate sky of fireworks displayed during “Comfortably Numb,” lit by a fan who snuck behind the trucks to set them off. (Embedded video by darmoktech on YouTube.)
In typical Ed fashion, he had a couple of brief rants on issues he feels strongly about – the Tennessee “bathroom bill” introduced by Susan Lynn, which was withdrawn from session amidst protests but which she has promised to re-introduce in September; and some words for the orange oompa-loompa troll doll running for president who wants to build a wall to keep all the brown people out (no wall needed on the Canadian side, eh?). Vedder suggested building a wall around Mr. Pumpkin instead and volunteered to pay for it himself. But I’m in for $20.
After “Oceans,” Vedder’s daughter Olivia was introduced and brought out to have Happy Birthday sung to her. A very sweet moment, although I think I caught an “OMG Dad shut up!” look on her face from the wing. The best part was seeing the whole band beaming at her with real affection, and then when she was exiting the stage, she made a quick stop to run over and hug both Stone Gossard and touring keyboardist Boom Gaspar before leaving. They’re just “dad’s friends” to her. It’s a bit surreal.
Pearl Jam continue their tour at Ride Festival on July 9, followed by Pemberton on July 17, and then long-sold-out shows at Fenway on August 5 and 7 and finally Wrigley Field on August 20 and 22. See also pearljam.com.
Grace Potter continues her tour on June 16 in Keene, NH, and she will also be appearing at Pemberton. For more dates, see gracepotter.com.
Photos and article for 10 Wire Up. © 2016 Maryelle St. Clare, all rights reserved.
A chance front-row ticket to see The Pogues in 2008 led me to curiously wonder who the photographer was in the aisle, who obviously had permission to be there with her pro camera. Those few minutes of seeing this person doing a job I hadn’t really noticed before opened a picture window for me and I immediately knew, “I want to do THAT.” And that was the start. When I’m not shooting bands, I’m probably still seeing them. Rail, baby, rail. It’s an addiction. See my photography, design, and retouching at maryelle-stclare.com.