One aspect of a love of music that never ceases to surprise me is the way in which a song you hear at a certain place and time in your life can immediately drag you back there years, even decades, later. Pearl Jam played Baltimore for the first time ever last night on a day that was marred by the departure of Lou Reed from this world. 15 years had passed since I last saw them, and the show was everything I hoped for in a rock show. They delivered a stellar set and the songs from the new LP Lightning Bolt fit really well with the rest of their catalog. The show was quite moving in some ways I had not expected.
PJ paid tribute to their fallen hero a few times. First they riffed on Walk On The Wild Side during the tail end of Daughter. Then Eddie dedicated Man of the Hour to Lou, an elegy which was met with great joy by the crowd around us on the floor. Continuing on, Pearl Jam cranked out a pounding version of the classic Velvet Underground tune I’m Waiting For The Man which may have gone unrecognized by the Baltimore crowd: it just did not seem like the audience knew the song. That’s okay, though. It meant a lot to me and anyone familiar with the tune – we were ecstatic about hearing some VU music performed live.
Being longtime Who fans, their live cover of Love Reign O’er Me, did not surprise me at all. The closing prayer from their Quadrophenia LP, I was surprised at how choked up I got hearing this song performed live. Have seen the Who perform it 3 times and it was always a highlight, and the power of Eddie’s voice is quite similar to Daltrey’s. It occurred to me that the news we received over the weekend about The Who hanging it up (really?) after their next tour might have hit me a bit harder than I thought it did.
What really got me emotional was their performance of Black from the debut album. In particular the lines, “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star – in somebody else’s sky, but why can’t it be mine?” took me right back to a very solitary and lonely time in my 20s. The emotion and soul of the lyrics on that debut album connected deeply with me at the time. Even if the words were often hard to understand, there was no doubting the emotion in Vedder’s vocals. Their performance of this in the legendary MTV Unplugged set was a huge highlight of that show and of last night’s concert.
The night brought back a concert memory from those days in my 20s that is both funny and somewhat uncomfortable to admit. My good friend Dave and I saw Tori Amos in Pittsburgh in August 1992 on her first tour, circa Little Earthquakes. We sat about 10 feet away from her and she was a phenomenal performer – telling stories about sneaking Zeppelin records past her parents and playing them down in the basement, and so forth. Just her and the piano. There was, though, for the men in the crowd (or at least us) something really unsettling about being looked in the eye while she was singing some of her more personal material, such as Me And A Gun. After the show, we had to walk maybe a half mile back to downtown to catch a bus home. We had a slight buzz on and something macho took hold of us, almost as a reaction to her ultra-female material and set. I was days away from turning 22. We walked back towards downtown, a pair of dueling Vedder imitations disrupting the desolate landscape between where we had been and where we were going.