Live Review: Pearl Jam Keep Tradition Alive at Chicago’s Wrigley Field (8/18, 8/20)

Once again, the Seattle rockers made the Cubs' field their second home

Pearl Jam, photo by Lior Phillips
Pearl Jam, photo by Lior Phillips

    Setting the Stage: At this point, Wrigley Field is even more of a tradition for Pearl Jam than playing hometown shows in Seattle. It helps, of course, that their main man, Eddie Vedder, is a Chicagoland native, having been born just north of the stadium in Evanston, Illinois. He’s also a life-long Cubs fan, an allegiance that’s been well documented by both WGN footage over the years and the band’s 2017 concert film and documentary, Let’s Play Two. By now it’s obvious that Wrigley is the band’s summer home.

    For their third go-around, following 2013’s historic rain delay show and 2016’s epic two-night run, Pearl Jam arrived fresh from an incredible week in Seattle, where they paid respect to fallen legendsfought to preserve historyopened up an entire goddamn exhibit, and conquered two epic shows at Safeco Field. That energy only grew stronger in the MIdwest as Vedder and co. came well prepared to add to their Wrigleyville narrative, from endless tributes to unlikely covers to another duel with Mother Nature.

    Taking the Stage: I’ll let the galleries remind you of how beautiful Wrigley Field looks when the grandstands are packed and shining like a Camaro’s hood in the moonlight. And you’ve probably seen Eddie Vedder defy his age a thousand times and go hurtling off a riser at a song’s conclusion or Mike McCready take a soloing victory lap into an adoring crowd.


    If you’re a Pearl Jam fan, no doubt you’ve scraped the sky with shouts of “Hello…” (“Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”), felt the blood rush through your body as “Corduroy” surged, rode shotgun with the windows down on “Rearviewmirror”, or felt the sky crack open during “Alive”. You’ve cried for an absent friend (“Missing”), gritted your teeth in defiance (“Know Your Rights”), or heard something old in a new light (“Rebel Rebel”).

    If you were at Wrigley Field on either Saturday or Monday night, you went to not only a rock show at a ballpark but to a party, a protest, and a wake. You felt celebration, angst, and release. Like any Pearl Jam show, you came in with life’s worries, frustrations, and bruises and somehow, thanks to rock and roll, miraculously left on the mend. –Matt Melis

    Have Fun, Play Singles: Maybe it’s because they were still feeling nostalgic from their time in the Emerald City, but slotting their two Singles contributions back to back was a brilliant move by the gang. Granted, “State of Love and Trust” has become a staple in recent memory — and for good reason, seeing how it destroys the crowd — but “Breath” is something of a rarity. Hearing them together made die-hard fans such as this guy swoon like a greasy Steve Dunne opening his apartment door to a loving Linda Powell. You just wanted to stand up and scream, “We will always go out dancing!” –Michael Roffman


    Rain Over Me: Play an outdoor show in the summer and you run the risk of drawing the ire of Mother Nature. For Pearl Jam, though, it’s starting to become part of the Wrigley tradition. Five years later, their legendary 2013 performance continues to resonate within the ivy confines, and you can see it on the faces of their followers (and, well, also their t-shirts). So, when the rain and lightning delayed Monday evening’s show, it became storytime for veterans who recounted their experiences as everyone huddled together in the lobby for beer, dogs, and camaraderie. Kind of nice.  –Michael Roffman

    Can’t Find a Vedder Man: Look, we all know how Eddie loves the wine. The way he climbs into a bottle or two of Merlot every night is part and parcel the charm to every Pearl Jam show. Because by the end of every set, the guy sounds like a Springsteen bootleg that’s been shot to shit by overexposure to the sun. Naturally, his big return to Wrigley saw him relishing his moments like any other Wrigleyville lush, but it was earned. These were the first shows they played following the Cubs’ historic win in 2016, and Vedder was not going to let that piece of history go by unnoticed.

    On both nights, he shared his love for the game, for the team, and for the people behind it. He thanked the Ricketts, Anthony Rizzo, Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and the list goes on. It was all very heartfelt, but also not without humor. His funniest moment, however, came deep Monday night: “This is the last time the band’s ever going to tour from April to October,” he announced. “Not because of the weather or anything, but because of the owner of the Cubs last night offered me a job working in the scoreboard and I just can’t turn that down. I mean… that’s living the dream.”


    And yet for two seconds, it was every fans’ nightmare. Hilarious. –Michael Roffman

    Cover Me: It’s been five years since Pearl Jam put out an album, and although they’ve been insistent that a followup to 2013’s Lightning Bolt is coming, we’ve heard nothing but promises and one average single in this past March’s “Can’t Deny Me”. So, what’s the deal? Well, one look through their expansive setlists for their Home Away shows suggests that the band’s been really, really keen on doing covers, so maybe they’re putting out an album? Who knows. Either way, they’ve clearly been having a ball playing other people’s music, and Wrigley saw over a dozen covers between the two nights.

    Each night had six, making up around 30% of the performance, and both produced a couple of highlights for future setlists. The band’s live debut of David Bowie’s “Rebel Rebel” on Saturday night, for instance, and even Vedder’s take on The White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends” on Monday evening. Not all were hits, and they could stand to lose The Clash’s “Know Your Rights” and Neil Young’s “Throw Your Hatred Down”. Both paled in comparison to how they’ve previously tackled either artist and left the setlist sagging. Still, gotta love that Hail Mary return of The Beatles’ “Rain” on Monday.

    Having said all that, where’s the album fellas? –Michael Roffman

    That One Moment: Pearl Jam have grown into and embraced being a band of all times, and their shows reflect that. Sometimes, it’s raising millions for the homeless of their hometown of Seattle; other times, it’s looking to an uncertain future with hope and encouraging their fans, young and old, to get out the vote. On Saturday, the most poignant moment came with an eye to the past. Vedder segued from “Wishlist” to sitting alone center stage and reflecting on those he wished were still around, like Cubs legends Ron Santo, Harry Caray, and “Mr. Cub” himself, Ernie Banks, who had appeared onstage with the band at their famous Wrigley debut five years earlier. When you think about all the great athletes and musicians who have been cheered on at Wrigley Field — the second oldest major league baseball stadium — and consider that the memories of those championed could fill the ballpark on their own, it does make the Friendly Confines a sort of hallowed place, ripe for looking back on the best of us.


    Foremost on Vedder’s mind, though, as has been the case at previous shows, was the late Tom Petty. For many Americans, laying out on the lawn at a Petty concert had become an annual summer tradition like fireworks on the Fourth of July or eating a hot dog at the ballpark. So, it was fitting to be in the stands of Wrigley or out atop its lush, green grass as Vedder, using Petty’s own guitar, led a sing-along of our favorite American boy of summer’s “I Won’t Back Down”. Cell lights lit the ballpark with the glow of a million fireflies, and somehow, as we collectively pledged to “stand our ground,” it felt as though the masses at Wrigley were paying tribute to our past, affirming our present, and staking our claim to a future that builds upon the best of what came before. –-Matt Melis

    That One Song: There was a surprising amount of overlap on both nights. “Do the Evolution”, “Rearviewmirrror”, “Even Flow”, “Alive”, “Porch”, and “Corduroy” were all played twice, and while it wasn’t exactly frustrating to sit through these classics again, it wasn’t particularly exciting, either. Well, with the exception of “Corduroy”. Ever since it first appeared on Vitalogy, the single has been a staple of the band’s, and honestly, it’s arguably their strongest live cut. Vedder’s survivalist inflections, those ebbs and flows between McCready and Matt Cameron, the way it recycles that haunting Temple of Doom claps from the audience … ah, it’s a perfect encapsulation on why this band is the greatest live act living today. And we got it twice. –Michael Roffman

    So, Who Won? Saturday night edged out Monday. Sure, the rain delay made things feel particularly special and added more of a narrative, but there was also a lot of fat to that setlist. Deep cuts like “Leash”, “Smile”, “In My Tree”, and “U” were pleasant to hear dusted off and that cell phone vigil for Stan Mikita during “Come Down” was all kinds of emotional, but the unstoppable punch of Saturday, what with its astounding first few innings (“Wash”, “Low Light”, “Small Town”, “Breakferfall”, “Corduroy”, “Hail Hail”, and “Animals”), Singles double-header (“State of Love and Trust”, “Breath”), and final grand slam encore (“Rebel Rebel”, “Better Man”, “Alive”, “Rockin’ in the Free World”, and “Yellow Ledbetter”), is just impossible to forget. –Michael Roffman


    Extra Innings: We don’t have any accolades left to heap on Pearl Jam that we haven’t already awarded. They’re one of the few remaining rock acts that deserve to play stadiums, never take a night off, and build community through sincerity, brotherhood, and an unwavering belief in rock and roll’s ability to leave the world just a little better for it having blared out a stack of amps.

    Mired in what will no doubt be looked upon as a particularly ugly stretch of history — a period that has witnessed our basic American values called into question on almost a daily basis — two nights of standing, dancing, and headbanging shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters at the ballpark was enough to remind us of just how sweet it is to keep on rocking in the free world. –Matt Melis

    Saturday’s Setlist:
    Low Light
    Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
    Hail Hail
    Leaving Here (Edward Holland, Jr. cover)
    Present Tense
    Even Flow
    Missing (Chris Cornell cover)
    Not for You (with “Modern Girl” tag)
    Can’t Deny Me
    I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
    Just Breathe
    Sleeping by Myself (Eddie Vedder song)
    State of Love and Trust
    Know Your Rights (The Clash cover)
    Do the Evolution
    Encore 2:
    Rebel Rebel (David Bowie cover, Pearl Jam live debut)
    Better Man
    Rockin’ in the Free World (Neil Young cover)
    Yellow Ledbetter


    Monday’s Setlist:
    Given to Fly
    Why Go
    Last Exit
    Mind Your Manners
    Do the Evolution
    Rain (The Beatles cover)
    Throw Your Hatred Down (Neil Young cover)
    Even Flow
    In My Tree
    Daughter (with “It’s Ok” tag)
    Unthought Known
    I Am a Patriot (Little Steven cover)
    We’re Going to Be Friends (The White Stripes cover)
    Come Back
    Lightning Bolt
    Evil Little Goat (live debut)
    Baba O’Riley (The Who cover)