As a music fan born in 1989, I never truly lived the so called “golden era” of grunge around the time “Ten” came out. I never had a bunch of teenagers and early 20 year olds with long hair and looking like anorexic lumberjacks around my school. But as a kid raised in the 90’s and the first decade of the 2000’s, I’ve always heard of the good not so old days when Cobain was alive, rappers looked like they could beat the hell out of their own grandmas, and Pearl Jam established themselves as one of the most important bands of the period.
It was a period when MTV had music videos (videos with actual music, not half naked women and expensive stuff on screen), when albums came in a physical format and being a music fan consisted in actually liking and helping good bands gain recognition for their talent. Maybe your big brothers, big sisters, aunts, uncles, your parents or someone you know, had the chance to live it. Or maybe your lucky and did yourself. Or just maybe you all had the chance to re-experience such an era, such as at a Pearl Jam concert.Pearl Jam – Animal by virtualknight12
Pearl Jam is not a grunge band, a rock and roll act, or a bunch of old musicians trying to score some money celebrating two decades of a past career: Pearl Jam is an institution and a role model for once-great and newly formed bands. Luckily, México was spoiled with their third visit and became the last stop for their 20th anniversary world tour: PJ20. With the Foro Sol packed with more than 50,000 people and an almost full venue, it’s hard to imagine twenty years have gone by so fast.
Being the last city of a tour is both a curse and a blessing. Sometimes the performers are worn out and sick of travelling and put out a minimal effort, not having the energy to properly care about their fans, the time and money they have invested, or the prolonged wait some of us suffer for a show. Last Thursday night, Pearl Jam showcased a passion you no longer see in bands with half their talent or with careers even half as long as theirs. Some artists lose it as soon as they turn “mainstream”. But Eddie Vedder, Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard made thousands of souls remember, after a 32 song long set, what both a real rock concert used to be about: a celebration of life done with sound. Not a soulless light show with huge equipment and no heart.
Kicking off the night with the huge and classical Release, México City’s noisy streets were overshadowed by the screams of every single one who waited 6 years and a chance to witness history and real masters in the art of live performance. Last Exit, Even Flow, Unthought Known, Just Breathe, Do The Evolution, Last Kiss, Better Man: it didn’t matter if you loved the electric, the acoustic, the old, the hard, the soft, the covers or the new songs. There was something special for each and every fan that night.
Balancing and dividing the concert between hard and acoustic mini sets, and always thanking in both Spanish and English to the audience after almost each song, Vedder spoke on behalf of his band mates and their 20 year long career: reminding us and also proving that honesty and thankfulness are some of the keys of their success.
Not once was any sign of opulence or cockiness perceived throughout the entire night: wearing regular clothes, playing with small stacks for their instruments, using the only 2 screens provided by the venue, avoiding the use of fireworks, confetti or lasers, and focusing on their playing and performance. It truly felt like what a concert night from the early nineties must have been like. The experience acquired by each band member after 20 years of recording and touring in this, and any of their respective projects, was tangibly present on stage.
Moving back and forth and to each side of the stage, which was only adorned with a few flags and a blanket with fake amps, Vedder and company gave it their all. Running, head banging, inciting the audience to sing along, thanking and most importantly: delivering. Using the old school methods of live performing and the interaction with the audience, Pearl Jam proved the efficiency of a long forgotten art by their contemporaries.
It’s a no-brainer that Black, Do The Evolution and Alive were the most anticipated and celebrated songs last Thursday night. But the true winner was Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World, during which members of the opening act The X and Pearl Jam’s staff joined them on stage with tambourines and vocals. The audience wasn’t left behind, as they sang along as well, and accompanied the performance with probably the biggest cardboard glass rain the Foro Sol and México City had seen in a while.
After 2 covers, 2 encores, 31 songs, 1 mexican flag used as roman clothing, a rain of beer, a 6 years wait for the audience and 20 years of career for the musicians; Pearl Jam said goodbye to their last touring night with Yellow Ledbetter before all the Foro Sol lights turned on, with Eddie Vedder, Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament, Mike McCready and Stone Gossard thanking to everyone in the front, in the back, on the sides and in the past 3 decades colored by their albums and surely the next to come.
The sights of people in their mid 30’s and early 40’s wearing flannel shirts, some with Temple Of The Dog and Soundgarden tees and almost gone bald, singing along with young kids in their teens to Pearl Jam’s songs during the night: all of it looked like a bridge between two close generations. Generations so oddly opposite and most of the time separated by the minimum difference in their ages and the coldness of today’s music industry next to yesterday’s environment, but focused in the message hidden in Pearl Jam’s 3 hour long concert, at least for one night.
And that message seems to be: good music is for everyone, for anyone willing to listen. And good music has been and will always be alive…
Written by Jorge A. López Mendicuti
Guitarist, multi-instrumentalist, law school graduate, amateur writer and music fan