Peal Jam's feat? Playing a three-and-a-half-hour show … and not making it all about themselves. As Eddie Vedder made clear from his entrance to “Gonna Fly Now” while sporting bright red boxing gloves, this night would be all about the Spectrum.
At the Spectrum’s swan song on Saturday night, Pearl Jam accomplished the impossible.
No, they didn’t play every song in their catalog, as they promised they’d do at the start of their four-show run. No, they didn’t gather Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Dave Matthews, Jon Bon Jovi, the Hooters, AC/DC, Kiss and your mom onstage all at the same time, as blogs and radio were hyperventilating might happen in the days and hours leading up to the show.
The unbelievable feat they managed to pull off? Playing a three-and-a-half-hour show … and not making it all about themselves. As Eddie Vedder made clear from his entrance to “Gonna Fly Now” (its proper name, while the rest of the world simply knows it as the Rocky theme) while sporting bright red boxing gloves, this night would be all about the Spectrum. The wrecking ball’s on its way; time to send it off into the dark, wet South Philly night, and to do it right.
“This is it!” he hollered before plunging headfirst into the punky anthem “Why Go,” from the band’s debut Ten, an album so old now it’s reached the age of consent. “The history of this building, I can’t tell you how much it means to us,” he said a few songs later. “We have a big job to do.”
On the one hand, it’s tough to tell if the band’s fawning over the Spectrum and its history is based on actual affection, or if it’s knowledge of how seriously this city takes its historic stadiums, and what that meant for the solemn task that lay ahead of them.
But by all appearances, they’re going to miss the Spectrum just as much as we will. Besides name-checking classic Sixers players and comparing us favorably to comparable arenas around the country, the band worked hard to emphasize the musical history and quality of the building—something it was never designed for in the first place. After tripping over the intro to the brand-new insta-classic “Got Some,” Vedder admonished himself and his bandmates: “We gotta keep our shit together. This is the fucking Spectrum we’re closing!” And despite a stated goal of playing every song they know over four nights, he couldn’t resist a good number of repeats, including the perennial crowd-sing-along “Better Man”: “We played this the other night,” he said, “but I wanted to hear it one more time in this building.”
Not that it was all somber. The band played things looser and more fun than usual, trading mom jokes, excavating rarely (if ever) played deep tracks, and even coming out for the second encore dressed in full Devo garb for a surprisingly faithful cover of “Whip It.” This was, after all, Halloween—plenty in the audience were dressed as Stick Men, Bee Girls, Elderly Women Behind the Counter in a Small Town, and so on. Although the most prevalent costume—amid a crowd in which the guys largely looked like Seth Rogen, and some of the gals did too—was that of Phillies fan. (Early in the night, the girl parading across the stage with game updates, à la a boxing-ring girl, was a big hit; understandably, she stopped coming by after the third inning or so.)
The game updates were important, but it seemed that to close out the building, the musical history had in some ways eclipsed the sports that took place there. “There’s a reason why bands like to play this room,” Vedder said at the band’s first show on Tuesday. “It sounds really fucking good in here. It’s an honor that this band takes really seriously, playing the last shows in this room.”
That, combined with the relative intimacy of this arena venue, is what brought Springsteen, the Grateful Dead and so many others back again and again. Many were eager to carry a piece of that history with them, but, well, the cops stopped those carting chairs out at the exits.
In the finale “Yellow Ledbetter,” Vedder, guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Matt Cameron and keyboardist Boom Gaspar all walked offstage, letting lead guitarist Mike McCready soak up the Spectrum’s ending guitar solo—which he did in fine form, with a full rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As the distorted guitar feedback finally stopped and everyone exited, the thought that the room would finally go dark for the last time suddenly seemed the greatest impossibility of all.
I shot the Pearl Jam show last night at the Spectrum, the first of the Seattle band’s four dates to close out the venue for good. Social Distortion opened. Here’s a few photos — you can check out my full galleries of both bands over at the PW multimedia page. PEARL JAM SOCIAL DISTORTION [All photos by Michael [...]
This week we caught up with five Philadelphia musicians who’ve played the Spectrum during their career to reminisce a bit about their experiences in the venue, both as fans and performers.
PW's Music Issue 2014