“Tattooed all I see…”

Grandma’s Sports Garden in Duluth was the local meat-market in terms of college hangouts when I attended school at the University of Minnesota-Duluth from 1996-2000.  When I was a freshmen and sophomore, my friends and I would go to Grandma’s on Thursdays for under-21 night and never see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind.  Then when we all turned legal drinking age, we ditched the house parties in favor of dancing the night away to DJ mixes of popular songs like “Party Up (Up in Here)” by DMX, all while balancing dollar beers and $3 Long Island Iced Tea pitchers in both hands on Fridays and Saturdays.  I really don’t remember much from my Grandma’s excursions because it was the same ol’ blurry shit-show weekend after weekend for two years, but what I do remember of my time at Grandma’s Sports Garden is shooting free pool and eating pizza with Brandon during their happy hours.

The two of us had a great little routine on Fridays.  We’d grind our brakes down the hills of Duluth to Grandma’s in Canal Park and set up shop at one of the pool tables from 4:00-7:00. The two of us would have epic billiards battles or fierce clashes over air hockey.

(Side Note:  These outings are still something we enjoy to this day.  When we were in Chicago in 2016, I suggested we find some local tavern with a ping pong table because Brandon is a table tennis samurai. We did a quick Google search and found ourselves our new favorite Windy City bar—Keenan O’Reilly’s Pub!  Not bad for a White Sox bar on the north end of town!  Cheap PBR, pool table, ping pong table, rowdy locals, and a disheveled regular named Bob.  If you ever make it to Keenan O’Reilly’s, I dare you to challenge Bob to a ping pong match!  He may look like an old drunk, but he’ll school your ass on the table tennis court!)Bob & Brandon

Bob and Brandon battling it out.
Brandon could handle Bob’s wicked serve; I could not.

The time Brandon and I spent together shooting pool and talkin’ shit at Grandma’s is really what solidified our friendship, but it’s also what eventually spawned my fervent appreciation for Pearl Jam.  You see, Brandon always drove, which meant he dictated the playlist for the ride from campus to Canal Park and back, so Pearl Jam was always blasting out of his pink Dodge Neon’s factory car speakers.

Now, I owned Ten at the time, but I didn’t spend much time with it.  I picked it up at Disc-Go-Round on one of my many trips there, but I had fallen in love with the Alice in Chains Unplugged album, so I wasn’t really listening to much else.   And to be honest, I don’t know if I’d even ever heard the song “Black” before I met Brandon, which I know means I was living under a rock, but remember, I only listened to rap or watched the videos on MTV, and since “Jeremy” was the only Pearl Jam video on any sort of rotation back in the day, I just soaked that song up as much as I possibly could and then went back to my wannabe gangsta-ass ways.

Jeremy Vedder

Was anybody else terrified by Ed’s facial expressions in this video?!

So when I heard “Black” for the first time in the spring of my junior year of college, it wasn’t the studio version.  Instead, it was the only version our ears should ever want to hear the song—live.    The Live on Two Legs recording of “Black” is still my favorite rendition because the band rings out every ounce of raw emotion in that performance.  I remember getting completely lost in the genuine heart-felt pain of the lyrics, and as the cathartic ending crescendoed, I was left in a trance.  I could feel Mike’s guitar solo pleading for the woman in the song to come back, and Jeff, Ed, and Stone’s “doo doo doo doo-doo doos” sounded like a man sobbing over the loss of his one true love.  Having gone through the break-up of my first girlfriend a year before, I couldn’t help but be taken back to that emotional pain right there in Brandon’s car.

(No, I didn’t cry…)

After the song ended, I felt like I had to collect myself and regain my bearings.  When I finally found myself again, I thought, My god, that song was so beautiful!  I turned to Brandon and said something like, “Wow, that song is amazing!”

“I know!” he said with an amused chuckle.  Then he smiled slyly and with wry frankness said, “If you ever tell anyone we listened to that song together, I’ll fucking kill you.”

From that moment on, I needed every Pearl Jam song in my collection immediately.  I went to Disc-Go-Round the next week and picked up Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, and Yield.  Then I went to Best Buy and bought the recently-released Live on Two Legs album.  I suddenly had seven years of music I needed to absorb.  The Two Legs album never left my car.  It is a great collection of some of Pearl Jam’s best live moments from their 1998 tour.

(Side Note:  I was too lazy to go see this tour because I hadn’t quite caught the concert bug yet—they swung through Minneapolis on June 30th, 1998.  Had I gone, I would’ve seen Ed point to Brandon, who was holding up a sign in the fourth row that said “Play for Mankind” with the word “for” crossed out.  Ed said to Brandon, “This guy right over here’s got a sign.  That’s the one.  This is for you, fucker.”  Then Ed walked off the stage, and Stone reluctantly sang “Mankind” for all in attendance at Target Center.  Great story, B.  Guess I had to be there…)

img_7660

Let Stone sing! Let Stone sing!  Let Stone sing!

The more I listened to that live album, the more gems I seemed to find.

Off He Goes” quickly became my new favorite song.  Lyrically, I could relate to being a guy who couldn’t sit still long enough to ever be satisfied, but the subtle instrumentation of it all kept me in a steady state of mind just long enough to make me feel content.

On Saturdays, my roommate Gus and I would clean our apartment, but not before we cranked “Do the Evolution” up to 11 on our speakers and played air guitar with the mops and brooms.

Of course there was “Corduroy” and “Red Mosquito” and “Hail, Hail” and “Untitled/MFC”.  I even started liking Neil Young after hearing the final track on the album, “Fuckin’ Up”, which was clearly what I had been doing with my music collection all those years!

In a time when mix CDs littered my travel pouch, making it easy for me to simply rifle through the filler and get straight to the killer, the Live on Two Legs songs were all silver bullets, and not a song was skipped while listening to that album during my commutes to and from rural Minnesota to visit my family and friends back home, none of whom seemed to care about or share my new enthusiasm for Pearl Jam.

Hearing all of those songs live on that album suddenly awakened a new animal within me.  I hadn’t been to many concerts in my life up to that point—Rage Against the Machine at Target Center in September, 1997, was my first concert ever—so I made it a point to start seeing more live music.  More importantly, I made a promise to myself: I would NOT miss Pearl Jam the next time they came to town!

Even if it meant freezing my ass off…

Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Black” from the album Ten, released in 1991.  

Got a Pearl Jam story of your own?  Comment below! 

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