From the time I first heard “Black” in Brandon’s pink Dodge Neon in the spring of 1999 to the time of my first Pearl Jam concert, my life experiences started adding up to more memorable moments instead of drunken college-kid debauchery (though there was still plenty of that unfortunately).
For starters, I began going to more and more rock festivals like 93X-Fest and Ozzfest in Somerset, WI, because I was able to get more band-bang for my buck. I saw heavy rock bands like System of a Down (thanks, Brad!), Deftones, Primus, Godsmack, Rob Zombie, Slipknot, Static-X, Taproot, and Brandon’s second favorite band–Stone Temple Pilots.
As my thirst for live music in mass quantities began to intensify, I decided to go all-in once the Woodstock ’99 line-up was announced:
Red Hot Chili Peppers
And of course, my favorite band of them all–Rage Against the Machine!
I was able to quickly talk my good friend Pete into taking a road trip with me to Rome, NY, and the excitement of the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll camping weekend caught on with our friends Sarah and Heather, so the four of us packed our bags, hopped in my car, and ventured out east to Griffiss Air Force Base for three days of throwing up devil horns, plastic bottles raining down from the sky, high temps burning my skin and higher prices burning my wallet, some idiot plywood-surfing and jumping on the concert-goers beneath him, Port-a-Potties with shit stacking so high we had to hover above the toilet, faucets being ripped off their pipes, rioters bashing ATMs and chanting “Gas money! Gas money!”, Pete and I looking for my car in the giant field of a parking lot for more than three hours after the fires started, and me losing my mom’s goddamn camera and all of the photos I had taken during our time there. Shit!
When my senior year of college started in September, 1999, I was given a preview of what the next few years of my life would look like. One of the challenges I faced was losing my best friend to Australia. Brandon, who always makes the most of traveling, student-taught in the town of Warrnambool, leaving me back in Duluth to make meaning out of Yield and No Code, my two new favorite albums, all by myself. Our subject headings in our frequent email exchanges were usually Pearl Jam lyrics that were stuck in our heads that day, and I always looked forward to reading his tag line at the end of every email–“I swear I never took you for granted, just thought of it now.” Of course when Rage Against the Machine’s Battle of Los Angeles came out in November, 1999, Brandon thought it would be funny to do a song-by-song review of the entire album before I even had a chance to listen to it because it had come out a week earlier in Australia.
What a dick.
My senior year was also when I started dating a girl named Sasha, who was also very much into music. She had (and still does have!) an amazing singing voice, and she could play some piano and guitar as well. She turned me on to Tori Amos (her karaoke rendition of “Silent All These Years” will have you on your feet and cheering wildly!), and I turned her on to Pearl Jam. The two of us would sit and listen to No Code over and over again, taking in lyrics like, “Makes much more sense to live in the present tense” as graduation gradually made its way closer and closer. Having someone else in my life who truly appreciated music made listening to our favorite artists together more meaningful. The two of us were able to grow our music collections and discuss our favorite songs and artists in a way that enhanced our mutual appreciation for music.
(Side note: Eventually Sasha and I broke up, but we’re still friends to this day. Heck, I was even invited to her wedding. Her husband Nate is a great dude and is probably one of the best huggers you’ll ever meet!)
During the first half of 2000, I made concert-going a priority. With Brandon down under, I relied on my friends from back home to help me carry the torch. When a major act came to town, I was on the horn with my friends Robbie, Slim, and Paco, and we logged on to Ticketmaster the second tickets went on sale and scored seats to some fantastic shows!
Non-Festival Concerts Attended from 1998-2000, per setlist.fm
Family Values Tour (feat. Korn, Limp Bizkit, Ice Cub, Rammstein, and Orgy)
Limp Bizkit feat. Staind
Alanis Morissette feat. Tori Amos
Family Values Tour (feat. Korn, Limp Bizkit, Staind, Primus, and Orgy–
who sucked so bad the first time we skipped them the second time around)
Snocore Tour (feat. Everclear, Soul Coughing, Redman, and DJ Spooky)
Metallica feat. Kid Rock
Korn feat. Staind
Nine Inch Nails feat. A Perfect Circle
A Perfect Circle
Stone Temple Pilots
93X Nutcracker (feat. Deftones, Incubus, Papa Roach, Taproot)
Side Note: This was also the time nu-metal was making its way onto the scene, so the rap-rock mix was an easy transition for me, which is why you see so many Korn, Godsmack, and Limp Bizkit shows on my concert list. And listen, I know Limp Bizkit sucks, but like a friend once said to me when Limp Bizkit tried to launch a comeback with 2011’s Gold Cobra: “Look, listening to Limp Bizkit in your 30s is a lot like masturbating in your 30s–when you’re done, you feel embarrassed and ashamed and you wonder why you did it in the first place. But while you’re doing it, you remember why you liked it so much back in college–because it’s fun.”
In May, 2000, I graduated cum laude from UMD and moved back home for the summer. I started the job hunt, hoping to launch my teaching career in the Twin Cities. After several failed interviews. I was finally offered a position at Rochester Century High School, an hour and a half southeast of Minneapolis. Rochester is often listed as one of the top ten cities to live in the United States, but as far as a live music scene, there really wasn’t much it could offer, so I longed for any excuse to travel up to the Twin Cities to see my favorite acts play a show.
Meanwhile, Brandon and his future wife Courtney packed up their bags and headed out west to the Salad Bowl of the United States–Salinas, CA, where they both took English teaching positions at a high school in Hollister. Knowing that they were leaving Minnesota at the end of the summer was a pisser, especially considering Brandon had spent half of my senior year in Australia and the other half back home at his grandfather’s house on the Iron Range, an hour and a half north of Duluth, taking a job in the mines to pass the time before the next school year rolled around. We made it a point to hang out often and laugh like we always did as the same old friends we’d always been, but before long, he was off again.
Also around this time, Pearl Jam’s sixth album, Binaural, was released. I was ready to dive into some new music from Pearl Jam! “Nothing As It Seems” did not pack much punch on the charts as the debut single, but its droning, haunting sound coupled with Ed’s baritone packed a powerful first punch for me, and I knew I wanted more. When I heard they were performing on The David Letterman Show in April, 2000, I dialed in to watch them rock “Grievance“, and I remember being blown away at the whirling-dervish on lead guitar known as Mike McCready. It had been the first live Pearl Jam performance of any kind I had ever seen, and I once again vowed to secure a ticket if they ever made their way to Minnesota.
Which, as any frustrated Minnesotan Pearl Jam fan can tell you, they didn’t.
Instead, they announced an October 8th show at Alpine Valley Amphitheater in East Troy, WI, just under four hours away from Rochester. It was a Sunday night show, which gave me an excuse to use one of my personal days at school the next day, so I bought three lawn tickets to the show–one for me, one for Sasha, and one for Pete, who was up for yet another road trip. Pete and Sasha car-pooled to Rochester from Duluth, where they were still finishing up their degrees, and we jumped in my car and headed east on I-90 once again, this time for Pearl Jam!
Before we left Rochester, though, we took a look at the forecast. “It’s going to be cold!” I said. “We better bundle up.” I threw on some flannel pants underneath my baggy-ass jeans, put on a long-sleeve shirt under a hooded sweatshirt, grabbed some winter gloves and a stocking cap, stepped into some wool socks and a pair of Adidas, and off we went, feeling ready to brave the cold October night.
“The colors blend…”
Great River Bluffs State Park
I really had no idea what to expect at my first Pearl Jam show. I desperately wanted to hear “Off He Goes” and “Wishlist” because they were my two favorite songs at the time, but other than that, I was just excited to see my first Pearl Jam show!
When we finally arrived at the parking field about an hour before the show, we noticed a similar party atmosphere to the festivals we had attended before, except with one striking difference–it was fucking freezing! As a born-and-bred Minnesotan, I can honestly tell you I can’t remember an October night in my life that has ever been as cold as my first Pearl Jam concert. Every inch of my body was shivering, and I started wondering, Who the hell schedules an outdoor show in Wisconsin in October?!
We eventually made our way to the lawn and shuffled in to a spot towards the middle-back. The huddled masses stayed close, and I watched as the cold air turned each breath into puffs of smoke. My body shook in vain to stay warm during the opening band–Supergrass–but I wasn’t sure if feeling would ever come back to my toes.
During the break between bands, I struck up a conversation with a guy next to me. It was at this moment that the Pearl Jam fan culture began to grow in scope beyond just Brandon’s obsession with this band. This guy seemed to have the same encyclopedic knowledge of the band as well, and he was taking concert notes so he could post them on the Pearl Jam fan site “The Sky I Scrape.” I had heard Brandon talk about this site before, and I had checked it out from time to time just to increase my knowledge of the band so I could actually carry on a conversation with Brandon without sounding like a complete idiot, so when this guy started talking about his Pearl Jam experiences, I realized how vastly connected this community of Pearl Jam fans was (and still is!). I watched him take notes on the songs so he could document the experience on the fan site later, and he helped me identify “State of Love and Trust”, which I had never heard before because I only owned the Pearl Jam studio albums and Live on Two Legs. Connecting with this fan added to my overall experience because it made me feel like Brandon’s spirit was there, sharing his passion with me through this random dude who also was a die-hard fan. (In all honesty, though, Brandon would’ve insulted me for not knowing “SOLAT”, so this guy was way nicer!)
The highlights of the show for me were getting both “Off He Goes” and “Wishlist“, Ed welcoming everybody to “the Ice Bowl” and declaring the concert the coldest show they’d ever played, Matt Cameron exhaling to the beat of his kick drum so the puffs of breath matched his stomps, and Ed telling the story about how “Smile” came to be. The final song of the night was another favorite of mine, “Rearviewmirror”. Then Ed, in his awkward way, wished everyone a goodnight. Sasha and I were confused and looked at each other like, “Wait a minute, it can’t end like that, can it?! They’re coming out to play more songs, right?” But the band had made their way off stage (hopefully to a room full of space heaters), so we shook off what we could of the cold, cranked the heat in my car, waited forever and a day to get out of that clusterfuck of a parking lot, and finally made the long, cold, late-night drive back to Rochester.
“Oceans” scratched for “Of the Girl”.
I had to wait 12 more years to see that song live…
I knew Brandon was going to the Fresno show at the end of the month, so afterwards, we exuberantly compared notes over our landlines. He couldn’t believe they played “Smile” at my first show! I was jealous he got to see “Footsteps”, which was my favorite B-side at the time (probably because I didn’t know any others besides “Yellow Ledbetter” at that time). All in all, we were both satisfied with the set lists we had each seen, and we made our wishlists for future Pearl Jam shows.
“We should go to a show together some time,” he said…
Today’s title is taken from Pearl Jam’s “Let Me Sleep (It’s Christmas Time)“,
originally released as part of the annual vinyl single collection in 1991
and can also be found on the Lost Dogs compilation.
What was your first Pearl Jam show?
Did you freeze to death at the Ice Bowl just to live to tell us about it?
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