The Central Europe Leg: “Follow the Strangest Tribe…”

Rome may have been the one show Pearl Jam fans attended, but let’s face it–most Pearl Jam fans don’t do just one show.  When Jaime and I hit Prague, it was abundantly clear that Pearl Jam fans would be taking over Central Europe for the next week.

Prague:  “Have a drink, they’re buying…”

If there’s one thing the People of Prague want you to know, it’s this–Prague is NOT Eastern Europe.  Prague is Central Europe.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out–Prague is further west than Vienna, Austria.  Would you consider Vienna part of Eastern Europe?  No, you wouldn’t.  So stop saying Prague is in Eastern Europe!

Prague is known as the “City of 100 Spires” because this signature feature of Gothic architecture stretches high everywhere you look in Prague.  These ominous-looking structures may certainly add to many of the dark myths and legends that we heard while we were in Prague.

I’m also willing to bet the sheer quantity of beer consumed by the People of Prague also influences these tales.

In Prague, a half-liter of beer is literally cheaper than a bottle of water.  True story–Jaime and I bought two half liters of beer and a bottle of water during the Pearl Jam show.  The beers came to 98 crowns total (that’s less than $4.50).  Our bottled water was 75 crowns. Go figure.

The People of Prague consume the most beer in the world–142.4 liters per person.  That’s nearly 40 more liters than the Germans, who have a month dedicated to boozing while sitting at picnic tables in their lederhosen.

The volume of beer consumed in Prague would also explain why the majority of people we saw there were dudes from other countries riding around on the numerous Pedal Pubs weaving their way through the streets.  We learned very quickly that Prague is a bachelor party haven for the bros of Europe, so we got a chuckle out of the drunken revelers toasting and singing their native party songs every which way we turned.  Hey mates…na zdravi! (Just think, “Nice driveway!”)

Jaime and I were not opposed to embracing this local custom, so one of our first stops in Prague was the Letna Beer Garden.  After crossing over the ever-crowded Charles Bridge, we turned right and Google Mapped our way to a steep set of stairs leading to the top of a lofty hill on the east side of the Vltava River.  Atop this hill we found young people gathered around listening to music, skateboarding, drinking beer, and watching the massive Prague Metronome swing back and forth.  We moved northeast through the lush park seated at the top of the hill until we finally found picnic tables set up between rows of towering trees.  The Letna Beer Garden overlooks the city, with aerial views of the river carving its way through the city as well as the spires poking through the skyline.

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Our view from Letna Beer Garden

While we were sitting there enjoying our beer, a familiar face was making his way over to us–John from the London show!  While we were finishing up in London and gallivanting around Italy, John had traveled to Brussels, Geneva, Edelweiss, and Zurich before hiking his way up to meet us at the Letna Beer Garden in Prague!  We had been following his travels via his Instagram page, so we connected with him once we all hit Prague.  We exchanged stories about the cities we visited, caught him up on the Padova and Rome shows, and enjoyed a couple of beers together.

This is once again one of those times when being a Pearl Jam fan means more than liking their songs.  I don’t know if there are other fan communities like this.  We started off as three people enjoying a concert in London, and now here we were, high above the capital of the Czech Republic, drinking a beer together and sharing stories about our travels.  Who would’ve thought this is what this obsession would lead to 20+ years ago when I first started listening to this band?!

From there, John suggested we hit the Pearl Jam pre-party, which is held the night before every show at a pre-determined location (by who? I don’t know, but someone actually organizes these events just for PJ fans!).  Usually I don’t go to these because we’re out exploring whichever city we’re in, but since we didn’t have anything planned for the evening (for once), we walked back down the hill to a bar just north of the Charles Bridge.  When we turned the corner, there was a mob of people wearing Pearl Jam t-shirts and chugging half-liters of Pilsner Urquell, so we knew we were in the right place.

The Jamily Reunion was in full effect.  We saw people who were on our flight from Milan to Prague, like Dave from Ireland, earlier in the day.  We ran into Terry and Sara, who we met outside the Trieste show and on the floor at the St. Paul show.  I recognized a couple of faces from the Padova show, whose accents led me to believe they were from the United States but not necessarily all from the same region.  We also met a passionate young man from Ireland named Chris, who wasn’t even alive when “Alive” first came out (or “Present Tense” for that matter!), but as we got to talking about Pearl Jam songs and how they’ve impacted our lives over the years, that generation gap faded away.

Why?  Because…it’s evolution, baby!

I found my beer mug to be empty, so Chris, John, Jaime, and I all headed into the basement of the bar (because rumor has it the People of Prague like to throw their enemies out of windows).  When we got down there, we were surrounded by Pearl Jam fans from all over the world.  At our table sat the United Nations of Pearl Jam–John from Canada, Chris from Ireland, Jaime and I from the States, and two guys from Portugal, who were drowning their sorrows after their national team lost earlier that day during the World Cup in Russia.

Overhead, Pearl Jam songs blasted through the bar’s small speakers.  And what do Pearl Jam fans do when they get together?  Well, they sing Pearl Jam songs…

 

The next day, Jaime and I kicked off our morning with a Sandeman Walking Tour of Prague and lunch at Cafe Louvre (oh spaetzle, how I love thee!).  After a much-needed round of laundry at our AirBnb and a refreshing nap, we took the metro out to the O2 Arena for our fourth Pearl Jam show of the trip.

We had great seats near the stage on Stone’s side for this show.  The ladies sitting next to us were from Washington D.C., and their energy was simply contagious!  Lisa, the lady sitting next to me, was attending her 27th-ish show.  Her friend said, “I’m only at 13,” but Jaime reassured her that she too was at 13 shows but the number of shows didn’t matter–what mattered was being at this show!

Well, and the next show.  And the next show after that.

The two of them were heading to Krakow the next night on the same night train we were taking, and they were also on the same 12:40 flight to Berlin we were on, so we got a good chuckle over the travel preparations Pearl Jam fans make to get from one show to the next.

Before the show started, Lisa and I talked about our white whales.  She said even though she’d seen “Wash” before, it had been years, so she was hoping to get that on this Central Europe run.  I assured her we’d get it in Berlin–I just had a feeling.

I told her that they’d come through with “Parting Ways” in London, so all I really needed to see live was “Tremor Christ”.

“I’ve got a good feeling about that one,” she said.

The first five songs of the set were a pretty standard opening, but the Pilsnered People of Prague were fueled up and ready to rock.  This O2 Arena is much smaller in stature than London’s O2 Arena, so the venue felt much more intimate.  This added to the energy and atmosphere, which resonated during songs like “Corduroy” and “Do the Evolution”.

After the “Do the Evolution” came to its rocking conclusion, there was sort of an awkward silence in the darkness.  Stone strummed a distroted A7 chord on his guitar to check the levels, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lisa look at me.

Could this be it?

The next thing I knew, the opening staccato riff to “Tremor Christ” was ringing out through the speakers!

Holy Tremor Christ! FINALLY!!!

Jaime really had no idea what was going on, so Lisa and I jumped up and down in shared excitement.  Then I turned to Jaime and told her this was the last of the white whales.

“Cool!” she said.

She is the Queen of Understatement.

The chorus to “Tremor Christ” requires you to rear back and shout the words, “Little secrets, tremors/Turn to quakes/The smallest oceans still get/Big, big waves”, so I arched my back and shouted those lines to the rafters in hopes that I’d quake a tremor throughout the arena.

Man, did that feel good!

The show carried on with more songs I hadn’t seen yet on the tour.  Ed sang a snippet of the Beatles’ “Help!”, most likely in reference to the John Lennon Wall located in Prague.  This segued into “Help, Help”, a Riot Act song that is rarely played.  The sit-down portion of the encore opened with the tear-jerker “The End” and the beautiful “Man of the Hour”, dedicated to some fans from Slovenia  (Someone had requested “All or None”, but Ed looked at Stone and joked, “Well, we know ‘none’ of that song, but some of the ‘or'”).

The last six songs of the show catered to the high-energy the People of Prague brought to this show: “Black”–>”Rearviewmirror”–>”Elderly Woman…”–>”Alive”–>”Rockin’ in the Free World”–>”Indifference”.

Though I generally favor “Yellow Ledbetter” as my closer, something really special caught my eye during “Indifference”. Keely, the soundboard and lights operator, generally turns the lights on during “Alive”, so you always get to see the madness carry out in full view during the last few songs.  When I looked down on the floor during “Indifference”, I saw many of the same people I saw at the pre-party the night before standing in a circle, arms around each other, swaying to the music, singing along.  From time to time, one of them would go into the middle, dance around a little bit, sing excitedly, then rejoin the circle.

Seeing everyone locked arm-in-arm, sharing this beautiful moment together, epitomized community, epitomized brotherhood and sisterhood, epitomized love and devotion.  What a powerful medium music is, to bring people together in this way.  The smiles on the faces of the people in that group were genuine, the grips around their shoulders firm yet inviting.

The people in that circle, swaying to the drone coming from Jeff’s stand-up bass, captured the human spirit in that moment.

To top it all off, we caught up with Dave and Katy from Toledo, who were just a few rows behind us, as well as their friends Chris and Evan, who we met during a side-trip to Florence after the Rome show.  It was nice to see Dave and Katy one last time because we’ve really enjoyed hanging out with them on these all-encompassing trips, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again at future Pearl Jam shows (like Seattle!).

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That is a good lookin’ group of Pearl Jam fans!  

Jaime and I spent our last day in Prague visiting castles and walking along the river.  Our first stop was Prague Castle and a trip up St. Vitus’s bell towers, but the best part of our day was Vysehrad Castle, which has stood atop the hillside along the northwest banks of the Vltava River since the 10th Century.  Jaime and I preferred the city park atmosphere of Vysehrad much more than the crowded square of Prague Castle because the ancient castle is off the touristy path (and it also has its own beer garden and amazing views of the city!).

 

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After putting on 32,536 steps (13.2 miles) that day, Jaime and I headed to Hlavni Station to catch the 22:10 night train to Krakow–along with the D.C. girls and about 20 other die-hard Pearl Jam fans ready to rock out in Krakow! Na zdravi!

(P.S.–Big thanks to the Honest Guide, whose vlogs helped us navigate Prague like pros!  If you’re going to visit Prague, these videos will make your journey that much better!  Thanks, Janek and Honza!)


Krakow:  “But there’s a
trapdoor in the sun…”

The Citizens of Krakow want you to know two things: don’t call them Eastern Europeans and don’t pronounce it KRACK-ow–it’s KRACK-ov!

Krakow has a tumultuous history that I’m not going to detail here, but if you’re going to Poland, I advise you to understand the history you’re visiting.  This is a country beaming with national pride because it has overcome significant political challenges, yet still faces many more today.  Understanding what generations of Krakovians have experienced needs to be part of your experience when you visit so that you empathize with their turbulent past.  As our tour guide said, “You cannot understand the present without understanding the past.”

After a seven-hour train ride with little-to-no sleep, we disembarked the train from Prague and walked like zombies to our Krakow hotel.  After checking in, we walked over to the meeting point for our five-hour tour of Krakow with an elderly man named Christof.  Christof embodies all that is Krakow–he is catholic, proud of his city, and to the point.  Christof moved our group quickly and deliberately through Kazimierz, which is the old Jewish quarter where much of Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was filmed.  Christof gave us new ways to look at certain shots from the film as he walked us down alleyways where some of the more heart-wrenching scenes from the movie were shot.  He also provided the history of the neighborhood as a whole so that we all got an understanding of life for the Jewish people in Krakow during this time.  The sad history of Krakow was so evident in this neighborhood that even the gloomy clouds that hovered overhead that morning wanted to be part of the story as well.

Our tour also made stops at Wawel Castle on the south end along the Vistula River; through Planty Park, which encircles all of Old Town, and finally into St. Mary’s Basilica, located in Old Town’s main square–one of the largest town squares in all of Europe.  By the end of our tour, Jaime and I were completely delusional from lack of sleep, so we made our way back to the hotel for a nap.  While we were getting ready to leave, Chris sent me a picture from earlier that day:

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Evan, Mike McCready, and Chris outside Wawel Castle. Lucky! 

WTF!  We were at Wawel Castle the same time they were, but we missed seeing Mike!  Dammit!

After shaking off the sting, Jaime and I set out on the #4 Tram for our fifth show of the tour.

When we arrived at Tauron Arena, we picked up our general admission wristbands and headed inside.  One thing I’ll say about the party atmosphere outside of the Prague and Krakow venues is this–uh, there isn’t one.  The madness we’d witnessed in Italy was non-existent in Prague and Krakow, so we decided to go inside to check things out.

The nice thing about Krakow is that, like Prague, the beer inside the venue is cheap, so Jaime and I grabbed a few tall boys and waited just outside the floor doors for the concert to start.  While hanging out, we ran into the D.C. girls as well as Terry and Sara from North Carolina.

The gang’s all here, I thought…

Jaime and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so we walked over to the concession stands to see what they had.  There were only three items on the menu, and the only one we understood was “hot dog.”  I can’t stand hot dogs, so that wasn’t going to be an option.  We looked around and almost everyone was eating some weird cheesy bread dish, so we asked for that.

“Zapiekanka?” the girl asked.

“Sure?” I said.

Let me explain zapiekanka to you: it’s a long loaf of French bread with mushrooms and cheese.  Then they sprinkle green onions (except here they sprinkled fried shoestring onions instead), and then they top it all off with ketchup.

Jaime and I looked at each other like, Are you fucking kidding me with this? 

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Photo credit to http://www.homeinthefingerlakes.com

Why is this person showing other people how to make this?  

I detest mushrooms, and I’m not fond of onions either.  But it was paid for, and I had it in my hand, so I ate it.

And you know what?  It wasn’t half-bad.  Not great, but not half-bad.

But c’mon, Tauron Arena…you’re telling me you can’t find a POLISH FUCKING SAUSAGE SOMEWHERE?!

After washing down the zapiekanka with another round of beers, Jaime and I made our way to the floor.  We noticed right away that there wasn’t a 10 Club section for GA (which I understand from other 10 Clubbers made for quite the shitshow up front that night), so we hung out alongside the sound booth.  We saw Terry and Sara hanging out around there, too, which was odd because they usually like to be front and center.  “It’s too wild up there,” Terry said.  “We’re not gonna fight the crowd tonight.”  That’s saying something considering Terry’s a big dude.  I’m 5’8″, 145 pounds.  Jaime’s barely 5’1″.  The sound board sounded like a safe place to watch the show.

At this point in the tour, there were definitely some songs I wanted to hear that they didn’t play at the previous shows.  I was looking for some curve balls on this night…

Surprisingly, the show started off with a repeat of “Of the Girl”, which actually made me happy because Terry had never seen that song before.  “Present Tense”, a fan (and personal) favorite, moved us right along into our tour debut of “Last Exit”, “Why Go”, “Do the Evolution”, and our personal tour debut of “In Hiding”, one of my favorite live songs.

Then Ed introduced the next song: “This is a song most of you won’t know.  But (facetious laugh), some of you will.”

Now, this was right around the time Ed shocked me with “Tremor Christ” at the show before, but damn–I was not expecting this!

For only the third time in the sixteen years since Riot Act was released, Pearl Jam played “Other Side”, a B-side from the “Save You” single.  In order to understand the sadness evoked within the lyrics of this song, you must take yourself back to the horror of 9/11.  The lyrics of “Other Side” read like lamentations from all those immediately impacted by that tragedy–someone trapped in the burning building, someone dying as the buildings come down, someone grieving over their loss.  The haunting images and the painful melody make the song a vicarious experience that we can’t really fully understand–unless you’re one of the thousands who lost someone in that tragedy.  Then maybe the lyrics are just too god damn real for you…

Like visiting Auschwitz, which Jaime and I did the next day.  We agreed that we would not take pictures at Auschwitz–Auschwitz is not a tourist attraction.  Auschwitz is now a museum that honors millions of people who died there during the Holocaust, so we chose to pay our respects by observing the tour in silence.

But Auschwitz was once a death camp, so for people like Christof, who lost two relatives to that death camp, Auschwitz is too god damn real.

Therefore, it is our duty to honor the memories of the victims–whose eyeglasses fill entire rooms, whose shaved hair is still piled high, whose luggage remains unclaimed, and whose ashes lay visible in the pits left unfilled–so that we may never, ever forget.

Human rights must have been on Ed’s mind this night, because he addressed the current political climate in Poland, which is currently seeing an outburst of protests from women fighting against a bill proposal that would prevent women from being allowed to have an abortion due to irreversible damage to the fetus.  After his political commentary, the band launched into “Lightning Bolt”.  During the song, the video monitors on the side of the stage projected an image of a silhouetted woman’s profile with the words “Strajk Kobiet” and a red lightning bolt going down the side of her face, marking Pearl Jam’s support for the “Black Protest” women’s movement.

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“Let Women Choose”

The concert’s powerful messages wrapped up with encore performances of “All or None”, “Footsteps”, “Once”, the tour debut of “Whipping”–another pro-choice statement–, and “Betterman”.  By the time Mike had finished tucking us all in with “Yellow Ledbetter”, social media was buzzing–Krakow was the show of all shows…

After an intense tour of Auschwitz the next day, Jaime and I decided to keep a low profile for the rest of our time in Krakow.  We got back in touch with John from Toronto because this was his last stop on this tour.  The three of us met up for dinner at a restaurant called U Babci Maliny, which features old Polish cuisine, a creepy life-sized figurine of an old grandma serving up a plate of food, picnic tables, no waitstaff, and cheap food.  We loved it!

After dinner, the three of us walked around Old Town Square while eating some ice cream and sharing the highlights of our trip.  It was a bummer leaving John behind because he was a great travel sidekick, and we really enjoyed getting to know him.  I don’t imagine it’s easy for a solo traveler to “tag along” with a couple, but John was more than willing to share part of his Pearl Jam Eurotrip with us, and we’re happy to call him a friend.

(Side Note: Since John’s return to Toronto, he’s seen Dave Mathews Band–which I won’t hold against him–, Foo Fighters, and Radiohead!  He said he’s working on a ticket to one of the Wrigley shows, too!  John, if you make it to the Friendly Confines, the first round is on me!)


Berlin:  “Spin me round/
Roll me over/Fucking circus!” 

The next day, Jaime and I headed to the airport to catch our 12:40 flight to Berlin.  When we got to the airpot, all of the usual suspects were lined up at the gate in their Pearl Jam shirts.  In fact, I’d wager that at least 75% of passengers on that flight were Pearl Jam fans–which added some drama to the equation when our flight was delayed by over an hour, meaning we weren’t going to land in Berlin until 4:00 p.m. for a scheduled start time of 7:00 p.m.

The anxiety in the gate was palpable!  People were visibly sweating!  I was visibly sweating! What was taking this plane so damn long to depart!  Does anyone have Ed’s private line?!  Can you tell him to just hold on?!  We’re desperately trying to get to Waldbuhne!  Please don’t start without us!

The plane left at 1:45.  We got to our hotel in Berlin by 4:30 and to the venue by 5:30.  Everything worked out just fine.

No sweat.

Back in 2014, Berlin’s Wuhlheide was easily the star venue of that tour.  Waldbuhne staked it’s claim as the most beautiful venue of the 2018 tour.  The venue is located west of Charlottenburg Palace, near the Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens embarrassed the Nazi Regime during the 1936 Berlin Games with his dominating performance.  After we got off the S3-bahn, we marched into the woods, much like we did when we visited Wuhlheide.  When we got inside the venue, the stage sat low in the valley of the amphitheater, and the steep bowl of bench seats slanted high into the dirt concourse.  All tickets were general admission for this show, so by the time we got there, the floor was packed with people.  We looked for open spots in the low bowl on Mike’s side.  After scouring a couple different sections, I found two open spots in the middle of a row, so we set up shop, breathed in the fresh forest air, and saddled up for our sixth show of the tour.

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“Understand she’s a force of nature…”

After getting “Other Side” in Krakow, I knew the chances of getting something brand new was slim to none, but I definitely had some songs I wanted to hear that I hadn’t yet heard on this tour.

I turned to Jaime and told her I needed to hear these four songs:
“Wash”
“Save You”
“In My Tree”
“Breath”

Then we waited.  For, like, ever.  The start time said 7:00, but 7:00 was here and gone, and so was 7:15, and so was 7:30, and so was 7:45.  Then it got to be after 8:00 and the god damn show still hadn’t started!  After all the delays we had in getting here, now Pearl Jam was delaying us, too!  I hadn’t been this annoyed at a Pearl Jam show since the first (and most recent) time I saw them ruin “Corduroy” by adding that extended section instead of letting us all yell “EVERYTHING HAS CHAINS!  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING’S CHANGED!” like we want–no, like we NEED–to yell!

But all that was forgiven when Stone strummed the opening chords to “Wash”, checking off another song on my tour bucket list and putting a smile on Lisa from D.C.’s face, wherever she was in that general sea of madness.  As the cheery melody of “Sometimes”  kicked in, I let Jaime know she had just quickly added two new songs to her Accidental Pearl Jam Group Collection.

“Corduroy” livened things up (despite that ridiculous breakdown that ruins one of my favorite parts to one of my favorite songs–anyone else feel this way?!), and the crowd’s chants of “Why go home!  Why go home!  Why go home!” soared into a still brightly sunlit sky.  When “Save You” kicked in, I turned to Jaime and said, “Woah, that’s already two of four!”  I knew we were in for one helluva night!

For “Red Mosquito”, Ed brought up photographer Danny Clinch to rock the buzzing solos on harmonica.  Danny and Mike launched into a dueling solo, and Danny’s harmonica really complemented the song quite nicely, adding a new twist to an old favorite.

When Jeff and Matt started the next song in unison, I had my third request of the night: “In My Tree” was a fitting choice for this woodland venue, so I waved to all my friends who had joined us on this Central European leg (did you notice me?).  “Habit” made its tour debut, as did the first verse of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie”, which transitioned into “Daughter”.  Instead of playing a Ramones song like they usually do when they visit Berlin–often dedicated to Berlin’s Ramones Museum–they honored Johnny and the boys with the hard-rockin'”Lukin” that riled the crowd into a frenzy that spilled over into the bridge of “Porch”.  As the disco balls lowered from the stage, cardboard beer holders zipped around the air like jet fighters, darting this way and that, raining both mayhem and amusement from high and low.  I was so bewildered by the scene that I forgot to cover my face, but luckily none of them poked my eyes out!

The chaos ensued right through the end of the song and into the encore, where the tour debuts of the ballads “Thin Air” and “Thumbing My Way” allowed everyone to catch their breath.

Which perfectly segued into my fourth pick of the night, “Breath”!  Not a bad night!

The crowd kicked back into it when “Do the Evolution” burst through the speakers, prompting fans to start crowd-surfing, which is something I’ve never seen at a Pearl Jam concert in all my years attending their shows.  I was nervous that this behavior would freak the band out, but Ed actually complimented the people in the pit on moshing appropriately and respectfully!  What an lovely oxymoron!

As the night concluded with “Rockin’ in the Free World”, I was almost sad that this wasn’t our last show.  The whole atmosphere of the venue plus the excitement and energy of the crowd put it right up there with the Padova show for us.

What could Barcelona possibly bring to the table?

Well, I guess seeing a Pearl Jam show in Europe with the best friend who introduced me to this band might make it special, I suppose…

Today’s titles are taken from:
Main Title–“Strangest Tribe”, originally released on the 1999 Christmas single
Prague–“Grievance”, from the album Binaural, released in 2000
Krakow–“Immortality”, from the album Vitalogy, released in 1994
Berlin–“Blood”, from the album Vs., released in 1993

Traveling to Europe, Seattle, or Chicago this summer for Pearl Jam?
Tell us about your trip below! 

Did you hit the Central Europe Trifecta?
Did you catch any white whales?
Tell us about it! 

Play the PJ song-board game and post your choices below!
Tell us which show you attended so we can see how good of a guesser you are!

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2 thoughts on “The Central Europe Leg: “Follow the Strangest Tribe…”

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