My phone started to buzz right around 11 p.m. Friday.
Bzzt. Paul McCartney is killing it at Safeco Field!
Bzzt. Dave Grohl is here! Bzzt. Krist Novoselic! Bzzt. Pat Smear!
Bzzt. They’re playing “Helter Skelter”! Bzzt. This is epic!
In another town, in another ballpark, I felt like I had epic beat by two hours, and then some.
Pearl Jam was playing Chicago’s Wrigley Field, and set a record without playing a single note. The band sold 40,000 seats in a matter of minutes last February, the fastest Wrigley concert sellout ever.
Moreover, Eddie Vedder was celebrating a homecoming, of sorts. Wrigley is the ballpark of his childhood, the place where the Evanston native came hoping to see history made.
He just never thought he would be the one to do it.
“Kinda been waiting a lifetime for this one,” Vedder said as he took in the crowd. “This is definitely not just the crown jewel of Chicago, but in my opinion, the crown jewel of the whole planet Earth.”
That love and legacy was evident everywhere, from the baseball-themed merchandise (hats, a Pearl Jam pennant and even packs of band-member baseball cards, complete with sticker but – what?!? – no gum) to the crowds that packed landmark bars like Cubby’s, Slugger’s and Murphy’s Bleachers, which bore a sign that read, “Welcome Home, Eddie!”
The band opened with “Release,” a son’s ode to a father gone, with one key word change: “Oh, dear dad, can you see this now?”
Bzzt. My phone again. This time my friend Kim, who was standing up front at Wrigley: “I am crying right now.”
The song fell over the crowd like the rain on its way.
I knew the weather was not a Pearl Jam fan (I even brought my Seattle rain boots to the show in a hotel laundry bag), but was hoping that all the joy in the crowd – sober and otherwise – would stave off the clouds.
For a while, it did. “Nothingman,” “Present Tense,” “Hold On” and “Low Light.” Blue sky turning dark, but still clear.
After “Come Back,” the sky turned ominous, and Vedder told the crowd that they would have to stop for a while, but would be back. They pulled the plug after “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town,” and told fans to take cover.
For two hours, people waited, watching the rain and the lightning.
Backstage, actor John Cusack sat on his bike and sucked on a stogie. Director Judd Apatow waited with his older daughter. Dennis Rodman towered over the crowd with his sunglasses on. Comedian Craig Gass did Gene Simmons impressions. The rest sat in their seats and drank beer.
It was a buzz-kill — especially if you had a babysitter or an early morning — and some headed out. But most stayed.
At 11 p.m., manager Kelly Curtis looked up at the sky and called it: They’d go back on at 11:45 and play until 2 a.m.
And so the night would turn into morning. The rules would be bent a little by the City of Chicago.
At 11:45, Vedder came out alone to play a song he had written in 2008 for his long-suffering Cubs, with the sing-along chorus, “Hey! Someday, we’ll go all the way.”
He even brought out legendary shortstop Ernie Banks to lead a reprise. Standing beside the old man, Vedder grinned like the kid he once was.
“Eddie knows this place real well, he came here when he was 5 years old,” Banks said, and then held up a baseball glove. “This is his glove, and I am taking it with me.”
The night may have been a sentimental one for Vedder, but it was a musical high mark for lead guitarist Mike McCready, whose solos on live staples like “Evolution,” “Why Go,” “Rearviewmirror” and “Porch” were at once keenly crafted and otherworldly. He all but made fire with his cover of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.”
There were moments when Vedder returned to the rage and fire that marked Pearl Jam’s early days. He sang with his eyes ablaze, his teeth bared, a wine bottle within reach. For those keeping stats — and these fans do — he strapped on an accordion to play the quirky rarity, “Bugs,” from the”Vitalogy” album.
During “Porch,” Vedder slowly backed onto the sea of raised hands, not so much crowd-surfing as floating in a pool. He let the fans take the vocals during “Black,” and ended with the Neil Young cover, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” It was just after 2 a.m.
The crowd spilled into the streets, and jammed the station for the train. The buses were full, cabs rare, so people doubled-up, or just started walking. And as the night turned to day, a thin stream of fans made their way down Clark Street, tired, a little lost, but happy to have each other, and aware that they had seen something epic.
A band together 22 years. A legendary stadium filled and emptied and filled again. Records made not just for the band, but for Wrigley, too.
Bzzt? Not a one. Everyone’s phone was dead.