Life-altering gigs don’t announce themselves beforehand: they simply happen, and take you along for the ride. We can’t anticipate them; if we could, we’d see a lot more of them. Yet when they do occur, we know they’ve happened–probably because we leave the venue feeling physically shaken. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does there’s no mistaking what’s gone on.
It happened to me at the Air Canada Centre one year ago tonight, when Pearl Jam–having opened their “world wide” tour the night before–delivered a night for the ages. I was tongue-tied after the fact; I remember coming home and wanting to do nothing except run around the field across from my house and then stay up all night listening to music. At the risk of invoking about a million different cliches, the concert made me feel alive.
In retrospect, the setlist still looks pedestrian:
- set: Release, World Wide Suicide, Life Wasted, Severed Hand, Hail Hail, Unemployable, Dissident, Even Flow, Corduroy, I Am Mine, Low Light, improv/Whipping, You Are (started twice), I Got Shit/Cinnamon Girl, Better Man/Save it for Later, Jeremy, Marker in the Sand, Black, Rearviewmirror
- 1st encore: Wasted Reprise, Man of the Hour, Small Town, State of Love and Trust, Do the Evolution, Alive
- 2nd encore: Go, Crazy Mary, Fuckin’ Up, Indifference, Yellow Ledbetter/Beast of Burden
As I wrote that night: is that it? But because life-altering gigs can’t be quantified, they certainly can’t be explained by way of setlists. Pearl Jam fans like to rip setlists apart; it’s what we do, and I’ve certainly been guilty of doing it myself. (In recent years, for instance, some fans have begun questioning the merits of Pearl Jam’s legendary May 3, 2003 concert in State College, PA, since the setlist was apparently not that unique. Speaking as someone who was in the room that night, I can attest that the measure of State College goes way beyond any mere setlist. I can certainly understand people’s needs to analyze these sorts of things; like I said, I’ve done it myself. But there’s much more to it than that.) At first blush, Toronto II wasn’t that unique: I’d heard all but one of the songs live already, including the ultra-rare “Low Light” (and the one I hadn’t heard, “Wasted Reprise”, is under a minute long and was given its live debut that night).
Yet what the setlist doesn’t–and, indeed, couldn’t–convey is the feeling inside the Air Canada Centre that night, the sense of synergy between band and audience which lead to numerous off-the-cuff moments (see: “Cinammon Girl”) and which put a broad smile on Eddie Vedder’s face the entire night. The band was positively glowing; anybody could see it. The audience, meanwhile, took it to the next level. I can’t emphasize it enough: the audience is what made Toronto II so special. A good audience can make a gig; a great audience can bring it to a higher place. It happened at the Air Canada Centre one year ago this evening. Again, you can’t plan for these kind of things; sometimes, if you’re lucky, they just happen.
I haven’t seen Pearl Jam since that night in May; in fact, two weeks later I spurned opportunities to see them in Cleveland and Detroit so I could let the feelings linger. It’s rare for a concert to affect me like that; I’m usually in line to buy tickets to the next gig. (Nine Inch Nails had a similar effect on me; coincidentally, I saw them May 10, 2005.) I’m sure a more talented writer could better elucidate what makes night like this special. In my case, if someone were to ask me that question, I’d simply hand then a copy of the bootleg and point them towards this blog entry.
What a magical, magical night.