Pearl Jam in Buffalo

Ten years ago today–ten years ago right now, actually–I saw what’s still the best concert I’ve ever seen: Pearl Jam at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. I’ve got a pantheon of four favourite concerts; it also includes the Who in Toronto, the finale of U2’s 360° Tour, and Pearl Jam’s second night in Toronto in 2006, but those three all play second fiddle to that night in Buffalo. The next day’s concert, in State College, Pennsylvania (which I also attended), remains the longest show the band’s ever played and, as a consequence, tends to get most of the attention…but Buffalo topped it all ends up. Aside from the concert itself I’ll remember the following three things that happened immediately afterwards:

  1. The audience spilling out into the arena’s atrium and bursting into loud, spontaneous cheers.
  2. Sherkin and our friends Patty and Daphna sitting in Patty’s car, motionless and silent, for five minutes. None of us could talk. God had walked through the room that night.
  3. Driving back to St. Catharines (where we crashed on Tippy’s basement floor; I’m pretty sure I woke up four hours later underneath a pool table) we got stuck in traffic on the Peace Bridge. Patty’s car contained only a tape player–and inexplicably the only tape she had was the Top Gun soundtrack. I think it was me who slipped it in…and as we sat on the bridge the “Top Gun Anthem” started. And so we turned up the volume and rolled down the windows and serenaded the rest of the traffic, while people in the other cars turned towards us and cheered.

The setlist remains an absolute beast:

Preset:

  • You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away [Beatles] (Ed solo)
Set:
  • Love Boat Captain
  • Brain of J.
  • Hail, Hail
  • Save You
  • Corduroy
  • Small Town
  • I Got Shit
  • Even Flow
  • Faithfull
  • Deep
  • Given To Fly
  • Spin the Black Circle
  • Wishlist
  • Green Disease
  • Insignificance
  • Black
  • Go
1st Encore:
  • Free Jazz
  • Driven To Tears [Police]
  • Better Man
  • Crazy Mary
  • Do the Evolution
  • Alive (…which I hadn’t heard since my first Pearl Jam concert–Buffalo was my sixth–since it hadn’t been played on the band’s 2000 tour in honour of the Roskilde victims)

2nd Encore:

  • Soon Forget
  • Smile
  • Fortunate Son [Creedence Clearwater Revival]
  • Sonic Reducer [Dead Boys]
  • People Have The Power [Patti Smith] (“This is Nana from the heart of Buffalo!”)
3rd Encore (EV: “We had a democratic vote backstage: the verdict was, ‘It’s Friday night–what the fuck!'”)
  • Baba O’Riley [Who]
  • Yellow Ledbetter

But like all great concerts, Buffalo’s magic can’t be summarized by song titles: it was the feeling, the excitement, the sense of communion that filled the HSBC Arena that night and that threatened to push the building’s ceiling off. It was the electric synergy between a band and its fans; it was the sort of night you wish you could box up and take home with you and bring out to show people whenever you’re trying to explain to them why you care so deeply about rock n’ roll music. I’ve seen Pearl Jam twenty-six times since that night in Buffalo, and most of those concerts were pretty good–but none of them have been quite as good. As long as I live I will remember this night.

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