One of my colleagues from my first post-college job asked me to write a blog post about my first Pearl Jam show for his new blog. Since I just got back from Pearl Jam’s 20th birthday celebration it seemed like a good time to reflect. How did I get addicted to a band so deeply that I haven’t missed a tour in 17 years? It started March 28, 1994…
[Every photo in this post is from PJ20 but I picked them to correlate with parts of my recollection. Pretty eerie. Click on song titles for MP3s from the '94 concert.]
I remember pretty much everything about the concert and have for 17 years. I remember heading to the local Sears to stand in line for tickets at the only TicketMaster outlet in Boca Raton, Florida where I grew up. I was getting as many general admission tickets as I could for me and all my buddies as they were on the phone with credit cards. Even at a low ticket price the hundreds of dollars in my hands was the most cash I had seen since my Bar Mitzvah.
Even the memory of lining up for tickets seems antiquated today.
I don’t remember how many tickets I secured but my entire crew from high school had tickets one way or the other for the show, the biggest concert of the year as we were all looking forward to High School graduation in a few months.
It was held at the same venue most of us had seen Nirvana at six months earlier. Little did we know Kurt would be found dead just days letter…
No, the night was pure joy for us. My friends had all seen Pearl Jam at Lollapalooza in 1992 and some even met the band backstage…I was still smarting from that. So out of the group, I was the only one who hadn’t yet seen Pearl Jam.
The venue was an outdoor amphitheater in Miami and it was a nice night, meaning clear and relatively cool for South Florida. When we got inside and started heading up to the front we ran into a fence. The venue had erected a wire fence between the grass lawn and the rows of general admission bench seats. This was not how the Nirvana show was set up.
We suffered through Kings X’s opening set behind the fence and in the hour or more between sets thousands of people pressed through that fence. It wasn’t a scrawny one either and we poured through. More time passed, helicopters flew overhead as a full moon loomed large behind the bandshell.
We felt like we had gotten away with something even though there should never have been a barricade. We all headed up front to get as close as possible and the crowd in the open space between the front row of seats and the front of the stage — about twenty feet — was a thick sweaty mass of skin and muscle.
It was hot down there no matter how cool the air and all during the opening song Release.
I was just trying to catch gulps of fresh air. I was being pushed back and forth and couldn’t really control where I was going. Then the band launched into Go and the crowd started pushing harder.
Luckily I found myself at the back of the masses but was being pressed against the front row of bleacher seats, tearing the skin through my shirt.
Like someone reaching for a drowning man, an unknown angel grabbed me by the arm and lifted me up. I thanked them and I don’t even know if they acknowledged me. They just turned their head forward to watch the band. I then slowly realized I was in the best seat in the house, standing twenty feet away, dead center of the stage.
Funny enough, the sight of Eddie Vedder playing guitar during Not For You (a song we had never heard) stood out most since every image I had seen of him was the snarling man at the mike.
I had to actually leave before the last few songs, because it was getting close to midnight and we had an hour to drive home and had to meet up.
So, during Garden I had to leave my perfect perch where my musical tastes were cemented for good.
My friends and I met up at the top of the lawn as the band played Rockin’ In The Free World, and as we left the theater during Indifference, exhausted, sweated through with the cool Miami bay breeze cooling us down we noticed lines of police.
Police on horses, police in cars, police in riot gear. Riot gear? It turned out they had sold too many tickets to the show and many people rushed the gates outside the theater to get in and that’s why Pearl Jam’s set was so delayed. It didn’t have anything to do with the fence we overran.
The show left such a mark on me that I would seek out every Pearl Jam bootleg I could find and when I landed in college I discovered tape trading and collected everything I could. I waited in line for the midnight sale of Vitalogy and couldn’t wait for another show.
Unfortunately Pearl Jam was battling TicketMaster and seeing the band in 1995 and 1996 involved me driving thousands of miles.
We saw kids as young as Carter at PJ20, but I don’t think I would bring kids until they were older…and certainly not at an outdoor festival like that. The fact that Carter asks for me to play Pearl jam whenever I’m driving is good enough for now.
The best Pearl Jam shows in 1996, 1998, 2007 and now 2011 at their 20th celebration, have all surpassed Miami ‘94 in terms of performance perfection. But I sought all of them out — and the others that weren’t as good — to recapture that initial sense of utter elation delivered by live music that first night.