I liked Pearl Jam from the first time I heard Alive as a teenager. And like the best friendships and romances, that soon grew into a longlasting love. After 25 years, my relationship with Pearl Jam has lasted longer than many in my personal life. So it was an obvious choice to see the Pearl Jam Let’s Play Two concert film at the cinema.
In the early 1990s, there was a brief ‘rivalry’ with Nirvana, who seemed like the crazier, edgier choice. But while the Cobain story ended with tragedy, the members of Pearl Jam had come together to recover from one. As the central point of the music scene in Seattle, they came from Green River and Mother Love Bone, following the death of singer Andrew Wood. And Eddie Vedder first appeared alongside his bandmates (and Soundgarden) on the tribute album Temple of the Dog. Since their early days, Pearl jam has combined continually brilliant music with a commitment to doing things differently away from gigs (their activism against Ticketmaster, their political involvements, and plenty of interesting side projects). The brilliance of Pearl Jam was captured with the in-depth story of the band in the 2011 rockumentary Pearl Jam Twenty directed by Cameron Crowe.
And so to Let’s Play Two.
It’s a concert film. But as you might expect from Pearl Jam, it’s not just a straight performance. Instead it’s footage from two shows that took place at Wrigley Field on August 20th and 22nd, 2016. That’s notable as singer Eddie Vedder has been a lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs, who were en route to a World Series for the first time in 108 years.
So it’s very much a split between concert footage from the two nights and conversations about both Pearl Jam and the Chicago Cubs.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really understood baseball. It seems to appeal to an even more specific group of non-Americans than Nascar (which I get), and American Football (see my All or Nothing series 1 and 2 reviews) I suspect it’s a crowd who enjoy a flashier, more showbusiness equivalent to the equally incomprehensible sport of cricket. That’s backed up both by Eddie Vedder’s infectious, childlike enthusiasm, and seeing the singer of a legendary rock band fervently noting down the latest action on a score sheet. It seems bizarre to see a man famed for climbing lighting rigs and hurling himself into crowds during performances so focused on notating the action with a marker pen. Until you remember that attention and focus also goes into songwriting and everything else the band do collectively or individually.
So the baseball sections are potentially the least interesting, although any sports fan can identify with following their team (my own long obsession with Chelsea faded once they regularly became successful in the English Premier League). And there’s plenty to trigger armchair psychology as Vedder compares the Cubs to the band with their teamwork. Aside from his childhood memories of going to games with his uncle, is there stability which he didn’t have once he discovered he’d never met his real father? And is there a joy in simply being part of a crowd while others perform on the field?
Fortunately when the baseball starts to feel more like a sports documentary, the music kicks back in. And Pearl Jam are a band it’s almost impossible to listen to without wanting to jump up and down, even in a cinema.
Perhaps the most poignant moments are clips of the previous storm-interrupted 2013 performance at Wrigley Field, which saw legendary player Ernie Banks come on stage at the age of 81. He’d previously asked Eddie Vedder to write a song about the Cubs (All The Way), and passed away two years later. The film is named for his catchphrase “It’s a beatutiful day for a ballgame… Let’s play two!”. The death of Chris Cornell in 2017, whose Soundgarden bandmate Matt Cameron is also Pearl Jam’s drummer, occurred between filming and the release date. So it’s almost impossible to see the Cubs General Manager mention it as Banks farewell to Wrigley Field without thinking of the Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog singer.
The Pearl Jam Let’s Play Two concert film is one for true fans of the band. If you’re a casual listener, or trying to convert someone to become a fan, then Pearl Jam Twenty is a much better starting point. It’s also a great film for anyone wanting to understand the Grunge and Seattle sound of the 1990s. It was noticeable that some of my fellow audience in the cinema were either fans who had attended the Chicago gigs, or had tickets but weren’t able to make it.
For those fans, keen to see Pearl Jam play, and to get an additional insight into Eddie Vedder in particular, Let’s Play Two will be fun to watch, and a decent addition to their DVD collection. And watching the crowd in Chicago sing along to Better Man, Black or Jeremy, it’s almost impossible not to join in. If nothing else, it’ll keep you going since 2013’s Lightning Bolt. The DVD of the live concert will be released later in the year, but the album recording is already available to buy or download
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Pearl Jam Let’s Play Two Track Listing:
- Low Light
- Better Man
- Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
- Last Exit
- Lightning Bolt
- Black Red Yellow
- Given to Fly
- Inside Job
- Crazy Mary
- All the Way
- I’ve Got a Feeling
Also published on Medium.