A historical week in the collision of music and sports
Pearl Jam is in the midst of playing two nights at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia– aka the home of the Philadelphia Flyer and 76ers. Exactly five and a half years ago, Pearl Jam was half way through a four show run to close down the Philadelphia Spectrum. In my experience, Philadelphia has always been a special city when it comes to the arts. Most of my visits to the city of Brotherly Love have been for the purpose of attending a great event. Waking up there, arising from dreams about stuffing 200 lbs of cheesesteak into 190 lbs of me (not kidding and not sorry), I’ve found each Philadelphia morning to be a breath of fresh air. Literally. Nothing but sunny skies with a cool and delightful breeze. Much like this morning. Maybe It IS always sunny in Philadelphia.
I’ve been fascinated by Philly ever since my father sat me down and insisted I watch Rocky from start to finish at five years old. As the final credits rolled with “Eye of the Tiger” in the background, he turned to me and said “Don’t ever give up.” That’s all he had to say. I was stunned. I got it. Even at five.
For some reason, that moment reminds me of the first time I heard/saw Pearl Jam. It was via the “Jeremy” video and MTV Unplugged and generated a very similar feeling. Again, in my basement and again with my father. Much like Rocky, there were real emotions. There was intensity. There was meaning. I thought — again, I get it. It gets me?
I find Philadelphia to be a unique host where all of those feelings can naturally come together. The shows closing the Spectrum in 2009 were a perfect example of that. Here’s how all of these worlds collided in what was one of the most fascinating music and sports weeks ever.
For sports, the Phillies were in the World Series and the defending champs, playing their interstate 95, Northeast neighbors, the New York Yankees. For those who have never been to Philadelphia, the sports complex is second to none. All of the stadiums are basically in the same lot with some great bars attached to them. It’s a sports fanatic’s heaven.
I had tickets to Pearl Jam’s night three show at the Spectrum, which was Friday October 30th. I’ve heard a few people in the Ten Club say this and I 100% agree, that show in particular, was one of the greatest in the history. I can’t exactly pinpoint a single reason why, but I would venture to say it had something to do with it being a Friday night, the spirit of the crowd, the eclectic setlist and the overall cheer of everyone in the building. Anyone remember the Ten Club section on the floor that night? The most epic “In Hiding” experience of my life and one of my favorite out-of-body concert moments to date. Night three was so incredible that instead of returning to Manhattan, my cousin and I (PJ partner in crime) stayed for night four, risking getting shut out as we did not have tickets. Fortunately, we landed two great seats at the 11th hour. Apologies again to our wives.
To set the stage for what was on tap — it was Saturday, Halloween and the grand finale. This was it. The ol’ Spectrum would be demolished shortly after. It was a leave it all on the field/court/ice/stage type of night. The first pitch of Game 3 (series tied 1:1) of the World Series, occurred within the same hour that Pearl Jam would take the stage, while the Flyers were playing the Carolina Hurricane’s at then Wachovia Center (now Wells Fargo). All right across the parking lot from each other.
The concert kicked off with a Spectrum highlight video bringing Pearl Jam on stage, accompanied by the Rocky theme song. Eddie Vedder was sporting boxing gloves and stepped to the mic with his arms raised in “V” like Balboa atop the Philadelphia Museum of Art stairs, greeting us with, “This is it!” — Boom — “Why Go.” Good question.
So there I am — in the eye of a Rocky, World Series, Pearl Jam storm on Halloween. Are you kidding me? What a beautiful, emotion-collision trip.
The last Spectrum show is well documented as it was filled with specialties. “Bugs” on the accordion, the band dressed as Devo, rocking “Whip It” to start the second encore, “Sweet Lew,” “Out of My Mind” for the third time ever, “Crown of Thorns” and a thunderous “Star Spangled Banner” tag on “Yellow Ledbetter” as red, white and blue confetti fell with Vedder wearing a backwards retro Phillies cap. The “Yellow Ledbetter” lyrics were changed to “I’ll never play here again.” Throughout the 42 song show, we’d get score updates via girls coming on stage with Vegas-like scorecard signs, as if it were in between rounds.
The merch for this shows was also a collector’s item as it displayed a Phillies/Pearl Jam mash-up logo with the number 31 on the back. To treat the most delightful hangover, Sunday featured the Philadelphia Eagles hosting their NFC East rivals, the New York Giants, as the matinee and game four of the Phillies vs. Yankees World Series game at night.
So, to summarize, within six days you had:
Four Pearl Jam shows to close down one of the most legendary American sports arenas, two World Series games, an NFL divisional rival game and a NHL game. By the way, the Flyers beat the Hurricanes 6- 1 that night and would ultimately go on to the NHL Stanley Cup finals a few months later.
Every Pearl Jam show is something special — with a setlist crafted just for that city, that show and that night. As an attendee, you have a keepsake to hang onto forever. After 25 years, they are much like the red wine companion that Vedder brings on stage, they get better with age.
The 2009 Spectrum Philadelphia experience will always shine bright in my memory bank. The overall setting was unlike anything else. The last thing I did that magical weekend in 2009 was take off and run (more like drag) up the “Rocky” stairs. As I got to the top (it’s a bit harder than it looks btw) I turned and faced the city with my arms raised in a “V.” For a moment, I felt a spirit and strength overcome me as I reminisced about my introduction to the grit of Rocky Balboa, all of the incredible things I witnessed that weekend and how they are intertwined.
Though there will not be a World Series game or landmark grand finale tonight or tomorrow in Philadelphia, I expect the Brotherly Love, Never-Give-Up atmosphere that Philadelphia provides, to be ever-present as Pearl Jam rocks the stage.
For what it’s worth — the NFL draft also starts tonight (rumor has it, Philadelphia wants to host next year) and the Phillies will be hosting the Cleveland Indians for a three game series this weekend.
*Written from the perspective of a northern NJ native — NY fan.
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