Two weeks ago, videos began surfacing of Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder as he teamed up with a pair of street musicians outside of Wrigley Field for an impromptu musical performance. Vedder ran into the buskers on Waveland Avenue and decided to take a guest turn on guitar and vocals, which they obliged. The singer broke out a rendition of the band’s hit “Corduroy,” to which some passersby saw the spectacle and seemed to realize what was happening.
The band may be synonymous with Seattle and the grunge-rock scene there that spawned it, but Mr. Vedder was born and raised in suburban Chicago, and is devoted to the Cubs. In 2008, he even wrote “All the Way” for the club. Perhaps that’s why the legendary Seattle rockers became so closely associated with the 2016 Cubs season that finally saw Chicago put an end to its unprecedented 108-year World Series title drought.
Last night, Pearl Jam released “Let’s Play Two: Pearl Jam Live at Wrigley Field” — part Cubs documentary, part live concert footage from the band’s sold-out 2-night run at Wrigley Field back in August 2016 (the title of the film comes from a favorite expression of beloved Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks).
The band also released a companion “soundtrack” to mark the occasion — although it’s arguably closer to a live album than a soundtrack. At 17 total tracks recorded across the 2-night performance, it hardly does justice for a band that regularly performs between 30 and 40 songs at each live concert.
The film, on the other hand, which will premiere on FS1 after the conclusion of Game 1 of the ALCS on October 13th, is worth talking about. “Let’s Play Two” is a blend of concert film and sports diary, chronicling Pearl Jam’s two August shows at Wrigley while simultaneously weaving in-and-out of highlights of the team’s championship run.
Directed by Danny Clinch, “Let’s Play Two” provides neither as complete a Pearl Jam concert as “Touring Band 2000” nor as illuminating a band history as Cameron Crowe’s “Pearl Jam Twenty.” But it shares a side of Mr. Vedder his fans will enjoy: the baseball aficionado who loves filling out a scorecard for each game and treats Wrigley sod as holy ground. A rehearsal with other band members — the guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, the bassist Jeff Ament and the drummer Matt Cameron — atop Murphy’s Bleachers, across from the ballpark, recalls the Beatles’ rooftop concert, and their Wrigley performances of hits like “Corduroy,” “Jeremy” and “Alive” demonstrate the band remains as potent as ever.
My fondest memories of Pearl Jam come from what I would call the band’s “second-coming.” Music critics will always point to the band’s role in influencing the grunge-rock movement in the 90’s with albums like Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy, but I truthfully only began connecting with the Seattle outfit once they began releasing their own “official” concert bootlegs starting with their 2000 tour in support of Binaural.
You may remember seeing them in record stores: a sterile-looking, grey-ish pulp cardboard jacket with the location of the venue stamped on the cover. It was beauty in simplicity. For almost ten years, Pearl Jam cornered the live-album/bootlegging business, recording every performance across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Turn the packaging over and you’d find, on average, a 30-song set that usually began with a 1-2 punch of Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Corduroy,” and closed with a combination of “Yellow Ledbetter” and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” In the middle, Pearl Jam mixed hits like “Alive,” “Jeremy,” “Evenflow,” “Betterman,” “State of Love and Trust,” and “Daughter,” with deeper cuts like “MFC,” “Lukin,” “Light Years,” and “Tremor Christ.” It was the greatest professional bootlegging effort that I can recall during my lifetime, and despite being recognized as one of the greatest touring acts of all time, to this day, I don’t think Pearl Jam has received the proper recognition for that wild run.
“Let’s Play Two” comes nowhere near peak-Live Pearl Jam from a content perspective, with the soundtrack offering roughly half of the setlist the band’s fanbase has come to expect. Conversely, the film pulls back the curtain on another side of Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam that fans – especially those in Chicago – will be thrilled to see. So, while it’s not Pearl Jam at the top of their game musically, the unique concert setting of an upbeat Wrigley Field chasing its first World Series trophy in 108 years makes this a can’t-miss performance for Pearl Jam and Cubbies fans alike.