Sometimes being a fan only involves cranking up tunes in your car or having a poster on your wall. But some groups attract a whole different sect of enthusiast, which is why we've invented Fandemonium, a new feature devoted to the deep crevices of musical devotion. In the opening salvo, a Pearl Jam superfan makes a pilgrimage to see her favorite group and meet some like-minded folks along the way.
By Carrie Pierson
When I received special some special "Pearl Jam fans only" coupons upon arriving at my hotel in Philadelphia last Friday (October 30), I knew I had crossed the line from ardent admirer to superfan. After all, I was checking into the hotel under the special Pearl Jam Ten Club discounted rate available only to fan club members. You know the scene in "Best in Show" where all of the dog owners check into the hotel with their dogs? This was not far off. There seemed to be a minimum requirement of three articles of Pearl Jam clothing per person in the lobby and at the valet desk. With my single sticker on the back of my car and not a single Pearl Jam wearable on my person, I was in serious danger of being outed as a newbie.
Of course, this would not be an entirely incorrect assumption. I was a late bloomer, not joining the fan club until 2008 after seeing my first show two years earlier. Like everyone else I knew, I was a big enough fan in the early '90s and could sing along to all of the radio hits. But, also like most people, I had sort of forgotten that they were still around and still making music when, in May of 2006, a friend invited me to wild, wonderful show in Camden, New Jersey. I taunted and complained for pretty much the entire trip, but I realized that the band was great live and, well, you can guess the rest. Two years later, I was signing up for a Ten Club membership and following the fan message boards rabidly. And now, in Philadelphia, I was about to experience my first show with fan club tickets.
When it was announced in July that Pearl Jam would be playing a few shows in Philadelphia at the end of October, it was assumed by most of my fellow superfans that they would be the final band to play at the historic Wachovia Spectrum, which was slated for demolition later in the year. Two shows were announced initially: October 28 and 30. Rumors flew about the addition of a Halloween show. "I called the box office and they said they were already reserving the VIP boxes for that show! It has to be happening," one Ten Clubber posted. "My friend's brother is roommates with the guy who does the bookings for the Spectrum and he said Halloween is definitely happening," wrote another. The message board was a flurry of rumors and bits of information relayed from someone's mom's friend's dog. Not being a risk-taker (and knowing I could only afford to buy a pair of tickets to one show), I decided to buy tickets for October 30 during the fan club presale. Shows on October 27 and 31 were announced about 3 weeks later. Pearl Jam would be closing the Spectrum with a four show run over five nights.
Not being from Philadelphia or even Pennsylvania, the Spectrum really meant very little to me personally. But living in Pittsburgh with the impending destruction of our historic igloo, Mellon Arena, I could understand the fondness for an arena that was past its prime. For Philadelphia fans, and many nearby East Coasters, these shows were a Big Deal and many bought tickets to all four. But, being a budget-minded fan, here I was with my single night ticket on Halloween eve. Section 107, row 10, seats seven and eight, on the floor adjacent to the sound booth.
I waited patiently for the show to begin. The girl next to me told me about how she had been coming to the Spectrum for years. "I remember seeing 'Ice Capades' here as a kid!" she said. Obviously, you have to be a local to "get" this place, I thought. The lights dimmed and a video started up on the big screens (which only project in black and white) highlighting big moments in Spectrum history: a Flyers goal, a Sixers three-pointer buzzer-beater, Bruce Springsteen, the Grateful Dead. Finally, the band entered to the "Rocky" theme (the fights were filmed in the Spectrum) and launched into "Gonna See My Friend," the opening track on their new album Backspacer.
For the next three hours, I came to realize that maybe this place wasn't so bad after all. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, first of all. Even the upper sections are not so far up and the back of the floor, generally regarded as a pretty poor seat, was still within about 50 yards of the stage. The sound is also fantastic, and the roar of the crowd is overwhelming in the best possible way. Vedder alluded to the venue's age in relation to his own, with a sly nod to their single "The Fixer." "42 years isn't that old! I’m 44!" he yelled, flashing his biceps. "I mean, maybe they should just fix it."
Well, maybe they should, but they won't. But although I wasn't able to attend the very last show at the Spectrum on Halloween (during which Pearl Jam dressed as Devo and sang "Whip It"), I can now say I have Spectrum memories of my own. It was the place that I learned that I will, in fact, raise my arms in a "V" during "Jeremy." The Spectrum is also where I learned that jumbo-trons are really, really helpful for short folks like me (theirs is black and white only and cuts out between every song).
Spectrum, I hardly knew ye, but thanks for holding it together for a few final shows where I could join arms with a few thousand other Ten Clubbers and shout along to "Hold On," a Ten-era rarity that the group played live for the first time in their life as a group. All the message board posting, rumor-mongering, presale buying and sturm und drang was worth it, and I'll keep coming back as long as the Club will have me.