20 Years Ago, Pearl Jam Plays 95 Songs Over 3 Epic Boston Nights
The first week of July will always be one for Massachusetts rock concert history books. Twenty years ago this week, Pearl Jam played 95 songs over an epic three nights (and four sets) in Boston.
In the extensive Pearl Jam official bootleg catalog, there’s a show simply titled “7/11/2003.” It’s a three-disc show that contains 45 songs, all from the same night. You might be wondering “how?” Well, on July 11, they opened for themselves.
Let me explain. The holiday weekend started on Wednesday night, with Pearl Jam playing their first show of a two-night run at the Xfinity Center (it was the Tweeter Center then, but really it’s Great Woods). Over two nights, they played 50 different songs, with not one repeat. In case that’s not enough, this is where the story goes to another level.
July 11, 2003. Yes, over a week later. After two shows in Camden, and two (legendary) shows at Madison Square Garden, Pearl Jam came back to Boston for more. To further prove their thoughtfulness, they took a crack at sticking to a previously made promise to attempt every song in their catalog over these three nights. And by the third night, they realized that they couldn’t fit all of their songs in, as promised. So they decided to open for their opening act, in order to make good on that promise.
The band was at the end of half-year tour in support of their new record Riot Act. It certainly would have been much easier (and acceptable) for Pearl Jam to close out their route in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It still would have been an absolutely incredible tour. But they came back for more. Eddie Vedder was often seen riding his bike around the Mansfield parking lot. Then, he’d head into the venue and perform one song solo acoustic prior to opener, Sleater-Kinney.
Opening For The Opener
Fittingly, it was a Friday night. The sun was still shining, and out comes Pearl Jam strolling back onto the Pavilion stage. They sit down.
Vedder and the boys grab their acoustic instruments. “Good Morning,” Vedder says prior strumming a D chord (he usually says “Good Evening” to start a show, but you’ll understand in a minute). They launch into “Long Road.” They’d play 11 more acoustic songs, before Sleater-Kinney took the stage.
A few hours later with the sun down, Pearl Jam came back. This time they were plugged in, and they’d rock 33 more songs. The only repeat of the entire Boston-stretch, was “Yellow Ledbetter,” which closed out nights two and three.
To reflect upon this special moment 20 years ago in Pearl Jam Boston history, I had a roundtable conversation with Rock 92.9’s Adam 12. Between the two of us, we were at all three shows.
Jeff: I was at Night 1 and 2 of Pearl Jam in 2003, which were you at?
Adam: I was at Night 1 but not Night 2. I requested tickets to Night 1 so we could still get away for the 4th of July holiday. When the band announced their plan to add a 3rd night so they could play through the entire catalog, we bought tickets to Night 3 as soon as they went on sale.
Jeff: It was the first time the band was back in Boston since 2000, and Eddie looked quite different. He had really short hair and no beard. I vividly remember Night 1, he was wearing a Beach Boys shirt and they opened with “Oceans.” I knew then it was going to be special run.
Adam: Do you love “Oceans?” It’s my favorite song on Ten and probably a top 5 all-time Pearl Jam song for me. I couldn’t believe they opened with it. I wasn’t even expecting them to play it.
Jeff: I love “Oceans.” It’s my favorite show opener. “1, 2, 3…. hold on to the thread.” It gives me chills every time.
I wasn’t at Night 3 so I always love talking to people who were there. Pearl Jam played an early acoustic set, to get in as many songs as possible. Before Sleater-Kinney, so they essentially opened for themselves. They played some unique acoustic renditions during that set. Songs that don’t always get the acoustic treatment.
Adam: I’ve seen Pearl Jam over a dozen times since my first time seeing them at the Garden in April of ’94. Not as many times as a Pearl Jam super-fan, but more than the average fan or live rock fan. That July 11, 2003 Pearl Jam Boston set 20 years ago, was the greatest set of theirs I’ve ever seen. And a big reason why was the whole “opening for themselves” bit.
They played twelve songs in that acoustic opening set. “Off He Goes” stands out in my memory, as does that fact that they closed with a stripped-down version of “Indifference.” But it was “Footsteps” that wrecked me. It’s the greatest version of that song I’ve ever heard.
Jeff: Night number 2 for me, it was maybe my 20th PJ show, but the first time I had ever seen them open with “Release.” That was my “wrecked me” moment.
Adam: That’s right! “Release” opened Night 2. What a crusher.
Aside from that, what was your stand-out moment from Night 2? My Night 3 “moment” was “Breath.” Never, ever thought I’d see them play that one live. But we know going to that third night they had to!
Jeff: Aside from “Release” in Night 2, there was a three-song stretch that was three of my favorites in a row. Three deep cuts that were probably just randomly aligned together – the “Insignificance,” “Love Boat Captain,” “I Got Id” trifecta. To this day, it might be my favorite grouping I’ve ever seen. Three songs in a row with Eddie “taking the reigns and steering towards the clear” on guitar, and man, did he deliver with such passion and emotion.
Adam: “I Got Id” is a tremendous song and has always been a great moment when they play it live. I have to throw my stand-out moment from Night 1 into the mix, too. They played two encores. Four songs into the first one, they played “State Of Love And Trust.” Another Top 5 all-time PJ favorite of mine. I thought that would end the encore. Nope. They followed it up with “Leaving Here,” the Eddie Holland cover from the Home Alive compilation. I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t even stay in our seats for the 2nd encore. I listened from the parking lot. I was like: “It’s not gonna get better than that.”
Their version of “Leaving Here” might be my favorite cover of theirs. That’s a whole other piece we need to collaborate on!
Jeff: Yes! I totally agree, I love how they all sing the harmonies and chorus parts together. The funny thing is, leaving here is not what they did. They stayed for two more nights, and three more sets.
Reflecting upon it now, 20 years later, what does this Pearl Jam 2003 Boston week of shows mean to you?
Adam: I always come back to this: July of ’03 was when Pearl Jam became a “Boston” band. They’d always played amazing sets when they came to town, and Eddie always showed Boston love from the stage, just like any smart frontperson does when they come to your town. But the fact that they chose our city and our state to create this special moment over three nights (and having to reroute and come back to do it!) speaks volumes about the love Pearl Jam has for their fans here.