The Live On 4 Legs Story
Written by Randy Sobel
To begin this story, you’d have to go back to March of 2018, right before the short South American tour run was set to go off. In anticipation for these shows, I wanted to pull the trigger on an idea that had been stewing in my head for years without any real time to figure out how to execute it. I wanted to put together a Pearl Jam fantasy league that would mirror the experience of participating in fantasy sports. 10 fans would draft a team (or setlist) of songs with the hope that the band would perform them on any given night. Songs would take the same roles as players, where for every time one gets played, it would earn points. The rarer the song, the more points it was worth. When I pitched this idea to some of the Pearl Jam Facebook groups, the response was overwhelming. I had about 30+ people inquire about participating, which was more than enough to create two leagues (Jack Irons and Dave Krusen league). I also invited my best friend since elementary school, and frequent tour buddy, Matt Helbig to play along as well.
Running the leagues gave me a little bit of a boost of energy following a tough year, as I was let go from my position after 8 years at ESPN. Waking up and anticipating spending the afternoon digging for Facebook livestreams of the European tour shows and then subsequently relaying the information back to the fantasy league group felt like I was connected with this band and community more than I had ever been before. We’d spend our time in a massive group chat talking about the nerdiest of topics – setlist structure, show history, people’s travel experiences, different versions of songs, what some of the rarest songs people had seen were…on and on and on. While I made friends with fans in the past, it finally reached a point where I felt relieved that I wasn’t the only person that had a mind that was constantly thinking about Pearl Jam. To that fact, I came to the conclusion that while I thought I knew tons about the band, in reality there was still so much more to learn.
With the league playing a factor, and some intake of other Pearl Jam related media, I wanted to create a platform where I could do many things: tell my favorite stories of the shows that I’d been to, hear my friends tell their favorite stories of shows they’d been to, and learn and share the extensive history of the band’s live catalog. I couldn’t do this venture alone, so naturally I asked Matt to join in as my co-host for this project. The name of the show? Well, we’re a podcast covering a different live show every episode. We also had two legs apiece. Naming the podcast Live On 4 Legs was perhaps the easiest decision I could ever have made. I believe in my text to Matt asking him to join, I may have said “Want to do a podcast on Pearl Jam and call it Live On 4 Legs?”
After a little time of trying to figure out how to execute what we wanted to do and find a way to draw people in and get excited about this new project, we launched our social media pages on August, 20th 2018, the same date as the second Wrigley Field show that year. Matt and I were both heading to Fenway for the night two show (I was also at night one), and thought that day would be the perfect opportunity to spread the word about our brand new endeavor. We printed up some t-shirts and stickers to give out to people who came and met up with us at Game On! Bar and Grill, just a block or so away from the stadium. It was a rousing success! We met so many people that day that have been listeners and friends ever since. Hearing people’s stories and their enthusiasm for the shows gave us the confidence that our idea may just work out.
Our first episode dropped on September 7th, 2018, with the focus narrowed directly on the Fenway Park shows. The first few months of research were dedicated to telling our own show stories (Chicago 2009, Brooklyn 2013) and sharing the stories of others (Berlin 2010, San Jose 1995), along with digging into some of the more popular shows (Amsterdam 2012, Melbourne 1995) and hitting special anniversary dates (Philadelphia Spectrum Night 4). In our 10th episode, we began a tradition of covering episodes for our Patreon donors, as John Farrar made his first appearance on the show covering the legendary Atlanta 1994 show. We’d spend the first few months attempting to touch up on every era of the band at least once, and in January of 2019 we began our first year-long series where we covered every single Madison Square Garden show over the course of 12 months.
It’s been stated that over half of all podcasts don’t end up sustainable after a certain amount of time. The effort, research, and time that is needed to execute a show can get overwhelming, and when life gets in the way, it prohibits you from accomplishing the tasks needed to succeed. In spring of 2019, we found ourselves in that very spot where it was difficult to proceed in the way we had been presenting the show. Episodes would sometimes go on for 3+ hours (please, take breaks when you listen to State College), making the edit sessions tougher and tougher to handle. With a busy schedule as an event performer, Matt had to drop out of his role on the show after 41 episodes. He would remain a consistent guest and contributor, but it was officially time to find a new co-host and a new direction for the show.
As a replacement for Matt, I chose to team up with long-time show contributor John Farrar due to his wealth of knowledge and storytelling abilities. The show from that point forward would take a different turn. Gone were episodes where we spent lengthy time on every song in the setlist. This transformed into a show that looked into the bigger picture – how the band was affected by certain eras and how we view those moments today. These ideas would soon be utilized for a series of exclusive episodes where we would break down an entire song’s live performance evolution.
As the show grew, we found ourselves deeper and deeper into all of the band’s intricate stories and history, but along with that, we tapped into the fan experience and what made the band special to the people that spent so much time following them around. Along with Patrons who have joined the show to relive their memories, we started to tap into some of the notable people around the Pearl Jam universe. We’ve been lucky to interview people such as WWE Superstar Edge, former ESPN anchor Kenny Mayne, CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig, long-time Mike McCready friends and bandmates Chris and Rick Friel, music journalist Steven Hyden, fivehorizons.com co-creator Caryn Rose, and the voice of Pearl Jam Radio on Sirius, Rob Bleetstein. We’ve also spoken to authors of many Pearl Jam publications, including PJ20 author Jonathan Cohen, Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense author Ronen Givony, This All-Encompassing Trip author Jason Leung, and Vs. 33 1/3 Series author Clint Brownlee. Meeting with these incredibly special people that are vital to the community has expanded our wealth of knowledge in all things regarding the band, which in turn has been able to enrich our listeners with priceless stories spreading love for the fandom.
Later down the line, we saw an opportunity to contribute even more to this community that has unfortunately been missing for some time. Throughout the years there has always been an outlet for fans to go in order to catch up on the latest tour news or check out the wealth of history that was documented from the very beginning. Five Horizons began it’s Concert Chronology in the mid-90’s, and it became a go-to source of information for fans, especially after 2000 when the official bootlegs were circulating. It was a way for people to check in on the setlist, stage banter, and reviews that would lead people to go out and find the bootlegs to take in more of the band. After 2004, Five Horizons passed the torch off to Two Feet Thick, who kept the tradition alive for another decade. Since 2014, that outlet has been sorely missing from this community.
While the podcast takes elements from those websites and brings it to life by intertwining an audible story within the music, the sheer volume of Pearl Jam shows available for us to cover are far too many to get to in the time that we’ve worked on it. So we needed something to accompany the work we’ve done on the podcast. Henceforth, a brand new Concert Chronology, now dubbed the Concertpedia. Our goal is to stick with tradition and have this become a place where people can relive their favorite show memories, but also to be a place that raises conversations that fans might not be having, that brings new points of view to the table, and we want to tell stories that have never been told from fantastic storytellers. Pearl Jam fans have a great sense of pride and community and that makes them such a special group. We understand how important this band is to people, because they are important to us, and preserving these stories are important. We hope this allows people’s love for this band to grow. It’s an amazing, rich history that needs to be celebrated by the ones who love it the most.
One of the goals for the podcast from the beginning was to go out to live shows and engage with the fan base, but unfortunately due to the global pandemic, we have yet to accomplish this. Look for us in the fall of 2022 as we’ll be attending shows, running meet-ups, and holding post-concert live interviews getting fans instant reactions from the performance. And of course, we’ll keep diving through their catalog to share some of the best stories and performances, keeping those amazing memories fresh forever!