5 Unforgettable Moments of Pearl Jam in Las Vegas, NV
Randy Sobel Highlights Some of the Band’s Top Moments in Sin City
A week and a half ago, Pearl Jam was supposed to make their return to Las Vegas for the first time in 16 years. However, as to be expected in this day and age, COVID-19 stepped in and said now is not the time. When Matt Cameron needed to be replaced in Oakland, that was challenging in and of itself, but Jeff Ament hitting the sidelines officially derailed those plans to continue on and the show was canceled. There is no make-up date set up and everyone was refunded their ticket money. A tough pill to swallow, but the band’s health is always going to be the priority over our entertainment.
As we were getting geared up for the other west coast shows, we have been publishing blogs featuring five of the best moments in the cities that they played in. Vegas was supposed to be published right before the show, but we held up on it due to a little bit of the malaise leftover from the cancellation announcement. Now, since I’ve recovered enough from my own COVID diagnosis, I figured that this would be a good time to present you with what would have been my list of top Vegas moments.
A lot has changed since the last time that they were there; world famous hotels have closed, a mob museum opened up, and the Golden Knights and Raiders became the first major professional sports franchises to call the city home. What hasn’t changed is the amount of money that tourists put into their gambling debts. And Elvis impersonators. The band would have made their return to a place where they’ve created many memorable moments in the past, the MGM Grand.
There have been only six shows in Sin City, but believe it or not, there’s something special to take away from each of these. Clearly, there are some shows that separate themselves from the pack. October 22, 2000 is the one that’ll immediately pop into your head. It was the 10th anniversary of the first time Pearl Jam ever played live, at the Off Ramp in Seattle, and it’s a show that continues to be admired 22 years later. Then there are the two shows from 1993 that kicked off the band’s relationship with Vegas, with the first show getting its very own Vault release. The other three shows have no lack of memorable moments, from Elvis songs to special guests, and maybe some moments you’ve never seen at any other show.
Let’s get into a list featuring five of their best Vegas moments in depth. It’s not a top five, but more of a chronological five to get you ready and hyped for when they hit the casino very soon. If we’re here to prove anything, it’s that what happens when Pearl Jam’s in Vegas can’t just stay in Vegas, it needs to be shared to all.
11/30/1993 – Aladdin Theater – Green River Reunion and My Way
This was a fired up show that featured a raucous crowd, incredibly fast performances and Vitalogy songs played prior to the album’s release, including the live debut of Tremor Christ. Mudhoney was there to open the show, which was important because this tour was one of the first times that the two bands had connected since Green River’s disbandment in 1987. After a scorching Porch closed out the first encore, Stone came back out to introduce special guests Mark Arm and Steve Turner (along with Chuck Treece of Urge Overkill and Dave Abbruzzese sharing drum duties) for a reunion of the pioneering Seattle grunge band. Ed stresses to the crowd how important the moment is and goes back to the side stage to take video. They kick into Swallow My Pride first, and right away you can see Jeff and Stone rocking with one another and feeling the vibe of a song they hadn’t played in over six years. Stone is having the time of his life playing up at the top of the stage and even on the drum riser at one point. They follow up with their classic punk rock song Ain’t Nothing To Do, where Mark sets up both Steve and Stone for guitar solos. Jeff is having a blast and can be seen running the length of the stage multiple times. After the way-too-brief two song reunion, Eddie is joined on stage by an Elvis impersonator named Terry Presley to perform a duet of My Way. While the entire show can be found on Vault release #5, Swallow My Pride and My Way were released as a Christmas Single back in 1995.
7/11/1998 – Thomas & Mack Center – Uncommon Opener, Uncommon Closer
This was a show that took place on the backend of the first US leg of the Yield tour, meaning it was one of the earlier shows that you could hear Matt Cameron performing with the band. While the show was reported as having poor security and a rather drunk crowd, this is likely the least talked about Vegas show of the six previously played. However, there are two things that happen here that you’ve almost never seen at a Pearl Jam show. The show is bookended with MFC as its opener and Last Exit to close out the night. MFC has only opened 7 of the 158 shows that it’s been played, and this version was only the second attempt. A rare break from the usual Release or Long Road that eases you in like any standard Pearl Jam set. This show was the one and only appearance of Last Exit as a closer. It’s a bit of a clunky version of the song, but the sentiment is something that perhaps they should’ve capitalized on more over the years. How much sense does it make to finish the night screaming “this is, this is, OUR last exit”? It’s as if the song were written specifically for that moment. This occurrence may have happened by complete accident, as allegedly Porch was cut from the set due to time. After Last Exit, Ed says “see you all later, I’m gonna go watch Siegfried and Roy,” something you can no longer do in Las Vegas.
10/22/2000 – MGM Grand Arena – Crown Of Thorns
Their 10th anniversary show was a massive celebration and a highly coveted bootleg during the first run of official recordings. You could basically throw a dart at any song in this setlist and no one would argue if you wanted to call it the best. However, outside of all the balloon drops and celebrity appearances, there’s one moment that stands above all from this show and that’s the performance of Crown Of Thorns. It was the first time that Pearl Jam had ever played a Mother Love Bone song live and it was the absolute perfect moment to do it. Prior to playing the song, Ed shares that Jeff and Stone had been making music together for 17 years, which leads to a big group hug in the middle of the stage. Joining them to play keyboard was long-time producer Brendan O’Brien, and right from the beginning you get that little tease of Chloe Dancer seeping in for 30 seconds or so before the song begins. The performance is one of the most poignant and powerful in the history of this band. In the 10 years that the band had been together, Andy Wood and Mother Love Bone were not addressed all that often. There were no true celebrations of the band’s roots, and who can blame them? A loss such as this was something that both Stone and Jeff were still having to deal with emotionally during the 90s. They weren’t quite ready for the reminder. But when Ed requests that they play the song on this night, it was like there was a connection created that had never been unearthed. In a spiritual sense, Eddie and Andy were bonded through the performance. The band’s history had now come full circle and was used as a reminder of how important Andy was to their story. The song has continued to be played in some of the most special venues or moments during the recent era. What follows Crown of Thorns was just as titillating, a chilling performance of Black and an emotional rendition of Can’t Help Falling In Love (which could be seen as a love letter to the fans) to complete one of the best three-song runs of any in their live catalog.
6/6/2003 – MGM Grand Arena – Oooooo Barracuda!
This show features more covers than songs off any studio album. Early in the night they premiered the Ramones song I Believe In Miracles for the first ever time live, which would continue to be a staple of the 2003 tour and beyond. After getting some tags and teases spliced in such as Interstellar Overdrive, Blitzkrieg Bop, and Should I Stay Or Should I Go, the second encore is nothing but a festival of cover tracks. From The Beatles to The Clash and Crazy Mary, they hit home many of their classic renditions of well known songs. After finishing Fuckin’ Up, you can hear Mike play a snippet of Barracuda before Ed invites Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart out to help with Rockin’ In The Free World. The Wilson sisters and Pearl Jam have a long history together. Not only are they Seattle neighbors, but Nancy is extremely important to the birth of the band. After Andy Wood passed away, Mother Love Bone was cut from their record deal. This left Stone and Jeff without a direction and funding if they wanted to make another attempt at getting a record deal. Long-time Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis had also been the manager of Mother Love Bone prior. Curtis had grown up with the Wilsons and remained close, even serving as a roadie for Heart in the ‘80s. Curtis was able to connect Stone and Jeff to Nancy, where a favor was asked of her. She cut them a big check, and the funding helped the band get through the early stages when Ten was being recorded. Seeing them take the stage together for a rare occasion felt special because of their history dating back so far. You could view it as the band’s everlasting thank you for helping them get off the ground.
7/6/2006 – MGM Grand Arena – Thank You Very Much
The last time the band was in Vegas, it was the west coast tour opener for the continued Avocado tour. Some unique things happen on this night, such as Ed doing a pre-set featuring Man Of The Hour, Inside Job as an opening song, and a Dirty Frank tag at the end of Porch. But we began this best of list with an Elvis moment, so we might as well finish that way. Returning from the encore, Ed comes back out on stage in the same sequined jacket that he’s worn in the past while performing things like Bu$hleaguer and any song he’s appeared with The Frogs on. This was a jacket created by the mother of the Flemion brothers, which he proceeds to show off with pride to the crowd. The Elvis song performed is Little Sister, the third and final performance to date, but many people will remember that this was one of the songs that Robert Plant helped the band with at the Chicago House Of Blues show in 2005. It’s a pretty fun performance, highlighted by the strong backing vocals of Matt Cameron, that takes the band a little bit out of their wheelhouse.
BONUS – 5/20/2022 – Jamaroke
When Pearl Jam fans find themselves in a situation such as the one endured recently, they don’t sit back and wallow in their own self pity. They find a way to make the best of a bad situation. For the past year or so, I’ve always had an idea in mind for a pre- or post-show party getting fans together to do a Pearl Jam karaoke night. While looking for something to do when sitting around Sacramento without a show to go to, I suggested to the group that I was with that we should find a karaoke bar and just sing Pearl Jam ourselves. There wasn’t really any place around the area to go to, so we stood back and kept each other company for the night. Around the same time, I saw two separate messages on Facebook. One was from Andrew Taylor, urging everyone to go out and find a place to do karaoke, the other was from Gina Rivera, doing the due diligence to go and find a place in Vegas where we could all gather and do it. The message was spread rather quickly throughout the Pearl Jam Podcast Community group and other various Facebook groups. We knew that there would be a solid crew still headed there looking for something to do, but we had no idea what the turnout would be like.
It was held at a bar called RockHouse, kind of tucked away and tricky to find inside the beautiful Venetian resort. I arrived early to check out what the situation was like there. While we called and told the place that our group was coming, the manager didn’t have a reservation set up for us. My initial thought was that we’d get about 30-40 people inside, so he designated the entire back section to be just for Pearl Jam people. I walked around the bar and saw people wearing tour shirts so I stopped and introduced myself, inviting them to our section trying to get it filled. As people were walking in, the hostess didn’t quite grasp who was there for Pearl Jam and who wasn’t, so again I made my attempt to get as many people to the back as possible. After five or ten minutes chatting with people. I came to realize that the place was nearly full. As I started looking around from table to table, I saw a sea of Pearl Jam shirts in every spot I looked. We had completely packed the RockHouse.
Las Vegas Karaoke Jam 2022
I spoke with the DJ, a nice guy named Felix who was a bit overwhelmed by the gathering we attracted, and I got a look at the songs he had available for us to sing. The selection was limited. All of the standard hits such as Alive, Jeremy, Even Flow, Daughter, etc were available in his system, but fan favorite songs that may seem like automatic choices were not. No Corduroy, Elderly Woman, Do The Evolution and State Of Love And Trust. However for some reason we had Who You Are, Tremor Christ and The Fixer available. It didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was more than enough to get us through the night.
The first song of the night was Given To Fly, sung by one of the best performers of the night, Matt Cooper. Recording the majority of the night for my upcoming tour documentary and a Facebook livestream, I looked back at key moments of the song to hear the entire crowd singing along as loud as they could. “A wave came crashing like a fist to the jaw…”; at that moment, I knew we had done something special. It was therapeutic. 48 hours after realizing that we wouldn’t get to see the band play in one of America’s best party cities, we gathered together to celebrate a band that has meant so much to all of us. It was an incredible experience, and even though seeing the band would have been the outcome I’d wanted out of the trip, I wouldn’t trade this for the world.
Being a fan of karaoke but rarely having an opportunity to do Pearl Jam, I relished in the opportunity. I came in heavy with Spin The Black Circle early on. I won’t lie, I felt pretty good after that. Didn’t run out of breath or blow out my voice at all. After about 8 or so predominantly PJ songs, DJ Felix addressed the group and recommended people come and sing the many non-Pearl Jam tracks in his catalog. He was jeered for his troubles, but I decided to throw him a bone and make my next song the hair metal classic “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake. This was one of my old go-tos, and although I was a bit rusty on it, it got a tremendous reaction.
Towards the end of the night, we were starting to run low on Pearl Jam songs. People weren’t quite heading towards the doors just yet, but they needed a little bit of a wake up call to get them back into it. My original choice of song was going to be “Beat On The Brat” by The Ramones, but that was clearly not going to get the crowd back to that initial excitement. Remembering the list from earlier, I saw that Felix had Go in his repertoire. Look, I felt pretty good after Spin The Black Circle, who’s gonna stop me from doing Go? The minute that intro kicked in, I felt a spark. The crowd knew exactly what was about to ‘go’ down and they started feeling a boost of energy pumping in their veins. I was locked in. I had my 1993 Eddie stance in position – both hands on the mic stand, left leg behind the right and rocking back and forth so slightly. When that chorus kicked in, I got to hear everyone in that bar sing at the top of their lungs. It was like an incredible hit of dopamine that could only be found from a wet dream I had when I was 18 and recreated that magic as a reality. When looking at the lyric screen, I noticed that one of the ending lyric changes was “why go on me.” I’m sure that at one point in my life I had known that he did that, but reading that clicked something into my mind. During the outro solo, I started to sing “sheeee scratches a letter…” as best I could to align with the tempo. Everyone caught on to what I was doing, and all at once we sang Why Go together. Look, small potatoes here performing in front of a crowd of 100+, but this has gotta be the reason why bands keep doing this, right?
After leaving the stage fully spent, Felix tells me we only had time for a couple more. He said he had some requests from the non-Pearl Jam people, all in all maybe five of them, that he wanted to get to, but I explained to him that this crowd was not gonna go home happy if we didn’t do Rockin’ In The Free World. Look, it wasn’t actually Pearl Jam! So maybe that’s why he agreed to it. We got everyone we could up on stage to recreate our own Pearl Jam end of the night party atmosphere. As predicted, everyone went home happy and came out of Vegas with an unexpected Pearl Jam memory. I met so many brand new people and connected with some that I had only spoken to over messenger before. I don’t think I would’ve had the same experience waiting in the GA line. It might not have been my 23rd show like I was expecting it to be, but this may go down as one of my favorite Pearl Jam memories that I ever took part in.
When Pearl Jam is unable to give you lemons, the fans find a way to make lemonade.