5 Unforgettable Moments of Pearl Jam in Berlin
In 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) constructed a wall dividing the eastern and western territories of Berlin. The communist regime’s intention was to keep the citizens of East Germany from fleeing the Soviet Union during the Cold War, so as to not be influenced by western ideals. As we all know about walls here in the United States, they are not built to last forever. In 1989, the people of East Germany conducted a series of revolutions that led to the Iron Curtain getting broken down piece by piece. The following year, the demolition of the wall commenced, and on October 3, 1990, the German reunification was made official.
Just a few weeks after this consequential change to the landscape of our world, Pearl Jam played their first show as Mookie Blaylock at a small club called the Off Ramp Cafe in Seattle. The two events are not connected in any fashion, actually far from it, but just over a year later when the band was beginning to gain notoriety, they went on their first European tour and visited Berlin in March of 1992. As a band that has always cared about activism and social justice issues, they were able to witness the change of an entire nation first hand. Had they visited two or three years prior, it would’ve been right in the middle of the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. I can just see them entering the city during that tour with all of this in mind. History was happening right in front of their eyes, and in their 32 year history, this would not be the last time that significant events occurred in or around their presence.
I mention history because it attaches to Pearl Jam’s time in Berlin quite appropriately. Through 12 shows, 13 after this week, Berlin is the second most frequented city they’ve played in Europe next to London, which will hit 21 shows in early July. In 1996, they played at the Deutschlandhalle, located on the western end of Berlin, which was built to host the 1936 Olympic Games. After reunification, the venue was no longer the main source for events in Germany, and shortly after their historic No Code-era show, the venue temporarily closed and was demolished in 2011. Two outdoor venues they’ve occupied: Wuhlheide, which they’ve returned to six times from 1992 through 2014, and Waldbühne, where they’ll step foot this Tuesday, hold their own place in Germany’s history. Waldbühne was built on the request of Nazi propagandhist Joseph Goebbels, and was also used as a venue for the 1936 Olympics. Wuhlheide has been a long-time concert venue that’s hosted a who’s who of legendary rock ‘n’ roll acts.
Pearl Jam and their 12 appearances in Deutschland’s capital have no doubt left their mark on this turf. Out of this many shows, it was challenging to find five that stand out since there are so many to go back to. But after much deliberating, I’ve put together this list as a primer for anyone that doesn’t know their history in Berlin. Just like New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, or Seattle, this needs to be a destination spot for every hardcore fan to witness the band in at least once in their life. Here are five reasons why:
3/9/1992 – The Loft – There’s A Thousand Points Of Light For The Bus Driver Man
In a very memorable run of Europe before they exploded in 1992, the band took charge in five German cities to finish a 27-show run in smaller club venues. The five cities, in order of appearance, were Cologne, Berlin, Hamburg, Frankfurt (which they’ll return to in July for the first time since this tour), and Munich, which is the most notable show of the bunch thanks to a full album performance of Ten. In front of a crowd of 500, the band goes through their normal setlist arsenal for this era. Very obviously heavy on Ten, with all of the expected songs in spots you’re familiar with seeing them in. But there’s two things that stick out that happen one after the other on this night. First and foremost, in the middle of the set, a haphazard version of Rockin’ In The Free World is played, which happened to be the live debut of the song. This has always been the fun party song at the end of the setlist, but on the first go around they were clearly unsure what to do with it. It can be argued that perhaps it was a late addition to the set due to the improvisational nature of it, but that’s the kind of setlist info that we don’t have intel on (keep this thought in mind). Stone begins the riff but no one truly follows up on it. As Ed starts to sing, he states “if we’re gonna play it anywhere, we should play it here.” With all that was written earlier about the fall of the Soviet Union, perhaps this was on their minds due to the recent historical changes. While the intention of the song’s chorus is almost satirical in nature, pointing out all of the horrifying circumstances that happen to our homeless population in America, I think the point of playing it here was to celebrate this country’s newly found freedom. Sure, there are points where lyrics and cues are missed, but it gets mixed into Pearl Jam lore for the first time thanks to their admiration of Neil Young. There is proof of how awe-inspired they were of their later-adopted uncle at the time. Three nights later, at the Frankfurt show, the song ends up on the setlist with a little written note underneath that reads ‘Neil Fucking Young AKA God’. 314 performances later, the song has become one of Pearl Jam’s calling cards to end a show (aside from that one other time where it wasn’t).
There is another debut of sorts that comes right after Rockin’, but it can easily be contested. They start going into this funky jam before getting into the lyrics of what many people will know to be Dirty Frank, the first instance of which that it’s been brought up at a show. For years the archivists at Five Horizons, LiveFootsteps, Two Feet Thick, and PJ Stat Tracker have had this listed as a clear Dirty Frank tag, but as you may remember from listening to our St. Petersburg 1994 episode last year, the details of it may indicate that it needs more investigation. The difference is in the wording. The lyrics of the song, from both the Even Flow single and Lost Dogs, are heard as “cook ‘em, just to see the look on their face”, but in this instance, you can hear him say “fuck ‘em”, which is a direct correlation to the Red Hot Chili Peppers song Freaky Styley. As admitted in the past, the band wrote Dirty Frank after touring with the Chili Peppers, doing so as an homage to them. But if we’re looking at semantics here, which song should this tag be labeled as? Nevertheless, two little pieces of Pearl Jam history were brought to a thousand points of light on this night.
11/3/1996 – Deutschlandhalle – I Am A Doughnut
This show is one of many famed radio broadcasts from the mid-nineties that aired all over the world, along the same lines as Atlanta 1994, Soldier Field, and Melbourne 1998, among others. Many members of the fan base may remember sitting at their stereo recording the show with cassette tapes on hand, ready to make a quick swap once the reel tapped out. And if you were listening to this live that day, what a phenomenal show that you were treated to. Top of the line for the No Code era, featuring the unflappable dynamo known as Jack Irons on drums. What an incredible year 1996 was for Jack, who had fully intensified his approach since his debut during the Vitalogy run in 1995. You can hear that on this version of In My Tree, where his intense tribal beat that opens the song has you completely hypnotized. It’s on Immortality, during the ending, where he busts out the octopus arms to deliver a thunderous massacre with the entire band feeding off of his energy. You can feel it when he’s driving the pace through an accelerated Last Exit. But the forever lasting moment of this show has to be awarded to Red Mosquito. Instead of the drum count-in that you will commonly hear as the intro of the song live nowadays, this kicks off right away with that screeching Mike McCready solo. The entire band senses this energy in the room, and they go to huddle around Jack to lean into it. Then something magically unintentional takes place. Usually when the band segues out of the intro into the verse, Ed comes in right away with lyrics. In this particular version, with the band on such a high from that intoxicating display of pure rock ‘n’ roll adrenaline, they take four extra measures to give appreciation for what they just accomplished before Ed comes in with the vocals. It’s one of Pearl Jam’s best pure rock performances that can easily go toe to toe with the best from any era.
Also notable from this night is the inclusion of a short rendition of Hunger Strike. While they hadn’t played it without the presence of Chris Cornell since 1992, the 1996 European run had a few of these abridged performances scattered throughout. Without Chris to do his part, Ed calls upon the crowd for help to sing his part of the dueling vocals in the chorus. Many people listening at home were likely freaking out from this nice little surprise placed in the set right before Even Flow. Hunger Strike would be sparingly used throughout the course of the band’s career, and now has the unfortunate inevitability of never happening again.
Just like Ed, I don’t know what else to say, so I’m just going to say I am a doughnut.
8/15/2009 – Wuhlheide – The Best Crowd In Europe?
So as you might have noticed, we’ve taken a leap forward 13 years into the Backspacer era, neglecting the two shows from 2000 and 2006. As with everything, there’s a reason for it. This 2009 show probably doesn’t get enough love, having taken place in a short five-show European stretch that happened a month prior to Backspacer’s release. At times you’ll be able to hear it played on Pearl Jam Radio, but even with that, this show still feels vastly underappreciated. Why is this show added to the list? It’s because the crowd is absolutely on fire for nearly three hours. The set is a solid mix of every era in their history. It’s not very often that you can say post-2000 that there were more Binaural songs than songs from Ten and Vs., but that’s part of what makes this all special. The crowd’s excitement and participation for songs such as Insignificance, Severed Hand, and MFC allow for the big hits such as Even Flow and Do The Evolution to be elevated with even more energy than normal. But the hit that benefited the most from the crowd’s energy, without a doubt, was Daughter. I have never heard a version that had this much celebration and interaction. From the audible crowd during the “she will rise above” line in the bridge, to when Ed is so impressed that he gives them the opportunity to sing the entire chorus back to him, there was something special brewing in the hot August air that night. As the song segues into the tag, Ed wants to test the crowd yet again to see how loud they can get, leading to one of the best call and response sections you’ll ever hear. As they match his firepower and emotional outbursts word for word, Ed takes a step back to listen to their response and is completely blown away. It’s hard to make out, but it sounds like he says ‘fucking beautiful’ as he watches on in astonishment. The crowd keeps their energy up as Ed tests them yet again with a back and forth on Blitzkrieg Bop, because Germany of course.
That would be the height of the crowd’s power, but there are still so many other highlights to take away from this. The Fixer and Got Some are played in their infancy stages as teasers for the upcoming record, Brother is played for the fifth time on its little come back run following the Ten Redux release. Hard To Imagine is a wonderful surprise in encore 1, and has a different arrangement that more prominently features Boom in the mix, as well as a rare occurrence of Ed picking up a guitar that leads to a beautiful blend of the monster three-guitar attack. At the end, Stone goes back into his intro melody as the crowd claps along creating such a spine-tingling moment nearly unmatched on any other version of this song. As the band comes back out for the second encore, the crowd is buzzing yet again, making this droning sound that wouldn’t be uncommon to hear at a soccer match, and Ed ends up joining in on the fun. The extremely rare addition of Faithfull to the final set is played thanks to a monstrous sign up in front, just another takeaway of how otherworldly this crowd was.
This show was covered earlier this year on Live On 4 Legs Podcast, attaining the extremely rare distinction of being voted into our live show hall of fame episode that will come out at the end of the year. If you haven’t checked this one out, don’t live to regret it.
6/30/2010 – Wuhlheide – Lost Nine Friends We’ll Never Know
June 30, 2000 is not a date that is lost among Pearl Jam and their fans. It lives in infamy for unfortunately being the night that tragedy struck at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Nine fans were tragically trampled to death during a massive crowd surge. None of us knew whether the band would ever recover after that. It was rumored that there was a possibility that the band could break up or go on hiatus, but in an act of courage they went out and played both North American legs that summer and fall. It was certainly not something that they took lightly, wearing heavy hearts on their sleeves. Through much of the early stretch of that tour you could see some hesitation within the band as they continued on with difficulty and much needed therapeutic moments. As time has moved on, the incident has never been forgotten, but the group has healed gradually, grateful for the connections that they have been able to make with the families and friends of the victims and grateful for the new found appreciation that they have for being alive.
On the year anniversary of the tragedy, the band once again found themselves in Europe in support of the Backspacer record. Again located at the beautiful, open air amphitheater at Wuhlheide, the moment was not lost on the faithfull. Prior to the show, when fans were waiting in the GA or merch lines, there was a group of people going around handing out flyers that read along the lines of ‘due to the 10th anniversary of the Roskilde tragedy, please show your support when the band plays Black tonight. Sing as loud as you can, hold up your cell phones, spread the love.’
In the second encore of what was already a stacked show, the band starts into the opening chords of Black. The message must’ve gotten out to everyone in attendance, because right off the bat you can hear the crowd elevate that “heeeeeeeeeeeey” showing that they were 100% behind the band during a very difficult moment for them. You can feel it through Ed’s voice, hear the warmth through Stone’s guitar in the opening melody, and then get that outburst of emotion from Mike wailing away at a deeply impassioned solo. Once the song drops out a bit, you get the classic moment where everyone is clapping along, doing the “doo doo doot doot doo doo doo”. Then, Ed improvises a powerful moment:
Here comes the pain again…
Here comes the rain again…
Here comes the gray again…
Here comes the black again…
Here comes the rain again…
Don’t come back no more, no more…
Don’t come back no more, no more…
I won’t go too far…
Not going back no more, no more…
The line about the rain is significant here and can be marked as a direct call back to that very day where the muddied grounds were the cause for the tragic situation to develop. Ed is clearly humbled by the crowd and he begins an emotional speech that he gets choked up during:
“After singing something that beautiful, what you just laid out before us there… and thank you for that (massive crowd eruption as the doo doo doot doots and clapping return). So we get to experience this now, and it’s hard to explain to people what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that. And then we were ten… (Ed gets choked up and the crowd once again erupts with support). Alright, let me try and do this…ten years ago in Denmark today, it was a completely different experience and it continues to be the hardest day in our lives and everyone who was there agrees. It’s not like we’re thinking about it any more today, because it’s really something we’ve thought about every day. But we bring it out today and we ask that the families and friends of those who lost loved ones that day allow us to send love to them and our support, and we’re very very extremely extremely grateful for the families that we’ve got to know through this experience and somehow learn to get through it together and somehow even learn things about ourselves and appreciation for life that maybe we didn’t quite understand completely before. So this is for the families, we send our love from the band and the crew. Stone suggested it and I think it’s appropriate that maybe we just have a moment of silence in their honor. And we thank you for that.”
Following the moment of silence, the band breaks into one of their most impassioned songs in their catalog, Come Back. It continues the beautiful tribute to remember the nine who passed away ten years earlier. This tragedy will always be a pivotal turning point in the history of this band, and no matter how many years it’s been since that day, they will always pay their respects to those who lost their lives. The original plan on the 2020 Gigaton tour was to play in Copenhagen, Denmark a day shy of the 20th anniversary of Roskilde. Although those plans have since changed, they will still be able to honor them at what’s certainly going to be an emotional night on July 5.
7/5/2018 – Waldbühne – Take a Good Look!
Let’s end this with a fun one! Our final moment is from the last time they went to Europe, in 2018. They decided to say so long to the world-renowned Wuhlheide in favor of another outdoor venue in Waldbühne that holds approximately 5,000 more people. The setting is beautiful, it’s structured like a Roman colosseum with the elevated stone seating section, including what seems like an incredibly steep set of stairs. When you turn towards the stage, you’ll see what looks like a white tent on the roof featuring two cone shaped corners on each side and scenic surroundings behind the stage with the greenest trees you’ll ever see. Just by looking at aerial shots of the amphitheater, it looks like someone took this place and plopped it right in the middle of nature. It’s no wonder why the band chose this place to come back to.
The setlist is a perfect array of old songs and rare songs, especially in the case of No Code, which has five songs represented on this night. A Wash opener, two from Riot Act, one from Binaural and a Rolling Stones cover in-between. That itself can sell you on this show. But all of those moments pale in comparison with what transpired during Porch. With a frenzied crowd and the knowledge of the main set coming to an end, everyone went all out for this. The video shows a group of fans creating an empty circle pit, and then once the “…would ya hit me” line drops, that frenzied group runs into each other at full speed. It is highly uncommon to see a circle pit at a non-festival show in the 2010s, but as you’ll see, things are just starting to get a little wild. Ed is aware of the movement within the crowd and he points out two instances in mid-song where it seemed like it was getting a little rough. At one point you could see fans being lifted from the barrier to safety as well as multiple crowd surfers who are riding up on all of the heads in the front (again, something that just doesn’t happen at Pearl Jam shows any more).
But when the orbs go down during the solo, all bets are off. You start to see what looks like debris flying through the air. Tough to tell at first what they might be. On closer inspection, you can tell that those are beer cup holders flying throughout the Berlin night. At first there are only a couple, but after a few quick camera cuts we can see dozens more being tossed around. After another minute or so, the place is littered with cup holders flying in every which way. It’s a sight to behold. Think of the most amazing phenomena – you have the Northern Lights, meteor showers, blood rain that occurs in India, but nothing compares to 22,000 Pearl Jam fans throwing cup holders.
Ed gets wind of this and takes in the wild scene. He gets up to the top of the stage and looks on in amazement while these beverage carriers are being tossed in his general direction. Even one of the crew members hands him one. Who knows if he’s kept it as a memento, but Pearl Jam history is unfolding in front of his eyes, you’d think he’d want a piece of it. It’s nothing like Indio 1993, where they saw a barrage of shoes and garbage getting tossed their way aimed directly at their heads. The solo is extended for a little longer than usual as Ed soaks up the scene. He does his patented run down to the front of the crowd, gives his high fives and handshakes, and finishes out on top of an arranged platform as the cup holder celebration continues until the end.
If we’ve learned anything from the last three moments, it’s that this Berlin crowd is incredibly dedicated to Pearl Jam. They’ll return to Waldbühne on Tuesday during a time of the year that they absolutely love playing in – the night of summer solstice. Imagine it being light out until 9:30 and seeing the sun go down with the beautiful scenery surrounding it? For those of you going, you are about to experience something incredible.