Pearl Jam Fan Report From The Road: Phoenix 2022
After three shows and some great times in California, I was looking forward to seeing my good buddy Ron and the Arizona desert. Ten years my senior, he had fast become like a big brother to me when we met as business colleagues some twenty-five years ago, when I was more concerned about my IT business than high school. It was through him that I had met Chris, the friend that had attended San Diego with me, as well as several other folks in the East Valley of Phoenix that I now called friends. My wife, daughter, and I had attended Ron’s wedding just before the pandemic hit, so I was eager to catch up – it had been too long.
Once I had my rental car, I was on my way to his place — I’d be settling in solo, as I was exhausted and declined an invitation to a BBQ that Ron and his wife were attending. I’d get unpacked, find some food, and rest up a bit. Naturally, I made my way to a very well-rated, hole-in-the-wall taco joint. After some amazing tacos, horchata, and a nap, I was glad to see Ron and his wife arrive home, and visited with them for a while before we all turned in a bit early.
I awoke to a sore throat, something I had grown accustomed to when visiting Arizona. You see, their electricity rates vary by time of day due to high air conditioning usage during the hottest hours. Thus, with the advent of smart thermostats, most people supercool their homes overnight, the air conditioning turns off before the rates go up, and the temperatures slowly rise throughout the day, keeping comfort and the electricity bill in balance. If you’re not used to it, however, 62 degrees at 6am and having the air blow on you all night…let’s just say I always savor a hot shower and getting the sinuses cleared out.
Ron works from home, so we continued to catch up off and on, with me making a coffee run while he took work calls. We headed out for lunch — I’m the guy that dives deep into reviews and finds the spot that even the locals don’t know about. As we headed out, Ron insisted on driving, soon asking me where the heck I was taking him. Twenty minutes later, we were in a neighborhood that could only be described as desolate, and he was suspicious. I, for one, knew what was next: Cocina Madrigal. His amazement at the incredible elotes, prickly pear margaritas, and incredible carne asada tacos at the place that I found. We passed no fewer than thirty taco joints to get there, but this was the right one. Back to the house for him to wrap up work, then off to Glendale – it was a bit of a drive, and we wanted to secure close parking early. Ron had a tip that we might even land free parking if we got in early enough (he turned out to be right!)
We found some beers near the venue, then ended up having Chris — who was attending his second Pearl Jam show tonight — scoop us up (in his fancy new Tesla – supremely cool) to meet another buddy Alex at, you guessed it — a taco joint. This one was almost overwhelming, calling it a taco joint didn’t do it justice. La Santisima has at least thirty meat and vegetable options to fill a taco, burrito, or this Oaxacan calzone-like vessel called a ‘quesa’ that I ended up getting. Absolutely the best Mexican I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some great stuff. They even had authentic horchata, made with fruit in the mix. I was growing concerned that I might fall asleep at the show.
We got to our seats a few minutes before Ed walked out, so we were able to take in the venue and talk about songs that we wanted to hear. Ron is a huge fan of Rearviewmirror and Hail, Hail; I told him I suspected that we could get the former, but likely not the latter. I brought up opening songs, and I was hanging my hat on Wash. He agreed that would be really cool — especially since we were in the desert. This is a good time to note our Pearl Jam history together. This would be our 8th Pearl Jam/Eddie/Glen show together – having attended Phoenix 2000, 2003, and 2013; Eddie in 2012; Glen in Tucson a couple years ago; and Ron had flown up to Chicago for Wrigley shows in 2016 and 2018. We’ll never forget the insane torrential rains that we braved driving to the Desert Sky Pavilion in 2000, wondering if we’d make it and if there would be a show. Fortunately, the rain had let up just a half-hour before showtime, and it created this very odd rapidly-dissipating humidity with steam-like fog in places. The first notes of Long Road at that show were ethereal.
Back to the present — Ed walks out and gives us a gift with Far Behind, and all I could think of was the 2012 Eddie show with his Into the Wild mini-set. They may not come to Arizona often, but when they do — Ed really brings it with great setlists and wonderful stories. I didn’t enjoy Josh’s set this night as much as I had the previous shows, likely due to our seats being on the floor. We were in the first row behind GA and had the rail to lean against, so no complaints — but I couldn’t see what Josh was doing as well as I had previously, and that was the most interesting part for me.
WASH! Nailed it! Some folks said it didn’t make sense, but that’s exactly why I thought it did — rain in the desert once more. It was off to the races after that. I thoroughly enjoyed this setlist, with the highlights once again being Ed’s stories and Mike playing like a soul consumed by guitar wails. Given to Fly is always a highlight for me, and coming right after Wash kept the sense of being up in the air alive. Small Town brought things down to Earth for a bit, but a run of Corduroy-Quick Escape-Why Go-SBWM had us soaring high again. Each one was a great version, with Mike really going off on Corduroy and again on Quick Escape. Ed did his muffled-vocal countdown thing on Quick Escape, and I think it adds something pretty neat. What annoys me about the beginning of Invincible doesn’t on Quick Escape. Go figure. The band seemed to really enjoy playing Why Go and SBWM; lots of smiles on that stage.
Tour debuts are my favorite. I’ll admit it. I’m a collector. I’m not ashamed. Heck, my biggest Pearl Jam regret is missing seeing them in 2006 — there’s Avocado songs that I’ll probably never see because of it, and it makes me sad. I won’t feel that way about Gigaton, though! We got Alright and it works live, better than I expected it to. I didn’t have time to absorb that moment, as Ed started talking about the Arizona DOT signs on the highway. The day of the show, they were displaying the message, “Even flow on the gas, keep left to pass” and Ed notes that, leading into a raucous Even Flow. When I heard the opening notes of DOTC, I poked Ron and said “this is the one I was telling you about,” referring to my excitement as to how awesome it is in the live setting. This was the tightest version yet, and even though the studio version didn’t do much for him, I saw him getting into it and that made my night.
If you read my Los Angeles fanview, you know I’m a fan of space and NASA. So, naturally, I was pretty geeked when Ed dedicated the next song to retired astronaut Scott Kelly, who was in attendance! Black was absolutely beautiful. The We Belong Together tag is a favorite of mine, so I was really really happy to get that. Following Black up with I Got Shit was unexpected, but not at all unwelcome. A couple songs later, we get some more details about when Ed had COVID, including that he had the next song, Sleeping by Myself, running through his head the whole time. It was a neat little speech from him, in that it was very much a moment where he let us behind the curtain of his personal life a bit more than usual. That happened again a bit later when he introduced his niece, who was at the show instead of at her own college graduation! This lifted Ed’s mood quite a bit, and he decided to pivot on the setlist a bit, with a last-second audible; we would later learn that he scratched Come Back and went right to Smile. We also don’t get River Cross, and Black was in lieu of In Hiding. To be honest, I would have loved Come Back, but probably in a different place that they had it set for. The flow of this show was great, Ed was chatty but not too much so, and the band played really well the entire night.
The final highlight of the night for me was Leaving Here – I adore this song, and it was imperfect, but it was also just perfect. Alive and YL to close it out, house lights up, voices high, idiots with poster tubes ruining photos, a false show ending between the two songs…we got it all. Another great performance for the Phoenix books! I was literally dizzy walking out.
I’m writing this on the day that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. I have some thoughts, some feelings on that. This isn’t the venue for that, but I definitely skipped over Ed’s discussion of freedom to choose and how I saw it affect many locals at the show. Arizona has become an often-interesting visit for me, as I love it as much as I love Denver and San Diego, but it’s much more conservative. It saddens me how fractured our nation is these days on nearly anything one can name. I just don’t have it in me to get political today – too much family stuff going on (we’re attending a wedding this weekend) but I will say this – at least we have Pearl Jam.
This Phoenix show was an inflection point for me: the last night of a long vacation, the end of a self-imposed mini-sabbatical, and, as it turned out – the end of my COVID-less streak. After 26 months, it got me. The feeling in my throat that I thoughtlessly dismissed and the dizziness after the show that I blamed on too many margaritas and too little water turned out to be symptoms of the ‘Rona. I was fortunate that it was a mild case, and that my friends in Arizona didn’t get sick. Stay vigilant.