5 Unforgettable Moments of Pearl Jam in London
“It’s gonna be a while but we’ll see you again…London was one of the first places to kinda make Seattle kinda something interesting…something you would listen to. Of course, now they trash us, but we don’t give a fuck. You guys are great. Thank you.”
10/29/96, Wembley Arena (quote taken from Five Horizons)
If you are looking for a city that is rich with Pearl Jam history, there are a few at the top of the list: New York City, L.A., Boston, Zurich, Berlin, Seattle (of course), Chicago, San Diego, Melbourne, and then of course there is London. I count 14 shows in London proper, with 2 more on the horizon in 2022 at Hyde Park. When asked to do another city write-up, I jumped at the chance to do London. Why? Well, as a longtime bootleg collector, I am very familiar with most of the London shows from over the years. The venue names are etched in my brain: London University, Finsbury Park, Brixton Academy, Wembley Arena, The 02. If, like me, you were an avid tape trader back in the day (see the Hallucinogenic Recipe podcast for more!), you are probably well aware of some of the famous early shows that occurred in London. London saw Pearl Jam on their rise to stardom in early ’92, and would see them later at their absolute height and beyond.
The other reason I wanted to do this write-up? See you at the ’22 Hyde Park shows! This will be my 2nd time traveling to Europe to see the band, and it will also be my 12-year-old daughter’s first PJ shows. The waiting drove me mad!
Ok, so let’s get to the good part. Here’s my humble and highly subjective take on the top 5 concert moments that London has seen over the years.
1.) 2/4/92 at The Borderline
I am unaware of a bootleg that exists for this show, and from the research I have done, there is not a complete setlist to be found anywhere. However, any London recap would be null and void if missing a nod to this show. It was the tour opener for the Spring ’92 Europe tour. The band would go on to play shows in Europe for several weeks before heading home to record MTV Unplugged. After that, it was off to the races for their ascension to the biggest band in the world. But this little moment in time showcased a band that was on the verge of something big, yet it was still all bottled up and intense with youthful energy. According to Five Horizons, this show occurred in the basement of a Mexican restaurant with around 300 in attendance (many being in the music industry). This, my friends, is the stuff of legends.
2.) 6/6/92 Finsbury Park Festival
A perfect early show, showcasing the band as their popularity was soaring across the globe. For a short festival set, there are almost too many highlights to pick just one. Eddie’s voice is absolutely on point for the whole set, including an absolutely killer Wash opener, a soaring version of Porch (which IMHO would see a couple of all-time versions the following week), and the always incredible slow burn intro to RITFW, made even more interesting by Ed ad-libbing some lines over the band as the song builds. The band is in great form: Mike is very playful throughout the whole show, including some gorgeous playing on Wash and Porch, as well as great solos in Why Go, State, Alive, and others. Dave also gets props for a particularly fierce performance throughout the set. But the one moment I want to point out from this show is an absolutely incredible take on Black. The whole band is in peak form, and Eddie launches into a soaring We Belong Together tag at the end, as only he could at a 1992 show, with Mike absolutely wailing behind him as the song climaxes and reaches its conclusion. It’s a classic moment from the band at a very special time in their history.
3.) 7/14/93 Brixton Academy
The June/July ’93 run of Euro shows was not without its ups and downs. This particular show comes after a couple of average shows in my opinion. The 2nd night at Brixton Academy is a ferocious show from top to bottom, with tons of highlights. First off, you get several Vs.songs several months before the album was released, including a W.M.A. tag at the end of Daughter, but not in the way we’re used to after all these years: Eddie sings “All my pieces set me free” and a few related lines several times, while also ad-libbing a few lines. For those of you, like myself, that love the SNL ’94 version of RVM, this is one you’ll want to listen to, as Mike has a similar soaring solo at the end of the song (as Dave, Stone and Jeff are also crushing it). Porch has a great “Tearing” tag in the middle jam. Fuckin’ Up is the version that ended up on a lot of compilation CDs in the 90s. But if I had to pick just 1 moment, I would have to go with the combination covers of the Rolling Stones’ “Beast Of Burden” and Mudhoney’s “Suck You Dry”. It showcases Eddie at the absolute height of his cynical, drunk, and sometimes audience-baiting self. Each verse ends in hilarious fashion:
“All I want is to drink, please fucking leave me alone.”
“All I want it to drink, maybe with just one other person”
“All I want is for you to make love to me.” (Crowd cheers) “That’s just in the song I don’t mean it.”
After a couple of minutes of this, with Ed swearing up a storm, he goes on to sing several lines from “Suck You Dry”. It’s a classic moment, albeit completely over the top with sarcasm and drunkenness.
4.) 5/30/00 Wembley Arena
Up until it’s unfortunate and untimely demise, the 2000 Europe tour featured several legendary moments and classic shows. The 2-night stand at Wembley is part of a great run of shows that all need to be heard (and lucky you – they all exist as official bootlegs from the band). This show (night 2) is chock full of highlights. The outro jams in both RVM and Immortality are absolutely top notch and need to be heard (check out Mike and Matt in the RVM jam!). The back-to-back versions of Nothing As It Seems and Daughter (with its several tags) are gorgeous. But the top moment from this show is an absolutely crushing version of Habit. It’s a tight version all the way through, and it hits the ending jam starting off with a PERFECT Matt solo and then a ferocious guitar jam that is almost heavy metal in nature. If you are like me, and like your Habit jams being aggressive and then disintegrating into chaos, then this one should be at the top of your list to check out.
5.) 6/19/18 -> 7/17/18
What should have been the 3rd show of the 2018 Euro tour ended up being its 13th and final show. The band played a good show on 6/18, but Ed’s voice was noticeably subpar, and the band would end up postponing the following night’s show, rescheduling it for nearly a month later. Most bands would have just canceled the show and never looked back, but not Pearl Jam. They made it a point to reschedule the show, and brought the heat to London with a 3-hour show that features some rarities (most notably Green Disease, Satan’s Bed, Mankind, Fatal, and Around The Bend!), and some great extended jams in Crazy Mary and Porch. A somewhat rare 3rd encore featured the band coming out for a rocking version of All Along The Watchtower to end the show and tour. This is a show that needs to be part of this list, not because there’s a highlight you absolutely need to hear, but because of how a potential disaster turned into an incredible moment with the band and its fans (even if it means that the Portugal show I attended a few days earlier was not in fact the tour closer).
“Timeless Melody” played for the first time at Wembley on 5/29/00
“I’ve Got A Feeling” from 2/28/92 at the University of London. A version that clocks in at over 15 minutes (!) and features several tags during the jam, including Dirty Frank, Atomic Dog, and The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers”. At one point, Eddie says “…we better stop or no one will be left alive…” and the band still goes on for another minute.
The debut of “Smile” at Wembley on 10/28/96
So that’s it: my take on London’s top 5 moments. Please comment below if you have another angle we should all hear. What would you have included? What did I miss? What did I get right?