Chris Warne’s European Tour Report
Kia ora PJ friends!
Chris here, writing to you all from Aotearoa, New Zealand, after finally achieving a near life-long dream of chasing Pearl Jam on tour. A few years back, I was locked in for the initial 6 shows of the 2020 tour, when about 2 weeks out from boarding my flight from Aotearoa to San Diego, the whole tour was postponed due to COVID-19. It seemed like an extreme reaction from the band, as at the time there were many other shows and events still happening. Yet, it was the first dawning for me of how serious this pandemic was about to become – as we know PJ takes their fans’ safety very seriously. A week or so later, my country’s borders shut firmly and wouldn’t open again for over two years.
Like many reading this, living through these times, a Pearl Jam tour took on an increased importance as the pandemic deepened. The music was a comfort, and I spent many days in lockdown hiking listening to live PJ, but simultaneously the uncertainty of whether we could actually see our band again (or any band for that matter!!) started to rise. Somewhere in there, we decided to switch our plans to go to Europe instead. It made sense: a better rail network, less internal flights, cheaper tickets with more accessibility to get up close in GA, and most alluring- the opportunity to visit multiple countries. The plan was to hit Berlin, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, London, Budapest, Krakow, Vienna, and Prague. I’ve traveled out of my country for PJ a few times before, but never quite had the means or opportunity to do several shows at once.
It’s about 30 straight hours of flying and transit to get from Aotearoa to Berlin. From stepping onto the plane, right up until Pearl Jam actually took the stage in Berlin, we were fully expecting cancellations and postponements. It felt too good to be true; at the time of leaving New Zealand, our borders were still closed to tourists, many people were still working from home and there were mask requirements to go into any store. The fact that we could be in Europe, gather in mass, and that 7 out of our 9 shows actually went ahead felt like a miracle.
I loved watching the current phase of this band unfold before me in real time. Slightly shorter shows than the Lightning Bolt era, and with less punk-fueled ragers in the mix. Yet, consistently tight, unpredictable, ever passionate, and life affirming. They were especially able to dig into the heaviness of mid-tempo tracks to bring the heightened moments of intensity. Nearly any version of Quick Escape, Not For You, and Garden from this tour are good examples. Eddie’s voice was the best it has sounded to me since 2015, and drawing from perhaps a slightly smaller pool of songs this tour, the musicianship was especially tight and rehearsed from night to night.
Before saying more on a few of the specific shows, some general impressions of the traveling international fan base. We met so many wonderful people. I generally get tired of small talk easily, so having Pearl Jam as the basis of connectivity made building rapport quick, and I was able to go beyond the surface with people quickly. Very energizing, and much needed when spending all afternoon on the hot concrete during a heatwave. We didn’t have 10c tickets for most of these shows, so we were mostly towards the front of the standard GA lines; this still allowed us to be up close in the second or third row most nights. There was a lovely mix of people in these lines, some who had seen PJ multiple times, for others it was their first time and they were beyond excited. Like 10c, it was an international community, with surprisingly few locals at the front on the standard lines. We mostly avoided the 10c intensity (or the ‘tent club’ as a Swedish friend liked to call them, haha). My experience is that there’s a few individuals in the 10c line with an anxious, semi-aggressive energy about getting their rail spot or maxing out their consumerism to own every single poster, t-shirt, and sticker. It’s almost like some of them see everyone else around them as competition, rather than being amongst friends and seeing amazing gigs. Possibly some of the same ones that I read about in Amsterdam, where there was no early entry for Ten Clubbers, yet they made attempts with venue security and 10c management to manipulate their entry to be prioritized. Thankfully these people are definitely the exception, not the rule haha.
My favorite show of the tour was Frankfurt. The bootleg verifies how tight they played; insane versions of Inside Job, Last Exit, Garden, Alive and Indifference. And what a venue! Reminded me of being inside a museum, with the dome roof and the curved balconies. The energy coming from the stage was truly electric. You know how at some concerts you need to practice some mindfulness to manage your wandering mind and keep your attention on the music at hand? Frankfurt was the polar opposite of this. From the opening notes of Inside Job to the closing of Indifference, it was like they reached in, grabbed my soul, and shook it HARD for two hours. Weirdly physical. It felt like an out of body experience. Plus they played Fatal and In My Tree!!
London was a pleasant surprise, repeating only two songs over the two nights. Surprisingly eclectic sets for such massive shows; I’m looking at you, Rats, Light Years, Save You, Leash…a different vibe with the giant big screens behind them too!
Krakow was my second favorite show of the tour. Krakow was also my favorite city that we visited. We spent days hiking the city, walking to the various mounds, drinking their amazing craft beers, visiting art museums, swimming in the quarry, and venturing out to the many holocaust sites of significance. Not to mention a general sense of openness and friendliness in the people we met along the way. There was a heightened atmosphere at the show, being the closest tour stop to Putin’s damage. Eddie acknowledged the local efforts in song and in speech. A wonderful setlist that finally included Who Ever Said and Seven O’Clock from Gigaton, and of course the long overdue RVM to close out the main set. Absolutely anthemic performances of Immortality and Hard To Imagine too.
Vienna and Prague were next, but sadly these shows were canceled. In Vienna we spent the day in line with a Serbian mom and her teenage daughter. She spoke of the difficulties of their home country and how both Pearl Jam and their trip to Vienna represented a more open way of life and living. It was her daughter’s first international trip, and I got the sense that their short trip took significant financial resources. We were at the front of the line, after the time the doors were supposed to open, when they announced the cancellation. The sheer grief on our Serbian friends faces was fucking brutal. If I have sad thoughts about these shows going ahead, it puts me sharply into perspective thinking about our Serbian friends. We went back to our hotel surrounded by sad faces in Pearl Jam shirts, and probably being mildly heatstroked, we didn’t have the energy to try to find a good night out. By the time of the Prague concert cancellation, the mood was more celebratory. Starting off at the PJ meet up at the Magic Bar (lol), we made a group of new friends and we escalated intoxication levels at the friendly black metal bar up the road. It turned into one of the most joyful and ruckus nights of my adult life. When we finally made it to bed, we slept until 4.30pm which about sums it up.
Back in Aotearoa now, adjusting back to a different pace of life. 6 weeks in Europe chasing Pearl Jam was a dream, but it’s good to be back to the oceans, nature, and mountains of home. I’m digesting the bootlegs one by one, reliving the magic. My life feels a little more complete and my cup is overflowing with gratitude. Ready to get my hiking on again with PJ live shows loud in the headphones, and start saving for the next one!!