5 Unforgettable Moments of Pearl Jam in Toronto
There is indeed a town in North Ontario, but before Neil Young perched there for his early childhood, he was born in Toronto. Toronto, the musical home to Canadian rock music titans Rush, the land of the Maple Leafs, and home of the Blue Jays. Pearl Jam has a rich history in some major Canadian cities, not to mention the absolutely amazing countrywide trek in September of 2005. Toronto is the front runner in terms of total shows at 15, with number 16 right around the corner. They have hit the city on every tour since No Code, with the exception of Yield in 1998, when they headed up the highway north an hour to the former Molson Park.
This has left no shortage of big moments in the band’s trips to the city on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The band cut their teeth in the city late October of 1991, opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Two nights at the Concert Hall, a venue to which they would return and headline on April 4th the following spring.
August 18, 1993 – Out Here In Canada, He Sat In With The Band
The band’s real coming out party in the city would be August 18, 1993. Blues Traveler, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam all were opening acts for Neil Young with backing band Booker T. and the MG’s at the since-demolished CNE Stadium for a modest crowd of 60,000. Sharing the opening slot, Pearl Jam performs an 11 song set featuring 5 songs from the still-two-months-down-the-road release Vs. While the band would join in during Rockin’ in the Free World to close Neil’s set, it is their closer, and precursor to the main event, that is our first stop down memory lane. The band would welcome a wheelchair-ridden John Popper to the stage to accompany them with his talented harmonica playing on the Who’s Baba O’Riley. This would not be the last time Popper joined Pearl Jam to perform.
September 21, 1996 – Welcome Back, So Far This Is Great
As was the case for most of the Pearl Jam live-hungry fanbase, the band would not be seen again in the north until 1996, this time in the storied Maple Leaf Gardens. After near-misses in 1993 and 1994, combined with, in hindsight, a curious lack of ambition on my part in 1995, September 21, 1996 would be my first time seeing the band live. It did not disappoint. The energy in the building was electric, and the band fed into it in kind. As Jack Irons began to pounce over his toms, driving the rhythm to the fourth track on their new release, Ed stepped to the mic: “…so far this is great.” The rest is worth a full view. For some perspective, Ed references a ridiculous newspaper article knocking the band, grunge, and Ed, leading him to add “…newspapers matter not to me, yeah like yesterday’s…” Then, right as the band begins to transition into the “wave to all my friends” verse, Ed hits a power chord, then grabs a pair of sneakers thrown at the stage out of the air. The rest of the song is, of course, fantastic and a Jack clinic.
June 28, 2003 – Obscure Moments In Setlist History
Sometimes moments are under the radar. In our age of visible-everything media, we can often get derailed by a predictable you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it. In music, that should be far from the case. There is no visual evidence of this moment, but it happened. Even Flow closed the main set on June 28, 2003 at the Molson Amphitheatre. Mike shreds, the band follows, and sonic chaos ensues. There is even a slight nod to Jazz Odyssey as the jam descends and evolves back into the final chorus. Even Flow set closer, sit back and enjoy (music only, close your eyes).
September 11, 2011 – Old Man Take A Look At My Life, I’m A Lot Like You
On September 11, 2011, a great many things culminated on stage. Following the recent showing of Cameron Crowe’s PJ20 documentary at the Toronto Film festival the week after Pearl Jam’s Alpine Valley PJ20 fest, the band played a thunderous 27-song set, punctuated by arguably the best Rockin’ in the Free World they have ever performed. At roughly the three and a half minute mark, Mike McCready exits stage right. Some moments later, emerging from the shadows with Mike’s guitar, is Neil Young. What happens next, despite some of Ed’s best efforts to draw things to a close, is Pearl Jam fusing with Crazy Horse one last time. There is literally no stopping Neil as he locks in with Jeff and Matt. Feedback as melody, some notes are played, amps are on overdrive, it is unforgettable.
May 10, 2016 – Routine Was Not The Theme
You know what happened on May 12, 2016? Zero songs appeared in the setlist from Binaural. While that might not be the rarest of occurrences, in spite of the band hitting the city five times from 2000 to 2006, when chances were best to see songs off of Binaural, a full five songs from the album remained unplayed there by the time they appeared in the city at the previous show on May 10, 2016. But all the gaps were filled in on that night, as Breakerfall appeared as the 4th song of the night, followed by Gods’ Dice, Evacuation, and the rest of the album in order, their third album show of the tour after Greenville and Philadelphia. This one is for serious collectors. Binaural, front to back, live from Toronto.
Who knows what is in store for September 8, 2022? All we know is that something is bound to become a big moment or it could be that pile driver of a show. You just never know unless you go. Let us know what moments have struck you during the Toronto shows over the years, there are enough shows to garner a host of different opinions.