Pearl Jam’s Top Moments in Camden, New Jersey

By: Brian Horwitz | September 13, 2022

Brian Horwitz Shares the Band’s Best Moments in Camden, NJ

In Camden, New Jersey, nestled right near the waterfront and within walking distance from the aquarium is a venue that has been known by several names over the years – the Blockbuster Music Entertainment Center, the E-Center, the Tweeter Center, the Susquehanna Bank Center, the BB&T Pavilion, the Waterfront Music Pavilion, and, currently, the Freedom Mortgage Pavilion. Despite whatever corporate entity has shoved their name in front of it, it is a location that has seen 10 Pearl Jam shows to date, with the 11th currently scheduled for September 14th. It’s a location that always sees Pearl Jam rise to the occasion, and it’s had its share of epic moments. Camden has historically been the city with the highest crime rate in America, but Pearl Jam absolutely kills it every single time.

When several of us were asked to do city-specific write-ups in preparation for the impending ’22 tour, I jumped at the chance to do Camden. I have a lot of history at this venue, having been to exactly half of the shows they’ve played here (9/1/00, 9/2/00, 7/5/03, 5/27/06, 5/28/06).  It’s a beautiful amphitheater and the sound is usually quite good. I’ve parked there a few times (get in and get out they always say), but the best way to experience the venue is to actually pre-game in Philly across the river and then take the ferry over. The parking lot scene can be…intense.

The band loves to play the Philly area, and I see Camden as an extension of Philly as far as shows go. To choose 5 moments is going to be difficult, but I am up for the task.

8/28/98 – “If you ain’t going, we ain’t going”

After a great show, the band comes out for a 2nd encore.  Eddie gives a speech beforehand about being sick the day before, stuck in bed watching the news. He goes on to talk about how fucked up the world is, with us shooting missiles all over the world, fake pharmaceutical companies, a local man who ran a snack shop that was killed recently, and that “the last thing I want to say is…1, 2, 3, 4”, leading to a Porch show closer. It’s a great Porch, featuring an energetic and psychedelic jam, Ed-led call and response complete with a “FUCK YEAH!” back and forth with the crowd and a KILLER scream, which is followed by a very quiet section before leading back into the ending crescendo. This is a bootleg you’re definitely going to want to seek out.

9/1/00 – “Don’t runaway runaway runaway”

Audio Clip Available Only

The 2 nights the band played in Camden in 2000 are filled with highlights, but 9/1/00 contains a contender for greatest Better Man ever. Mike launches into a great solo right before Eddie does what seems to be destined to be a brief “Save It For Later” tag. The tag goes on for about 30 seconds, leading to a great Eddie “DON’T LET ME DOOOOOOWN!” howl. After this, the band quiets down and starts to noodle around. But what makes this version great is what is what follows. Eddie sings some alternate lyrics for SIFL that go something like 

“Don’t run away. Why’d you have to run away? I shouldn’t be here. I swore I’d never leave you alone and then I get back and you’re not home. You’re not home. Why’d you have to run away, run away? Why’d you have to run away? Don’t run away. You had your freedom to run away, don’t run away.  Don’t run away, run away, run away, run away.” 

The band then continues to jam quietly for a little while. At around the 7:00 minute mark the band kicks back into an energetic jam in unison and closes out an epic version for the ages.

7/5/03 – Fireworks in the Free World

If I had to choose 1 moment from this entire list to call #1, this would be it, hands down, no question. Picture this: a Saturday night, 4th of July weekend across the river from the City of Brotherly Love, aka the birthplace of the nation and the location where the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1787. To say that Independence Day is special in this area of the country is an understatement. About halfway into a great first set, the band catches wind of something special happening. During Faithfull and Wishlist (the latter of which is an 8-minute version you’re going to want to check out), fireworks started going off nearby that were close enough for folks on the lawn to see, and for everyone at the venue to hear even if you were in the shed. As Wishlist closes out, Eddie begins a speech by saying “It’s impossible to spend the 4th of July weekend in this part of the country and not have it be a significant memory in your life.” After a brief pause, he then says “there’s fucking explosions going on right now, is that right? I can hear it; can you see it? Can you see it in the back?” The lawn folks then begin to cheer wildly (if you listen closely on the bootleg, you can hear the fireworks going off). He then says “alright this is one for everyone in the back. Here’s a little soundtrack for the fireworks for ya. This is the sound of Afghanistan,” and the band launches into an incredibly rare mid-set Rockin’ in the Free World!  As the song continues you can still hear fireworks going off on the bootleg. Eddie then jokes with the crowd that “usually at this point we say 3 words: thank you and goodnight.” The crowd boos, before he continues with “but tonight we say, this next song…” If ever I was at a show and extremely jealous of people on the lawn, this was it. It’s one of those really special, spontaneous, and completely legendary moments in the band’s history.

7/6/03 – “What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!”

The following night, a great show with lots of energy and highlights.  During Elderly Woman, the crowd screams “HELLO!” so loudly that Eddie is overwhelmed and responds with a quiet “Jesus Christ!” Mike absolutely annihilates the solo in Even Flow. But the moment to highlight for this show is Daughter. As the band kicks into the ending jam, Eddie puts on the (in)famous Bush mask and proceeds to do his best impression of the moonwalk and the crowd eats it up.  As is typical of the band’s vibe at the time (think post-9/11), Eddie then puts the mask on a mic stand and sings “the bombs fall down, the bombs keep falling down,” and then launches into an angry “War” tag with great crowd participation. The jam ends with Eddie mumbling the letters to spell P-E-A-C-E.

5/27/06 – “You don’t have to be a rocker to make a difference…”

The following is a write-up from the new defunct website Two Feet Thick (a show review site that took over for a few years after Five Horizons stopped updating their website): 

***Before “Last Kiss”, the band seems to get comfortable and Matt puts on a Fender Telecaster hinting at something “special”. Ed tells the crowd that they are indeed doing something special tonight and tells of how their charitable proceeds from ticket sales tonight are going towards the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that works to free the wrongfully convicted through DNA testing. Ed introduces, one-by-one, three men who had a total of 45 years in prison before they were freed by the works of the Innocence Project. He tells the stories of Thomas “Tommy” Doswell, Vincent Moto, and Wilton Dedge, including how they each served more than a decade before they were freed. Vincent Moto then jumps up on the drums, and Tommy Doswell lays down a large lyric sheet and everyone together performs “Last Kiss”, with Ed and Tommy trading off verses. Vincent and Tommy are bursting with joy and make Ed blush by starting a “Pearl Jam” chant. Wilton, Vincent and Tommy come back out for an extended “Rockin’ in the Free World”. As they are walking off, Wilton – visibly the shiest on stage – steps up to Stone’s mic, and poignantly implores the crowd that “you don’t have to be a rocker to make a difference in the world”.***

This was indeed another great moment in the band’s history that shows how much they care about social justice and human rights. They don’t just talk the talk.

So there you have it. My take on the top 5 moments from Camden over the years. What did I get right? What did I miss? Comment below and let us know your thoughts!

Brian Horwitz

Writer & Contributors

Winter 1991, 15 years old: I heard Alive on the radio and had to go out and buy the CD. I will never forget sitting on the floor in my room and listening to it for the first time. I skipped right to track 3 so I could hear Alive again, and my father walked in the room. He looked at me and proceeded to give it a thumbs down. I knew I was on to something. (He now likes the song, so it all worked out in the end)

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