Randy Sobel’s 2022 Toronto Pearl Jam Fan Report
A Punctured Gas Tank and a Birthday Celebration On My Road To Toronto
That was the sound my car made when a 2-foot piece of sheet metal fell off an 18-wheeler and tumbled under my car. My wife was driving with my dog up in the passenger seat, I was in the back next to my son Benjamin, keeping tabs on the first night of the September tour in Quebec City. The collision felt like we drove over a massive crater. At first, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. A little burning rubber, but after a few minutes it sort of dissipated. We were on our way to spend a week at my in-laws in upstate New York before I left to embark on this mega tour journey. They were helping my wife take care of Ben as dad went on adventures, but we headed up there a week before the Toronto show to take care of some family obligations.
The car incident seemed like the second bad omen while embarking on a tour trip this year. The first one happened back in May, when a smooth 3 ½ hour drive turned into an exhausting 6-hour trip after an accident halted traffic to a complete standstill for over 2 hours. After that, I flew out for Sacramento and Vegas to get the bad news on the way to the arena. On top of not getting the two shows, but having a wonderful time “making lemonade,” I returned home carrying COVID and spreading it to all three of my wife, father in-law and at the time, 10-month old son. I was begging for this to not turn into anything more disastrous than it already was. About an hour after the accident, my wife turned the air conditioning off because she noticed we were losing gas at about 7 miles a minute! We were 25 minutes away from my in-laws, so the hope was that we’d be able to power through this until we arrived. Unfortunately, we were cutting it too close and needed to stop for a refill.
When I went to fill the tank, all I saw was gas pouring out of the passenger side. Something was severely wrong, and my fear was that I’d have no way to get up to Toronto to go see Pearl Jam for the very first time on my birthday. Thankfully, we got the car home, inspected it and saw my front license plate nearly knocked off, as well as some bumper damage. The next day we took it to my father-in-law’s Chevrolet dealership (I drive a Mazda) and after further inspection of the gas tank, the accident punctured a gaping hole in the tank. It needed a total replacement. Thankfully the dealership was really good about taking care of it. It would’ve been a faster job had it not been Labor Day the next week, which caused them to close the shop on Saturday when they were usually open. This is why insurance is great sometimes. GEICO gave me a rental car, it was a Mazda, but significantly less user friendly and comfortable than mine, however it was a ride that was gonna take me up to Toronto to celebrate my 36th year on this planet with the band and people I love.
Toronto being the fourth show of the tour meant that following along with the previous three (Quebec City, Ottawa and Hamilton) gave me a good idea for how the band was structuring their set. They took a page from their final show from the European leg in Amsterdam, playing a four or five song sit-down set after they had to cancel three shows due to Ed’s vocal issues. Those three shows ended up being pretty good. Songs that I would have killed to have heard, like Man Of The Hour and Garden on acoustic were played, but there was one song that they did in Hamilton that absolutely stung me. After crossing it off the setlist on the first two Canadian shows, they brought back Sad for the first time since 2016.
There have been two songs atop my white whale list for as long as I can remember that also sit in my top 10 list of favorite Pearl Jam songs. One is Brain Of J., the other was Sad. I use Sad in the past tense because most of you already know the story, you just have to wait for six more blog entries to read it! Any matter, knowing that Sad was played two days before I’d be seeing them was a real kick in the teeth. The same thing kind of happened with Brain Of J. in Oakland as well, which I ultimately didn’t have a chance to get redemption from.
On Wednesday before the show, I packed my bags and took off in my rental car to head north of the border for the third time in my life. All three instances have been in Toronto, as a matter of fact. I loaded the car with all of my essential belongings, but maybe most importantly a solid array of bootlegs to get me through the 4-hour trip. I kicked it off with the one I was looking forward to hearing the most – Dave Krusen’s return in Fresno.
So the whole crossing the border thing was very interesting. A few days before I set out to travel, I received a message in a group text from Patrick Boegel and Brian Horwitz discussing the situation crossing the border. Apparently you had to download an app called ArriveCanada to punch in all of your passport info, reasons for traveling and so on. Patrick apparently didn’t know this and almost ran into some trouble for him, and at that point I was paranoid that the same was going to happen to me.
It also asks about COVID testing. I tested myself about 24 hours before I left, and I was sweating bullets for 15 minutes before getting the results. It came up negative, of course, but I just wanted to be super prepared for anything at the border. I had my passport out, the app up and ready, my negative test just to be extra cautious and of course my vaccination card. When I got up to the check in, I had a conversation that I never thought would transpire between a border patrol officer:
Officer: Present your passport, please.
Me: I have the app, do I need to show you…
Officer: Present your passport, sir.
(Officer looks at the identification and starts the questioning)
Officer: Where are you coming from?
Me: Herkimer County via Connecticut
Officer: What’s the purpose of your travel?
Officer: What type of leisure?
(The officer takes a long pause before responding)
Officer: You know, Roxy Music is playing at Scotiabank, is that who you’re seeing?
Me: No, actually tomorrow night Pearl Jam is playing there and I’m going to that.
Officer: Aren’t they in Hamilton tonight?
Me: No, that was last night.
Officer: Ahh… I have never seen them before. Sounds like a lot is happening in Toronto this weekend.
Me: Seems that way. Elton John is playing at the Rogers Centre tonight and tomorrow, and then TIFF is taking place this week as well.
Officer: Yeah, no kidding. Well, have an awesome time, sounds like a lot of fun!
No app check, no negative test needed. Dare I say that was the easiest border check I’ve ever witnessed? Here I am getting nervous thanks to Canada’s ruling on unvaccinated MLB players not being allowed to enter the country, thinking that if I don’t have my shit together that my birthday plans would be ruined. And the only thing I needed was my passport? Seems a bit odd, but I was on my way to reading signs featuring speed measured in kilometers, and billboards promoting Tim Horton’s coffee.
Every good Pearl Jam traveler knows that you never embark on a show day (Nashville > Louisville > St. Louis notwithstanding) so I had some time to kill and friends to meet. The plan was to meet up with a good friend of mine that I met through the podcast, Randy Morgan. He was hosting a get-together at his neighborhood bar in Toronto, and I was staying in Oakville which was 40 minutes out of the way. Thankfully there was a transit system that was literally a two-minute walk from my hotel, so I hopped aboard a train and headed down his way.
A quick diversion for a second to discuss something ludicrous. The GO transit system is pretty simple to use and very affordable. Clean, too. When walking inside to get to the platform, I noticed that there was a tap and pay kiosk that was very easy to use. You tap with your card, and that pays for your trip. But something was off. There was no turnstile, no ticket to allow you to hop aboard the train, no personnel on the train to collect any tickets or view a receipt. So…how did they know whether or not I actually paid for my ride? I had never seen anything like it. As someone who has spent a lot of time in New York City, and once got fined for hopping a turnstile when my ticket couldn’t swipe through, it was puzzling that the Canadian transit system would ever allow something like this. After asking a few friends over the next day or two, their only response was that it was an honor system. Totally wild.
Okay, glad that’s out of the way. I paid for my ghost ticket and headed out to find some fun on birthday eve. Met with Randy at his friend’s bar Lloyd’s on Queen, and after a day of doing nothing but traveling with no stops for a bite to eat, he greeted me with pizza. We scarfed down some slices and had a beer and a shot of Jameson, aptly named The Randy. The unofficial mayor of Pearl Jam Toronto hooked me up big time on his trip to Europe and brought me back a fat stack of stickers as a wonderful gift. I got to meet all of his awesome friends, his brother, and his girlfriend, Samantha. Canadian hospitality should always be graded an A+ because they know how to treat the travelers as one of their own.
And they sure did. Just prefacing this, I don’t consider myself much of a drinker. I’m not much of one at home, and thanks to COVID, but pretty much before COVID too, I don’t go out to bars much. So when I’m here at this little town bar in Toronto taking shots and drinking at a more fervent pace than I’m used to, it’s not a state of mind that I find myself familiar with too much nowadays. Which is why the story that I’m about to share with you is one of the weirdest chain of events that made me sincerely question my state of mind.
We were outside at one point just talking and telling stories, I think I was sharing the wild story from my Sacramento and Vegas trip. We all dispersed for a minute or two, so I stuck around outside to take in a little more fresh air. All of a sudden, I hear a motorcycle racing down the street at full speed. My eyes and ears take notice, as one does when approached by overly loud vehicles, and as the motorcycle drives right by me, I get a glimpse of the guy’s face. Well, maybe not a guy per say, because whoever this was was wearing a full on gorilla suit while riding by. Not one other person standing outside noticed this.
At that moment, I thought to myself “wow, am I really that inebriated right now?” I know it had been a while, but I didn’t think that drinking excessively led to seeing visions of wild animals in the middle of Toronto. I share this news with Randy, and he immediately directs me to his girlfriend, Sam. About a month prior, Sam had seen the same gorilla riding by! She asked everyone that she knew around the area if they had seen it too, but had no backup on it. I think in that moment both of us felt kind of validated that we saw the same ape, and I guess the myth will have to live on until the entire neighborhood has laid eyes on it.
Shortly thereafter, I saw a woman walk up the street that went into the bar. She had coke bottle glasses, was thin and had short brown hair. Once again, it felt like I was tripping. This woman looked exactly like my cousin’s wife Rebecca, which in most circumstances would just be a happy coincidence. However, I had to do a double take, because Rebecca is FROM TORONTO! I seriously thought that there was somewhat of a high percentage chance of it being her. I texted my cousin Adam, frantically, and asked him if Rebecca was home or up in Canada. Turns out that she was home on that night, which thankfully prevented me from embarrassing myself in front of this young lady.
That wasn’t all, though! I had to retreat from the bar early to head back to the GO train, which I thought stopped running around midnight. However, since Sir Elton John was in town, the trains were running later than usual. As I got in my Uber to take me down to Union Station, I was definitely feeling the impact of the drinks. I was messing with my Uber driver, who was a bit naive and clueless about the Pearl Jam world. So in 15 minutes, I basically told him my entire travel itinerary, and after every single time that I said I was going to see Pearl Jam in each of these places, he was completely caught off guard and answered “Wow! Again?!” nearly every time. The train takes me back to the hotel, where I’m still feeling the effects from the night. I was emptying my pockets, putting all of my camera stuff away on the desk in the room, when all of a sudden, I just saw this box with a card in the middle of the table. My first thought was “who the hell broke in here?” but when I read the card and looked in the box, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a birthday gift from my ticket buddy Hillary! Four cupcakes and a sticker from the Hamilton show! Just another sign that it was setting up to be a great birthday in Toronto.
I woke up feeling great. Read through a lot of texts and Facebook posts wishing me well for my birthday, a large percentage coming from either family or all of my friends within the Pearl Jam fan and podcast community. My choice of t-shirt for this show I had been holding on to for a while. I purchased a shirt specifically for this show with the Blue Jays logo that read Pearl Jam instead of the team name. It’s become a favorite of mine and someday I will own all of the non-Braves/Phillies/Yankees Pearl Jam MLB shirts. I had myself a cupcake and headed right back on the GO to spend the entire day taking in the sights and sounds of PJ life surrounding the arena. That specifically was something I hadn’t experienced since May of 2016. Of course I saw ballpark and festival shows within that time, but the arena vibe is so much more intimate. I was excited to be in that atmosphere again.
My first mission was to head straight to the merch line. I got there around 10-10:30, but I bumped into Shannon McGoey who kindly invited me to slip into her spot in line. She also gifted me a poster from the Hamilton show as a birthday present! Everyone treated me so well during this entire trip which I’mextremely grateful for. With all of this time before the truck was ready to go, I took some time to bust out my GoPro and make conversation. I gave out some podcast stickers and talked to lots of folks, including a man and his daughter who had traveled to be there from the Canadian arctic, hundreds and hundreds of miles north of Winnipeg. The only way to get out of town was to take an airplane to Winnipeg, which cost him well over $1,000 for the flight. And that’s not including the flight from Winnipeg over to Hamilton, where they saw their first-ever show. If you think you’ve made sacrifices to go see this band over the years, whatever you’ve done probably doesn’t compare to this.
My merch goal was simple – pick up two posters, one for myself, because I clearly needed one with the date of my birth on it, and one for Randy Morgan as a thank you for his hospitality and sticker hunt efforts. Then I was going to grab the max amount for stickers and pins. Somewhere in the middle of waiting, I met up with Clay Davis and his friend Sean and invited them to cut right in with us in line. Clay was nice enough to grab an extra poster for Hillary, and since we were in a pretty solid spot it didn’t take us too long after the merch truck opened to make our purchases. We went our separate ways before later meeting back up for drinks and dinner at the Loose Moose.
I waited back near merch for Hillary to arrive, and when she did, we took about 20 minutes to recap everything that I had written about above. We went to collect Haggis McDowell (a well-endowed sock monkey) and the Pearl Jam Scotland flag. I had the pleasure of carrying both around during my time in Vegas, grabbing photo ops and getting the flag signed. To my calculation, I think both had been passed around to almost every show together for each of the three legs.
We arrived at the Loose Moose around 4 pm. I had invited everyone I knew that was attending, but we ended up with a fun group consisting of everyone I had previously made mention of seeing that day, as well as a few other friends of Clay’s. We had a blast talking about past PJ stories and telling dad jokes while downing polar bear shots. I had maybe the best tasting fish ‘n’ chips I’ve ever had in my life. And then we decided to pass the Scotland flag around to the tables near us. One woman got so excited because she was of Scottish heritage, so everybody signed the flag and we got some fun photos out of it.
I went to use the washroom (it happened in Canada, that’s what I’m gonna call it!) at around 6 pm and it was then that I had a few seconds to myself to think. The only thought that was going through my mind was “holy shit, this is actually happening!” After the Sacramento and Vegas trip, adding the cancellation of some European shows late in that run, there was still a little anxiety over whether this show would actually happen. At that point, there was no turning back. Having this knowledge put my mind at ease.
Before we left the Moose, my friend and fellow podcaster for the great Sports-Casters podcast, Steve Bennett, stopped by to catch up quickly. Since I’ve known him, he’s always told me that through 85 shows, outside of Gigaton songs, there is one studio album song that he had yet to hear. He brought this up again in conversation while I reminded him that I have seen it twice before. It’s crazy how sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time just to witness something and it may take you as few as a handful of shows to hear it, yet it can still be a struggle for the fan who’s seen close to 100 shows. Remember this point for later.
We left the bar around 7 pm and headed straight for the Scotiabank Arena. There was nowhere nearby to drop my stuff off, and I had a bag full of band and podcast merch, along with camera equipment that I was carrying. Not to mention the Toronto and Hamilton posters that I still had on me. So I had to enter the arena with everything in tow. I was really worried about the GoPro stuff. I never had any intention of using it during the show, and I didn’t want to run into a situation where they wouldn’t allow it to come in. As it turns out, it wasn’t the camera that they were after…it was the posters. The posters?!
I put all my stuff in to get scanned, and the arena worker started to open up one of the posters without asking my permission. That’s a big no-no. Then, she proceeded to attempt to take it out of the tube like an insane person. The reason? Because they were checking the poster for “naughty language.” I kid you not. I was the only one subjected to this random search, and made mention of the merch stand directly behind them. If they wanted to know what it says, then all they had to do was go look at it and they wouldn’t have had to do anymore checks. I was pretty fired up about it, I think I even said that this band may play a song with the lyrics “drop the leash, get out of my fucking face” and they were worried about a poster that would be nearly invisible in the back of a dark arena. Thankfully, I passed whatever check they did, and after I said something they put the poster back in. Just an extreme annoyance before heading inside, but at least they didn’t care about the camera equipment.
We took our seats in what I believe was Section 122 in the back. We got to hear Josh’s set, the first of what was set to be many opening shifts for him. His set isn’t really my thing, he’s a little awkward up there, but for somebody to perform just by himself with a guitar is no easy task at all. He made an attempt at covering Rush’s “Limelight,” which he had to abort midway through because he is clearly not Geddy Lee, but the crowd had a good time as he paid tribute to a hometown band. His sets are quick, and as time went on they got a little more involved during the remaining tour dates.
Before the band took the stage, I decided to go live to Facebook to do a little pre-game discussion. My plan was to livestream the entire show just because there were people who did it for the first few Canadian shows in our group so I wanted to return the favor. My big prediction during was a bold prediction that Leash would be played, maybe it had something to do with the whole poster fiasco, but I liked the chances so I stuck with it.
So they take the stage at around 9:05. The energy is palpable. You could tell right away that this Toronto crowd was gonna be on it all night. The crowd erupted as they waved good evening, and here’s what they treated us to:
Daughter/Come Back – Daughter didn’t excite me much as an opener, just felt like it was a way to ease in, but Daughter needs something it can build off of so that you can get the best of its climactic moments. Come Back was an interesting second song, but again, these two didn’t feel like they were “my songs,” so I had to build up some excitement.
Sometimes – This is where it kicked in! The excitement, that feeling that I’m at a Pearl Jam show for the first time in a year, it all kicked in on Sometimes. A great version too, love when they take an extra measure at the end to jam on it and speed it up, and they did that here.
Her Majesty – So I was a bit lost in the moment and made no connection to the Queen’s death because ED DID MOTHER FUCKING HER MAJESTY. I kid you not, for years I’ve had this little ditty that closes Abbey Road in the back of my head turned into a fully fleshed rock ‘n’ roll song with chanting and multiple solos and breakdowns…the works. So hearing this for 40 seconds brought back a rush of emotions from such a small footnote to a great Beatles record. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody about my love for that song, and just like that, Ed told me he loved it too.
All Those Yesterdays – One of my favorites off of my favorite record, Yield. I had seen it officially once, but statistically twice before. The actual one was in Brooklyn 2013, the second was Fenway 2016, but I technically heard it while walking around and getting into the ballpark. But I bring this up because I’m gonna go back to Steve for a second. This was the one that took him 86 shows to finally complete the studio album collection. Still to this day, I think that is such an incredible accomplishment to get done before 100 shows, that anyone who is still looking to attain a Backspacer or Avocado song may be out of luck now, but you never know. Strong performance, was extremely excited by it.
River Cross – checking off a Gigaton song I hadn’t heard here. Loved the visual of the phone flashlights being held up, but being in the back we couldn’t see a lot of them being directed towards the band.
Interstellar Overdrive/Corduroy – “Corduroy is the song that makes you feel like you’re at a Pearl Jam show.”
– Wayne Gretzky
– Michael Scott
– Randy Sobel
No different here. The Interstellar intro is something I hadn’t seen much of until getting it twice on this run, so that got my blood flowing right away. Corduroy delivers that big moment after the sit-down set that provides exactly what everyone came to see.
Hail, Hail – I have no idea as to why, but I went ape shit during this, as livestream followers can probably attest. I think the knowledge of it being played only twice in Europe left it completely off my radar, but it’s one of my absolute favorites to hear live and bounce around to. This was a massive highlight for me on this show.
Hold me closer Chloe Dancer – Ed mentioned Elton was playing across the street. Apparently Elton told a little story about the Queen during his show, which makes a lot of sense seeing that he’s knighted and all. The whole misheard lyric thing where Ed thought it was head lice instead of headlights was funny, but the subsequent story of Mike and his misheard lyric from Kiss…I think we can be done with that for a while. The crowd knew what it was before Ed said anything, that’s how often it’s been told. Let this one rest for a bit.
Quick Escape/Who Ever Said – Breaking up the order a bit because they deserve to be packaged together. I thought it was gonna be inevitable that I’d hear Quick Escape every night on this tour, but that wasn’t the case at all! Who Ever Said is one of three songs that I saw at all six shows I went to, right next to Alive and Even Flow, and it got better every single show. Not to ignore Quick Escape at all, that was fantastic too of course. But Who Ever Said was starting to break out, and you could see the evolution of it all unfold within these six shows. I’ll go back to this one in every series.
I Got Shit/(Cinnamon Girl) – When Ed had teed up the song to share that they wrote it with Neil Young, my mind went directly towards the versions where Cinnamon Girl was tagged at the end. I never said it aloud, maybe for fear of it not coming true or not wanting to be the guy to ruin a special moment. But of course this was awesome. Ed changes the lyric over to “I got questions, where’s Neil so that I can ask?” That was fun, and then the Cinnamon Girl tag was the icing on the cake. First one in 11 years! These are little things you get excited about when looking back on your show history and know how lucky you are to have witnessed it.
Dissident – Honestly, it was surprising. Even more surprising is that I got to see this two more times on this run, which is more than I had seen in total (twice) spanning my entire concert history. Not my favorite song by any means, but I love the weird stats surrounding it.
Rearviewmirror – I definitely thought I was going to have to wait until the end of the run before I saw this, but they pulled it out at MSG after this as well. No more milk cartons! When they played it in Krakow, they seemed to have lost a step or so with it. My hunch was that they’d do it one more time on this leg and call it a day, but they found that extra special gear that night to give the song the power it needs.
Light Years – Ed had talked about losing Neil Peart earlier in the show, and it felt inevitable that we were gonna get a Gord Downie tribute at some point. They walked onto the stage to a Gord song, but no one would have allowed him to leave Canada without telling a story about him. Personally, I had made a checklist of songs I hadn’t heard yet that I was really hoping for this tour year (and I’ll share that after the shows in which it’s applicable) and this was on that list close to the top. Gun to my head, it may be my favorite Binaural song, and it’s special to me because I got to use the lyrics for our tribute table at my wedding. They always play this with a purpose and it being read off a sign that read ‘Light Years for Gord’ gave the moment even more weight. His story afterwards about hanging out with Gord, Cornell, and former Pearl Jam producer Adam Kasper was special too.
Jeremy – Possibly the crowd’s best song all night, and that’s saying a lot. Say what you want about Jeremy, but people still care about it.
Leash?! – Going back to my bold prediction, for a second we all thought it was actually happening! We hear the bass intro on it, but then I think due to Stone breaking a string, it needed to be aborted! Such a bummer, but we’d get some redemption for it at one of the next shows.
After they waved goodbye, Hillary and I just kind of sat there for a second and shared some thoughts with the Facebook people that stuck around, but not the ones angry about my singing! It just felt real good to get one under my belt. At that moment, I actually considered that there may not be a show that would top this, that’s how good it felt right then.
As would be a tradition after all of the shows, we found a place afterward to do a post-game report for the LO4L Patrons. Randy and Sam swung by, I gave him the poster I bought him and we took a bunch of pics. Also trying to find me this entire time were Sibel and Suzette. I met them back at my second show in 2009, and they’ve been to nearly half of the shows that I’ve gone to. They swung by right in the middle of recording the pod and right away it was like old times doing this after shows at a bar or something anyway. They’ll pop back into this saga a couple of times as I continue to tell my tales. They followed me to the train and we were already hyping ourselves up for the Garden.
The next morning I woke up with my birthday in the past and a long day ahead, so I went to Timmy’s and got some TimBits and started the 8-hour drive. My car was ready to go at the dealership with a brand-new expensive gas tank and I dropped off my semi-uncomfortable rental there. Headed back to my in-laws to see my wife and pick up my dog. It would be two weeks until I’d see my wife and son again, which was way too much time, but I’m just thankful that they understood the purpose of this and why it was important to me. Trust me, I have no shows of any kind coming up on my schedule any time soon for a reason.
On another 3 ½ hour trip home, this time with a companion, I was actually able to help out another fan traveling from Poland to New York City who didn’t have a ticket to MSG. It feels good to help out people that make the ultimate sacrifices for this band.
Coming up next: we travel to New York City and visit the Apollo Theater to head to a show that I didn’t even get in the door to. Look out for stories on 40 lb boxes, the Yankees, my favorite Scots, semi-pretending to be a member of the media, people who didn’t understand how special that night was, and midnight pizza while watching Old School.