Forever Faithfull: Memories From The Road featuring Gabe Spece
Gabe Spece Retraces Pearl Jam Memories From The Road
Forever Faithfull is a series derived from daily Facebook posts on the Pearl Jam Podcast Community group. These tour stories were shared by Gabe Spece. Follow Gabe’s story from the time of his first show in Pittsburgh in 1998 all the way to his most recent experience in Camden
8/25/1998 – No Way – Pittsburgh, PA
There were two things that made seeing Pearl Jam challenging for me in the mid-to-late 90s: the first was being just a smidge too young to be able to road trip on my own; the second was living in Central Pennsylvania where it was always going to take you several hours one way to get to any show Pearl Jam was playing in Philly, Pittsburgh, NYC, etc.
On the morning of August 25, I set out on the three and a half hour trek to Burgettstown, a small classic Western Pennsylvania town that was home to Starlake Amphitheater. Any band coming through Burgettstown would inevitably just list “Pittsburgh” as the tour stop, but anyone who’s been to Burgettstown knows it’s much closer to the West Virginia border than it is to the Steel City.
My travel partners for the day were my two best buds from high school. One of the guys had been lucky enough to see Pearl Jam in Buffalo on the No Code tour in ‘96, a show that I painfully had to miss because, you know, my folks didn’t let me go. But here we were, almost 2 years after that Buffalo show, and it was finally my time to see my band!
I can still remember the buzz in the air sitting under the amphitheater waiting for the lights to drop. I can still remember the weight of the Sony hand-held recorder in my front shirt pocket, waiting to pick up every scream and sing-along from the crowd (but not very much of Ed and the boys!). Ed opened with a solo version of Throw Your Arms Around Me before Iggy Pop’s (!!) set, and then before we knew it, the house lights were down and the fellas opened with Release. It shook me to my bones. It’s one thing to follow a band for years via music videos, studio albums, and occasional bootleg tapes; it’s another thing entirely to experience them live for the first time.
Much of the show is a blur to be honest, but in addition to masterful versions of Not For You, Do the Evolution, and Corduroy, the real highlight was the live tour debut of No Way! At the start of the encore, Ed showed the crowd a white t-shirt someone threw on stage. The front said NO; the back said WAY. Someone had used the shirt to make their song request!
Ed then played to the crowd: “My answer to that? No. Way. We could try it? Should we try it? It’d be the first time, I believe.” After some back and forth with Stone, Ed finally said “OK, we’re gonna give this a go.”
And then they stepped up and delivered the goods – a near note-perfect version of No Way, complete with Stone crunching away on the guitar, Ed howling the lyrics. It was perfect and something I’ll be able to always carry with me from that first special show.
4/28/2003 – Better Man – Philadelphia, PA
As we all know, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the massive 2003 tour, a long set of tour dates for Riot Act that happened during a pivotal time for both the band and myself. The band was reeling from the pending – and then very much happening – invasion of Iraq, and in the bootlegs, you can hear that hanging around Ed’s neck like an albatross during those shows.
For me, I was finishing my final year of college, unsure exactly what was next, but knowing it was time to grow up and figure it out. I loved that ‘03 tour. I was fortunate to see PJ 5 times, including four times in my home state. A run of shows in Pittsburgh, Philly, and State College coincided with my final week of school. It was a logistical nightmare to balance the travel with the various finals and papers that needed to be written, but I managed somehow to pull it off.
The State College show on May 3, 2003, will always be my favorite. It was a show played 45 minutes from the house I grew up in and at the time, it was the longest Pearl Jam show ever – a colossal 40-song set to close the east coast leg of the RA tour. That show will live in my heart for the rest of time, and it would have been the show I featured today, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that a single person in the audience that night recorded any footage. I’ve never seen a second of that State College show hit YouTube.
So I decided to go back a few nights to the 4/28/03 Philly show from the Spectrum. I’d be fortunate enough to catch the last two shows in that building six and a half years later when PJ tore the old dump down. But in April 2003, I found myself sitting with my back against the literal brick wall in the upper deck of the arena, dead center facing the stage but literally as far away from Ed and the fellas as physically possible. I can remember squinting to see the stage, seeing the band open with Crazy Mary and plow through burners like Spin the Black Circle and Hail, Hail, and then having to wait for the sound to make its way to where I was sitting in the nosebleeds.
Anyone who has attended shows in Philly/Camden knows of Ed’s attachment to a young fan named Pete. I don’t remember all of the details, but I know Pete was a young guy dealing with some major health issues, and somewhere along the way, he made it onto Ed’s radar. I’ve been to shows at Camden where Pete was rumored to have written the entire encore setlist. Kid always had great taste! Anyway, on this night, Ed used the Save It For Later tag in Better Man to share a heartfelt message with Pete who was sitting side stage.
If you listen to the clip below, you’ll hear that this tag is almost a stream-of-thought conversation that Ed is having with the young man, ruminating on their relationship and the time they’ve spent together. It’s an incredibly moving performance, one that I remember vividly from that night and one that sticks with me years later.
When Randy and John were kind enough to feature me on my own episode of the pod, this was the song I asked them to play. It still reminds me of my own son, Remo, born with a congenital heart defect but now thriving. Like Ed sings to Pete in this tag, “some people gotta be strong when they’re young.” God, I love this version.
10/6/2004 – Long Road – Asheville, NC
“The journey is better than the destination”. True in most aspects, but not always true when it comes to Pearl Jam, because man, that destination is pretty damn great! But for this fantastic Vote For Change tour in October 2004, the journey was pretty spectacular too!
I’ve never had the fortune to fly to a Pearl Jam show. Most of the shows I’ve seen have been within a 5-hour driving radius of my house in Central Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2004, though, I drove 12 hours to see the boys in scenic western North Carolina, and it was worth every mile I put on my ‘03 Ford Taurus.
If you’ve never been to Asheville, NC, you’re missing out. It’s a beautiful hippie town with rolling hills, hiking trails, and a kickass, walkable downtown area. I was fortunate enough to see the VFC kickoff show in Reading, PA a few nights earlier with my brother and had decided that I would road trip with my best friend to the Asheville show. He was just starting graduate school in North Carolina, so it was a perfect excuse to go visit him and then jaunt across the Tar Heel State to the show in Asheville.
So after 8 hours to NC and then 4 hours from my buddy’s house to Asheville, we were beyond amped for a great show. As soon as we walked into the Asheville Civic Center Complex, we knew it was going to be a special show. This place was tiny, by far the smallest venue I’d seen Pearl Jam in to that point. I remember thinking I’d been in bigger high school auditoriums. And as soon as the show started, I knew that little room was going to work in our favor. The band sounded immaculate; guitars and drums and vocals bouncing off those walls, pulsing through the crowd like a lightning bolt. The set was loaded with crowd favorites – Grievance, Corduroy, Hail Hail, Dissident, as well as some rarities like U!
The highlight for me though was a rare, and seated, encore opening version of Long Road! Ed told a story about reading in the local paper that day about a platoon of soldiers headed off to Iraq later in the week. It was a common theme and discussion point for him during the shows in ‘03 and ‘04, and certainly at the root of the band’s decision to do the VFC run. Ed dedicated a stirring, quiet version of Long Road to the men and women going off to war. It was a fitting send off and a real highlight of a fantastic, unforgettable show!
10/27/2013 – Rockin’ In The Free World – Baltimore, MD
This pick is an easy one – the first Pearl Jam show I saw with my wife! We were already dating in 2009 when Pearl Jam closed down the Spectrum, but I had already promised to go to the final two Spectrum shows with my brother. We didn’t see any shows in 2010-2012, but knew we’d get our chance again during the Lightning Bolt tour.
10/27/13 was the band’s first proper show in Baltimore ever. The First Mariner Arena was a cozy little arena downtown that was a perfect location for the show, and boy, they just crushed it all night, even though the death of Lou Reed earlier in the day hung over the band. In addition to a Walk On The Wild Side tag on Daughter, we were treated to a wonderful cover of the Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting On The Man in the encore. Fun fact – that song was part of a 4-song “man” run that included Man of the Hour, Nothingman, and Better Man as well.
Ultimately the show will be remembered for one thing: the guy in the yellow shirt!
Early in the show, Ed called out a guy in the WAY back of the arena’s upper deck who was dancing his ass off. The only thing Ed could make out was his yellow shirt, but he was sure to tell the crowd that the guy was “making an impression” on the band. Later, right before the show closer, Rockin’ in the Free World, Ed called the guy down to dance on-stage. It was a fantastic fan moment!
Here’s a clip of the last few minutes of Rockin’ in the Free World from that night. This version has one of my all-time favorite Stone solos, something I go back and listen to often! And fun tidbit – if you look closely, you can see a clearly annoyed Jeff Ament leave the stage before the rest of the band.
9/14/2022 – Interstellar Overdrive/Corduroy – Camden, NJ
My final pick is for the last show I saw – September 14, 2022 in Camden, NJ. Due to the nature of this assignment (five show, chronological order), I had to skip over some of the good ones – last 2 Spectrum shows in ‘09; Global Citizen in ‘15; the Ten-adelphia show in ‘16; – but I wanted to wind things down with the most recent show because that just makes sense.
It had been a LONG six and a half year drought in between Pearl Jam shows for me and my wife by the time we saw the band in September 2022. COVID had robbed us of the Baltimore 2020 show we had tickets for. The arena in Baltimore closed for renovations in 2022, but fortunately the band rescheduled that show for one in Camden.
Anyone who was there knows it was a perfect day – beautiful blue skies, warm late summer weather, just gorgeous. Ed even mentioned as much from the stage. It was also the largest crowd the band played to in North America last year. The set was fantastic, the crowd was amped! My only regret of the entire trip was that I wasn’t able to meet up with Randy and a few other LO4Lers after the show to do the post-show podcast!
Musically speaking, a highlight of the show for me was Interstellar Overdrive/Corduroy! I need to check LiveFootsteps, but I don’t think I’d ever heard Interstellar Overdrive before so that was a treat! And the Corduroy that followed was one of the tightest versions of the song I’ve ever heard.
And most importantly, it DIDN’T include that bridge-section call-and-response that EV has been doing in the middle of Corduroy for the last half dozen years or so. To me, the bridge in Corduroy might be the best minute this band has ever recorded to tape. It is just perfect. So like the old curmudgeon I am, I hated when Ed started adding the call-and-response bit to that bridge a few years ago. It’s just too good to fuck with! Fortunately, the version we got in Camden that night was tight and kept the bridge pretty much intact the way it should be.