Forever Faithfull: Memories From The Road featuring Bryan Cohen

By: Randy Sobel | May 2, 2023

Joel Egger 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 Bryan Cohen. Live through his ups and downs of seeing the band in New England, including a miserable experience in Boston

7/11/2003 – Can’t Keep – Mansfield, MA

I figured if I’m going to talk about my live Pearl Jam experience, why not start at the beginning? The first Pearl Jam show. I’m sure we all remember our first show; the anticipation, the feeling of awe, the goosebumps as the lights go down and you hear that first note.
Yes, my first show was the legendary Mansfield 3, what a way to begin, but my first song heard was not Long Road or any other acoustic song, it was Can’t Keep. Let’s go a few months back….

I was doing a job at Stamford Town Center when I heard that Pearl Jam was adding a 3rd show to their run at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts and tickets were on sale. What luck, I had extra funds and I was at a mall with Macy’s (who used to be a vendor for Ticketmaster). These days we were still in early internet access and you could still get tickets semi-easily. I headed right to Macy’s and waited for them to open, eager with anticipation. An hour later I had them. The day I had been waiting for since I was 12 years old, 11 long years I waited for this day. I was going to see Pearl Jam and nothing could ruin it.

I was going with my fiancé, brother and his girlfriend. The only hitch we had was the girlfriend had to work until 4:30, and Mansfield is about two hours from Meriden, CT where she lived. I said “hey that’s fine, we’ll still be there with time. Maybe we miss Sleater-Kinney, no big deal I’m not into them.” During the drive, I had to decide to take 295 around Providence to 495, or just stay the course up 95 into Massachusetts. Just as I was moving over to 295, my phone rang. I turned down Yield, which we were listening to, and took a call from my friend Anthony who was already at the show.

“Where are you??! Get here now! They’re on!”

What? What do you mean? No I have time it’s only like 6, I’m like 35 mins away, what do you mean?!!”

My perfect night was crumbling. My icons were on stage early and I’m just outside of Providence racing up to the Massachusetts state line. My fiancé is telling me to relax, it’ll all work out. I can’t even hear her. Work out? How?!! Pearl Jam is on stage and I’m driving!
I missed it. I get there and everyone is talking about how awesome that was, an acoustic set, the event of a lifetime. The experiment. I was crushed. How could this night be saved now? How can I possibly recover from this?

I recovered the way we all do. The same way I recovered from break ups in high-school, the same way teenage Bryan recovered from arguments with his parents. The same way I recover right now at 43. Pearl Jam. The lights went low, Pearl Jam walked onto the stage. Eddie speaks. It’s happening. I’m in the same room as Eddie Vedder, we are sharing air. Matt starts the drum for Can’t Keep and everything around me disappears. I’m in a vacuum. Everything around me is gone, it’s just me and the band that has been my recovery since 1992. Can’t Keep takes me over and all is well.

7/11/2003 – Black – Mansfield, MA

As a continuation of the last entry, I’m inside at the Tweeter Center as Pearl Jam is tearing through their set. Breakerfall, Brain of J., Spin The Black Circle. We hit a little lull as Riot Act songs come in (at this point I’m still not impressed by the album and find it too slow and lacking energy). I have to admit, 20+ years later I’m still not big on Green Disease but it’s better live. I then get my first big surprise, Tremor Christ. Live version is a little off but I’m still enjoying it. I get a bunch of favorites – Given to Fly, Nothing as it Seems, Faithfull and Why Go. My night has fully recovered. I’m in the zone. We get the man trilogy and I’m locked in, I hope it never ends.

They go into first break and come out with a huge, huge favorite, Breath. Then my zone gets disturbed. A couple is coming down over seats and falling all over the place, and it just annoys me. I know it’s a concert, but I was in the zone here! I’m an irritable guy! After, the show kind of gets into a weird place. Mankind and U just didn’t fit with the flow we were in, but little did I know, I was about to experience something I never have before.

I always thought the greatest version of Black was from MTV Unplugged, I guess I still do. I also want to add, I’m not religious at all. I’ve never been and wasn’t raised that way. But I’ll tell you this, when I heard Black live for the first time, I felt it in my soul. Mike brought me into another world, a world where nothing but his guitar existed. Tears came to my eyes as they brought the ending together, Mike’s guitar wailing, Boom adding organ, Ed just absolutely grabbing every emotion that ever existed. It’s a high that I’ve chased over and over. If only I could hear it for the first time again.

The rest of the night was epic, I was back in my zone. Pearl Jam and I were the only things that existed that night. The drive home is almost a story in itself, a heavy fog fell over 95 in RI and CT. I didn’t get home to West Haven until 3am, driving 50mph on the highway as I could barely see the end of my hood. And what happened the next day? July 12th, 2003? It was our daughter’s first birthday party. My fiancé and I completely exhausted, got up at 8am and got everything ready for guests to come at 12. But all day while I was at that grill, half awake and barely with it, I still had that one (semi) perfect night with Pearl Jam.

5/13/2006 – Hartford, CT

It was a cold and rainy night in Hartford, CT… okay, it didn’t actually get rainy until later, but I’m trying to set mood here and I’m getting ahead of myself. I wish I remembered more about getting tickets for this show. All I know is that I was more excited for this than my first show. I remember mostly going to this show with my wife, there was a falling out with one of our friends over money and something about a car. What I do remember is standing on the lawn at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford on a chilly night waiting for an epic night. All my reservations about Pearl Jam and their future went away with Pearl Jam. This album was not somber and slow like Riot Act, it was a blistering return to form and I could not wait to see how it affected their performance.

My first takeaway was the crowd. Yes, we were on the lawn, not seats this time, and the lawn crowd was on fire. I stood there hoping they’d come out hot, and boy did they. Severed Hand as an opener with green lights and laser affects across the sky. I knew this would be a different experience than Mansfield immediately. They followed with World Wide Suicide, Life Wasted, Marker in the Sand, Hail, Hall, Animal and Dissident! Just banger after banger, the crowd was nonstop. I got two favorites in a row, Garden and I Got Id. This cannot get any better, but I’m still waiting, hoping tonight would be the night I see my favorite song of all time played.

After Inside Job we get Black. It was amazing, but still not as good as my first time seeing it live. Then those simple notes raced across Eddie’s guitar. Rearviewmirror. Again, this would become my favorite rendition of RVM ever. This is only my second show and it’s already moved way, way ahead of Mansfield for me. I believe it was during the encore break that it began to sprinkle. I remember being cold and wet, but it very well could have been my own sweat. They come out of first break to I’m Open. The full version with spoken lyrics. I wish I could tell you I knew the significance of it being the first time they ever played it live. I had no idea. I’ve never been big on following everything on their live history. They followed I’m Open with my (at that time) least favorite song, the only skip they had for me; Sleight of Hand. I’ve since come to appreciate it but it’ll never be on my top 100 list.

Pearl Jam then explodes into Comatose and Do the Evolution. I want more, I need more. Then they leave the stage, but they would return breaking right into Go. This night might go on forever and I’m all in. The crowd is all in. It seems the band is all in. I’ve been to a lot of concerts but nothing matches this energy coming from the crowd and the band. This is something I’ve never experienced.

Alas, Alive is played next, and I know we’re nearing the end. Obviously, we can’t go all night as much as we’d like to. This is my first time seeing Alive, but it doesn’t transcend me like Black or RVM did. That’ll happen a few years down the road for me with an even more electric crowd. The night closes with Rockin’ In The Free World and Yellow Ledbetter. It was an amazing night. It blew my first show out of the water.

5/15/2010 – Alive – Hartford, CT

This is my third year seeing Pearl Jam in Hartford. They played every few years for a while – 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013. We got spoiled. This time we were going with a bigger group, there were six of us. You could only purchase four tickets at a time, and we were sitting in seats so we knew we’d have to figure that out. One group bought their four and I bought two. We were still at a point where that’s easy. Just got onto Ticketmaster at 10am and bought them, no bells and whistles. I’m not even a Ten Club Member anymore by this point.

Anyway, I digress. I’m really trying to remember our pregame, but I don’t think we had one. Maybe we just all met in the garage at the XL Center. We have seats nowhere near our friends but they said “don’t worry man, it’s Pearl Jam, it’ll work out”. Well, it did. It was easier to get two people to exchange tickets than four so we went to where the group was sitting, and lo and behold there was a couple sitting right behind them. I showed them our tickets and how ours were actually better seats we just wanted to sit with our group and they happily obliged. If you are that couple, please let me know how the show was from my seats? We were dead center but a little back. It was a very short trip to the bathroom, which came in handy.

So I could wax poetic about the opening, Unthought Known, go song by song blah blah blah. But this is Hartford 2010, you’re reading for one thing and I’ll get there, but I do have a stop on the way, a few stops actually. First, the place is insane. We are pretty sure we’re gonna lose the roof tonight, and just a few songs in, Ed breaks his mic stand during Got Some. He says “we’re already breaking stuff, looks like it’s going to be one of those nights!” It was very, very, very much one of those nights. This was like our team had won the Super Bowl kind of energy. Again, I’ve been to many concerts, but this blew Hartford 2006 and 2008 out of the water. Mansfield is long forgotten by this point, it’s so far out of its element.

There’s so many highlights for me here. Nothingman, Ed tells this story of seeing a couple just standing on the street corner and how it touched him. It did feel like we were at one big campfire just belting it out. Low Light was another huge one for me. An underrated gem that has become one of my top 3 from Yield. Satan’s Bed… are you kidding me!? Satan’s fucking Bed! Maybe my most played song from Vitalogy. Lukin, then Gonna See My Friend closed out the first set. I’m running out of adjectives to describe what is happening in this Arena right now. It is more than pumped, it is the loudest concert I’ve ever been to right now. You wouldn’t even know we went into an Encore break, the crowd is so electric the whole time.

After the break, they go into Just Breathe and Speed of Sound. Both are amazing. If you really want to hear this crowd, listen to the boot. The roar you get after Speed of Sound into State of Love and Trust. In the arena, you almost couldn’t hear the opening riff. From first note we are on it. Another explosion of noise from the crowd. Now we get the talk. “We have a saying in this band OTOTOTO…” Ed talks about the UCONN Women’s Basketball Team who had won 100 games in a row and says “there’s a reason to play this tonight, and we’ll never play it again”. Mike rips the opening of Ain’t Talking Bout Love. I feel like I’m gonna keep referencing the crowd, but I can’t overstate this enough. It. Was. Wild.

This night I’ve gotten so many personal favorites that I hadn’t seen yet – Low Light, Satan’s Bed, State of Love and Trust, Nothingman, Lukin and Crazy Mary. My Pearl Jam checklist of must sees is pretty much done by now (other songs I got in 2008 like Sad, Smile, In Hiding, Present Tense). I decided to pick one song to highlight. The last song played with the lights down, (after this lights came on for Indifference and All Along the Watchtower), Alive. I said in 2006 I saw Alive for the first time and it was fine. No complaints. But you want to see this crowd? Well, you can watch us bring the band all we had. The crowd and the band fed off each other. Watch the version of Alive and then put on the bootleg. Many highlights but man, that transition from Speed of Sound to State was real good.

Anyway, that’s Hartford 2010. To date, the greatest show experience I’ve ever had.

9/4/2018 – Fenway Park – Boston, MA

This one is a doozy. As much as Hartford 2010 was the greatest concert experience I’ve ever had, Fenway Night 2 was the opposite, and most of it had nothing to do with the show itself.

First, I have to say that I don’t like Boston. Not just the teams, the city itself. I don’t really like any big city, not even Hartford which I live about 20 mins outside of. I was going with 3 other guys who have become kind of the concert gang. The guy who booked the hotel lives in the south and just booked something cheap. Big mistake. We stayed at a Best Western on Massachusetts Ave right next to a Hospital and Methadone Clinic! There were homeless people everywhere. The hotel had bars on the window of the first floor. We had a fucking guard at the door. The back side of the hotel was littered with needles which random junkies would pick up and test if there was any heroin left in it. I wish I was kidding, but this is what he got. The area was so loud that the room came with complimentary ear plugs. They weren’t for the concert goers, they were so you could sleep because it was next to a very busy Hospital on a busy road.

Three of us checked in, the 4th guy would be up later in the day, it was still like 11 am. The three of us decide to head down to Fenway area. While we’re outside, this crazy person was in the McDonald’s parking lot across the street running into one of those AT&T hubs you see on the ground. After, he would be Don Quixote felt he slayed whatever monster he saw he stared doing his push-ups. Ya know, gotta stay fit. On our side of the street, some other homeless people were getting into an argument over a rock, I think. It could have been nothing at all. The Uber gets there but doesn’t want to go around the block to our side of the street, so texts us to cross to the McDonald’s where push up man is now running back and forth screaming. We make him come to our side and jump in as fast as we can.

I don’t know that area of Boston that well, but it looked like it would be 10 mins to Fenway, if that. Somehow we ended up on 93, and the driver ran a red light. I came feet away from being the victim of a T-Bone. We make it to Jersey Street. Just as we get there, the merch store opens. I’m gonna say something that’ll get people upset, but I don’t give a shit about merch. I’ve never bought it, never wanted to, but my wife and oldest daughter wanted shirts so I spent like $60 on that. There wasn’t a line, I just walked in, got it and got out. We were going to all meet at House of Blues, we were waiting for the 4th guy to get there so we hit another bar that was open.

Oh, I didn’t mention this yet, I was sick. Not like need to be in bed sick, but my left ear had been clogged for days. It felt like I had water in it and the only way it cleared was if I took Sudafed, but I couldn’t because it makes me drowsy. So I’m dealing with that (and spoiler alert, it’s 2023 and I’m half deaf in that ear, I can hear from it but it’s muffled).

I guess I can fast forward to the show. We walk in, my first time at Fenway and all I think is that it’s so small! I’m used to going to Yankee Stadium, it’s big and modern. Fenway I’m not even sure I can sit down. I’m a big guy and the seats are tight. I sit in aisle seat and if I put my foot out it would go across the stairs to the next aisle. I’m not even tall. Only 5’9′, but I’m… uh, wide we’ll say.
I’m gonna get into the show, but honestly, I don’t have much. All I hear is mostly reverb. I’m trying to get pumped but it’s not working. A few songs in and I’m getting into it but still, the sound is bothering me. I’ll defer to the crowd here, some people told me the quality was not good, others have said it was awesome. But again I’m dealing with ear issues so I have no idea. The band was great, best I could tell, but if I didn’t know every song so well I’d be struggling to make out the words. They did a lot of covers including a song with Buffalo Tom. I didn’t know the song at all, so no idea what it sounded like with my disabled hearing. We aren’t even through the first set and I just want to leave. Honestly, I’m not into it. I’m uncomfortable, in pain and even Eddie can’t get me out of it because I can’t tell what he’s saying anyway. I could go through the setlist, but it wouldn’t be honest because it didn’t mean much to me. I did hear and very much like the cover of Imagine, and I also heard I Am Mine well (another one off the list). The quieter songs I’m okay on, but anything loud and I’m lost.

I’ll fast forward to end. We leave when it’s over and find a pizza place that made great pizza, and I lived in New Haven so I know what’s good. Called another Uber and headed back to the hotel. A guard let us in, because they needed one. The next morning I get up, look out the window and see a junkie brandishing a machete. A fucking machete. He’s picking up random needles from a pile and swinging at anyone who walks by. I’m done. We go get our free breakfast and head out. The guy from the south wants to hit South Boston before he had to get to Logan. Me and the 4th guy say “have fun we’re out”.

So that was my last Pearl Jam concert and with all the issues everyone is having, it will probably stay that way. I don’t like hassle or going out of my way. I saw them a bunch during a great time, not their 90s prime, but mid 2000s was great. If something changes with Ticketmaster maybe I’ll try again, but for now, I’ll take my fantastic shows that I saw and live with them.

Randy Sobel

Concertpedia Managing Editor & LO4L Host

The first time I heard Yield, I didn’t know it at the time but it changed my life. 10 years later, I saw Pearl Jam for the first time at Madison Square Garden and haven’t looked back. I’m still holding out hope that W.M.A. will one day be played as a full song more consistently in setlists rather than just as a tag off of Daughter, and you won’t ever find a bigger homer for the band’s Hartford shows than me. Top 10 Pearl Jam crowd, fight me on it!

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