"I go out and give 110 percent every night."
It's a cliché thrown around by athletes all the time -- and every time they're lying. No matter how competitive they may be or how much they want to win, every single athlete has taken a few plays, games or maybe even a whole season off.
When you do something for a living, day in and day out for years, it's hard to make every single play mean as much as all the others. That's why it's so special to watch Andy Murray win Wimbledon, or Ray Lewis win the Super Bowl, or the U.S. women's soccer team take gold. You know in that moment that they want to win as much as you want to see them win.
On Friday night, every one of the 40,000-plus fans at Wrigley Field knew that Pearl Jam was playing its Wimbledon, its Super Bowl, its Olympics. Evanston native and die-hard Cubs fan Eddie Vedder announced as much just a few songs in.
"It's kind of like I've been waiting a lifetime for this one," he said. "Not only is [Wrigley Field] the crown jewel of Chicago but the crown jewel of the whole planet Earth."
The wait for Vedder, as it has been for every single Cubs player or fan in the past 105 years, ended up being even longer than expected.
At 8:15 p.m., the band opened its set with "Release" from its debut album "Ten," and it was six hours later when the show's final notes rang out toward the infield, just after the hands on the clock on the old scoreboard passed 2 a.m.
The band made it only to the seventh song in the set, a powerful rendition of "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," when Vedder announced that they'd need to take a half-hour break due to approaching storms. Two separate bouts of lightning and rain turned that half-hour into a nearly three-hour delay.
The waiting drove me mad
If you didn't believe in curses before, you'd be hard-pressed not to after seeing Vedder's lifelong dream of playing the Friendly Confines threatened by bad weather.
Across town, Bjork's Pitchfork show and the first of three nights of Phish were both evacuated mid-concert. A few people left Wrigley, fearing the same might happen on the North Side, but the majority of the crowd stood pat, believing (rightly) that Vedder would wait through almost anything for this one.
I was with friends in a suite, so the delay, though long, was made easier by air conditioning, cover from the rain and plenty of food and booze. Others weren't so lucky. General admission ticket holders (including a co-worker of mine and his six-months-pregnant wife) were required to abandon their spots on the field for the hallways and concourses of the old ballpark.
Fortunately, by all accounts, fans were accommodating, kind and well-behaved as they waited for the band to return. People compared tour tees and bragged about how far they'd come to see the show. Beer and concessions sales continued, so by the time the band took the stage again at 11:50 p.m. (almost an hour after the original show curfew), those who had waited were plenty "lubricated" and ready to rock.
Vedder got the crowd right back into things by donning a Jose Cardenal Cubs tee and belting out the sing-a-long "All the Way," which he penned after Ernie Banks asked him to write a song about the team. And wouldn't you know it, Mr. Cub himself appeared on stage.
Banks brought with him a baseball glove that had belonged to a 5-year-old Vedder and said he'd be taking it home with him. He also led the crowd in a refrain of the song and thanked everyone for coming to his "house." It was quite a moment, and it made this Cubs fan's heart ache at the thought that the 82-year-old Banks, the quintessential Cub and ever the cheerleader, might never get to see this team win it all.
Let's play 'til 2
"Ernie Banks used to say, 'Let's play two,'" said Vedder before starting the show's second half. "I say, Let's play 'til 2."
And they did.
The two hours of rock that followed the delay were well worth the wait. The band had originally planned an epic 40-song set list, and despite the rain, it still got to 32 of them. The diversity of the night's songs made for a perfect snapshot (with three hours of music, more like an album, really) of a group that can just as easily rip your heart out with a love song as get you sneering along with Vedder to an angry song of revolt. The band rocked on songs like "Do the Evolution," "Rearviewmirror," "Even Flow," "Corduroy," "State of Love and Trust" and "Black," but fans were also treated to some unique tunes that will earn serious bragging rights among even the most die-hard Pearl Jam concert-goers.
Vedder busted out the accordion for just his third-ever live performance of the very odd "Bugs" from "Vitalogy" and let the Wrigley fans be the first to hear the sweet, thoughtful "Future Days" and the rocking (and all-too-appropriate) "Lightning Bolt," both from the group's upcoming album.
Vedder's voice soared on Pink Floyd's "Mother" and was raw and emotional on a rare cover of "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns" from Mother Love Bone (an early-1980s band that included Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament). The band even found time for Mike McCready to shred a solo take of Van Halen's "Eruption."
Several times Vedder promised they would play until they were kicked off the stage, and when the lights came up at 2 a.m., they finally relented, closing with Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World."
Those who stayed until the end (including my co-worker's very pregnant, very awesome wife) were part of something communal and electric. The energy spread beyond the confines of Wrigley to the people on the rooftops and the people listening in the streets and the people with apartment windows flung wide-open to let the music in.
The concert was just one of many that Pearl Jam has played, but it was special because everyone could feel that it meant as much to them as it did to us. When that happens, the line between where the band ends and the crowd begins gets blurred.
It's clear Vedder felt it too.
"We're just a band," he said, "but you make this music something beautiful."