The series revealing the most miserable concert experiences in our music critics’ past brings us to Troy Reimink’s recollections of Pearl Jam, Built To Spill, Phil Collins and a band he still knows nothing about.
EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been a crazy, unprecedented year, thanks to a pandemic that’s wiped out nearly all live music. So, in the interests of nostalgic misery, we asked some of our most experienced reviewers to relive and recount their worst, oddest or most embarrassing concert experiences for an audience desperate to recall something, anything when it comes to artists performing on a stage. This is the third installment in the series and comes courtesy of writer Troy Reimink, who’s hankering for a live show of literally any kind and still loses sleep over a 2013 Pearl Jam concert.
I’d give just about anything to see a show right now. Any show.
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I don’t care about the venue or the genre. It doesn’t even have to be good. Just put me in a crowded room with a P.A. and make something loud happen.
Give me an overpriced drink and a sore back. Give me the one person in the room who’s taller than me, standing directly in my line of sight. Give me the grim realization that I’m 10 years older than everyone in the band. Give me a few songs’ worth of escapism before I start thinking about my day again. Give me a perfunctory encore.
Give me a show I go to alone by an artist I love irrationally, or a total surprise that sends me home with a new favorite band. Give me a disappointing show by someone I usually love. Give me a pompous, pyrotechnic arena spectacle from rock stars who have overstayed their welcome. Give me an unasked-for reunion tour.
Give me the nth-generation lineup of a boomer nostalgia act — featuring, on lead vocals, the original keyboardist’s estranged brother-in-law! — at a casino or some godforsaken county fair.
Give me a house/basement show so good I forget about fire exits for five minutes. Give me a street team who’s realized whatever they’re doing is not worth it. Give me a weeknight show where my friends are the last of five bands. Give me an out-of-town middle band who’s lying about trading gigs. Give me a show on the last week of the tour when everyone’s done talking to each other. Give me onstage breakups both professional and romantic. Give me a release show that’s also a farewell show.
Give me the moment at a music festival where I remember, right around the time of my first bathroom experience, why I keep saying I’m done with music festivals. Give me bros at open-mic (-mike?) nights performing culturally oblivious acoustic versions of hip-hop songs. Give me a blues band sighing and plowing through “Mustang Sally” yet another time. Give me a lead singer asking the venue for something ridiculous after the first song. (My all-time favorite: “Can we get some more fog up here?”).
Give me a cover band wearing in-ear monitors at a Polish Hall. Give me a dude with a ponytail playing a bass with no headstock. Give me a pedalboard that screams, “Guitar Center employee discount.” Give me a sound guy who’s clearly been through some shit.
Give me absolutely all of it.
I don’t remember the last show I saw before COVID, which probably means it wasn’t anything special. And I’d love to have that back: shows being un-special, not because they’re bad, but just because they’re a part of life.
Sure, I may have already been past my showgoing prime when everything shut down. (My concert T-shirt drawer is a graveyard of half-remembered, Pitchfork-endorsed mid-aughts indie bands that during my 20s I’d gladly drive across the state to see on, like, a Wednesday night.)
But for more than two decades, I’ve had the absurd privilege of attending hundreds of shows as a fan, a writer and a performer, and it’s what I miss most dearly about the pre-plague world.
No matter what my first live music experience after the pandemic ends up being, it’ll be memorable if only for that fact. But it will have to share dwindling mental shelf space with shows that are unforgettable for different reasons. So here are three of my oddest, dumbest, life-lesson-producing-est concert stories — at least the ones that don’t involve me doing anything illegal. (I’ll save those for the director’s cut; I’ve still gotta work in this town.)
1. Pearl Jam, Wrigley Field, Chicago, 2013 – As a childhood fan of both Pearl Jam and the Chicago Cubs, I was bummed in 2013 when a scheduling conflict meant I would have to miss their first headlining show at Wrigley Field. The concert was on a Friday night, which coincided with a close friend’s bachelor party, happening that weekend at a rustic camping site (Nordhouse Dunes, back when it was still kinda under the radar). I needed to depart with the other guys early Saturday morning, or I’d be left behind with no way to find them.
But when a last-minute PJ ticket became available, I decided to give it a go and formulated a half-assed plan to do both things, because, YOLO!! I would drive to the nearest stop on the Northern Indiana commuter rail line, ditch my car, ride into Chicago, see most of the show (Pearl Jam having long since established a reputation for near-Springsteen levels of marathon performance), leave Wrigley in time to catch the last train out of the city, drive home, catch a few hours of sleep, then hit the road again for the camping trip.
Whatever could go wrong?!
Getting there was a breeze. That train system is still by far the best way to access a city that’s famously inhospitable to visiting motorists. And the summer air in Chicago hummed with an electricity like nothing I’d ever felt in the lead-up to a big show. The whole north side of the city was overtaken by graying Gen X-ers in Pearl Jam swag that spanned several eras. The early hits blared from the open doors of every Wrigleyville bar as the whole Midwest constituency of Pearl Jam Nation geared up to witness a Valhalla moment for the one big early-’90s band that had figured out, however imperfectly, a way to age along with its fan base.
VIDEO: Pearl Jam, Wrigley Field, 2013 – The Entire Concert (Because Troy Missed Most of It)
Later that night, the electricity became a more literal prospect. There had been rain in the forecast, but the intensity of the storms seemed to catch everyone off guard. The skies were getting cloudy as the band took the stage and opened what was sure to be a legendary show (with “Release,” I think?). They got through seven songs — mostly midtempo, per Pearl Jam’s late-period tendency to ease into sets like an old man getting into a hot tub — before personnel started frantically covering equipment and the band was whisked offstage.
Eddie Vedder delivered the bad news: there was a terrifying thunderstorm headed directly for the neighborhood, and they were pausing the show.
Fans were directed to gather in the stadium’s bowels and wait for the weather to clear and the music to resume. No worries. Can’t control the weather. The mood still jovial, we took our Old Styles back to the concourse and waited. And waited and waited and waited.
After standing in close quarters with increasingly irate, drunk strangers for about two hours, it dawned on me: I wasn’t going to see the rest of this show. The last commuter train left Millennium Station at midnight, and the rain showed no sign of abating. At around 11:30, I left, dejectedly, to make my way through an apocalyptic downpour and a departing crowd to catch my ride home, all the while calculating mentally: a $100 ticket meant I’d paid almost $15 for each song.
Naturally, the first Red Line train I could board stalled and sat in place for a solid 15 minutes before depositing me at the stop closest to the station, which, it turned out, was still several blocks away and had no obvious entrance (seriously, what’s the deal with this?). So the night climaxed with me sprinting through blinding rain to find this train in time, taking my seat soaking wet with seconds to spare and pulling off into the night.
I followed the concert resumption sadly on Twitter as the skies cleared and Pearl Jam retook the stage, commencing to play a characteristically epic show that stretched into the wee hours of the morning and triumphantly lived up to its billing (including an appearance by late Cubs legend Ernie Banks). Less triumphantly, I made it to my car in the middle of the night, drove another two hours home, slept for about 20 minutes and departed for the bachelor party.
The whole experience left me so miserable and demoralized that I’ve only attended two subsequent Pearl Jam Wrigley Field extravaganzas.
2. Built to Spill, Saint Andrew’s Hall, Detroit, 2005 – I went to Detroit with longtime friend (and fellow Local Spins contributor) Tricia Woolfenden to catch one of our then mutually favorite bands, Built to Spill, at Saint Andrew’s Hall. We arrived early and decided to kill time at the bar next door (Jacoby’s, right?).
We grabbed the only two available bar stools, next to a solitary bearded guy and an assortment of other fans and regulars, and excitedly constructed our ideal set list. It would have included basically anything from the albums “Perfect From Now On” and “Keep It Like a Secret,” and way less of the band’s more recent material, which we both thought was MEANDERING and WANKERISH. We cashed out and headed down the block for the show.
Not long after we were inside, the house lights went down and the band came out. I’d never seen them before, but there was something oddly familiar about the lead singer. Soon enough, Tricia and I shared a moment of shame and terror as we recognized that frontman and guitarist Doug Martsch, indeed, was the guy who had been sitting next to us at the bar … as we loudly shat all over his new music.
I have no idea whether Martsch had heard us, but it seemed as if he was looking directly at me as the band launched into the brand-new song “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” which, at nearly nine minutes, definitely qualifies as wankerish, but also totally rips.
3. Phil Collins, Van Andel Arena, 2004 – When ’80s pop titan Phil Collins brought his sort-of farewell tour to West Michigan, I got the assignment to review the show for the local paper. I was pretty early onto the ironic-hipster-reappraisal bandwagon that was in the process of turning Collins into an object of kitsch appreciation at the time, and I wrote an effusive review (even though, in retrospect, that was probably the whitest audience I’ve ever been in, which in Grand Rapids is saying something).
The next day, I got an email from a weird address with “Phil Collins” in the “from” field. Curious, I opened the message and found a few sentences of very gracious, very British-sounding prose, by a person identifying himself as “Phil C.” He warmly thanked me for the kind write-up, which he said was an unusual treat for him after a lifetime of getting dissed by critics.
I had no way to verify whether it was really the man himself, but who would go through the trouble of creating a fake email address and posing as Phil Collins just to mess with a reporter? (Granted, this was a few years before “online troll” had become an entire lifestyle category.)
About a decade later, however, it came to my attention that, indeed, this was almost certainly a prank by some ex-coworkers. But the email — still hanging in my home office — had already logged so many years as an effective conversation starter at parties, in new workplaces, even on first dates, that I’ve chosen to believe it was real.
And this is the sort of self-fulfilling truth where any contrary evidence will just strengthen my belief in its authenticity. (If only there were a political metaphor to extract from this.)
Anyway, “Phil,” you’re welcome for the review.
• After seeing The Shins at the House of Blues in Chicago sometime in the mid-aughts, I exited the building and, within seconds, vomited profusely all over the sidewalk. If you find yourself hungry at that venue, I do not recommend the chicken sandwich.
• I once was forcibly removed from an AWOLNATION show at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas. To this day I have no idea who AWOLNATION are, what they sound like, why I was at the show, or what led to my ejection. But I do drink a lot less now.
Also in the Series:
• Bizarre, agonizing, disgusting: A Local Spins music critic’s 3 weirdest concert experiences (by Tricia Boot Woofenden)
• Dolts, depravity, lightning, heat & hippie horror: John Serba’s craziest concert ordeals (by John Serba)
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