Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder was born in the Chicago suburb of Evanston and spent his elementary school days in the area before his family moved to San Diego. Vedder returned to the Chicagoland area in the early ’80s, where he earned his GED, attended community college and took various jobs as a waiter, only to head back to San Diego in 1984. Eventually, Vedder hooked up with Mike McCready, Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament to form Pearl Jam. The rest, as they say, is rock history.
For this edition of Venue Segues, we’re examining the Seattle rockers’ history of performances in Chicago. Despite the singer’s connection with Chicago, Pearl Jam has only headlined 15 shows in the area over the past 20 years. According to the band’s official setlist file, their first Chicago performance took place on July 21, 1991 at The Metro. Pearl Jam returned to the venue the next March (although there’s some confusion as to whether there was one Metro show or two) and by the time they came back again, in March of 1994, they were big enough to sell out the largest arena in town – Chicago Stadium. In the span of two years they went from selling a thousand tickets to selling 20,000 tickets.
When Pearl Jam came back to town for that Chicago Stadium show, rumors about a smaller Chicago show to take place shortly before or after the arena gig went flying. One of those rumors had Pearl Jam playing The Metro under the pseudonym Curious Yellow the night before that led to 500 tickets being sold for the unrelated Curious Yellow’s performance and Metro staff making the unorthodox move of offering refunds to those who were expecting to see Pearl Jam. The other Chicago show that week took place on the Southside at the New Regal Theater. If you look at the list of famous performers who played at that venue, you’ll notice one band stands out from the others.
In 1995, Pearl Jam lay waste to Soldier Field shortly after the last Grateful Dead shows of all-time for a performance that is still considered by many PJ fans as one of the best in the band’s history. Vedder thanked the Dead for use of the stage and told the crowd they would play for a long time in honor of Jerry Garcia and Co. Three years passed before Pearl Jam returned to Chicago for a June 29, 1998 gig at the United Center. It would be there first of six shows at the basketball/hockey arena to date.
[Pearl Jam @ Soldier Field - Let My Love Open The Door]
One of the band’s most famous Chicago shows was a benefit for vicitims of Hurricane Katrina at the tiny House of Blues in town on October 5, 2005. The price per ticket was an eye-popping $1,000, but those who threw down the grand were treated to a second encore filled with Led Zeppelin songs featuring Robert Plant including Going to California, Thank You, and Fool In The Rain.
[Pearl Jam w/ Robert Plant - Thank You]
In 2007 Pearl Jam were tapped as one of the headliners of that summer’s Lollapalooza fest at Grant Park. The group continued their career-long trend of playing undersells in The Windy City with a pre-Lolla warm-up at the intimate Vic Theatre. This “fan club-only” gig saw Ben Harper sit in on Indifference and Matt Cameron lead the band through a cover of Black Diamond by KISS.
[Ben Harper Sings Indifference w. Pearl Jam]
For their most recent trip to Chicago, the band returned to the United Center in August ’09. Vedder was loose and relaxed as he told stories about growing up in Evanston. Eddie paid tribute to Michael Jackson, who had passed away a few months earlier, by performing a cover of The Needle and the Damage Done. While Pearl Jam hasn’t been back since, they did celebrate their 20th Anniversary nearby at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wisconsin this past Labor Day Weekend. There’s been talk of a full-on North American tour in 2012 and if that happens, all signs point to a Chicago run.
Pearl Jam in Chicago: Venue Segues 1991 – 2009
Cabaret Metro (7/21/1991, 3/28/1992) > Chicago Stadium (3/10/1994) > New Regal Theater (3/13/1994) > Soldier Field (7/11/1995) > United Center (6/29/1998) > Allstate Arena (10/09/2000) > United Center (6/18/2003) > HOB Chicago (10/05/2005) > United Center (5/16/2006, 5/17/2006) > Vic Theatre (8/02/2007) > Grant Park (8/05/2007) > United Center (8/23/2009, 8/24/2009)
Capacities: Cabaret Metro (1,100), Chicago Stadium (20K), New Regal Theater (2,250), Soldier Field (66,944*), United Center (23,500), HOB Chicago (1,300), Vic Theater (1,300), Grant Park (75K)
Note: Only headlining performances within city limits were examined for this article
* – Football Capacity (1995)