I stayed up almost until midnight waiting for the email. There was no guarantee it would arrive with good news—there was a 50/50 chance I would go to bed disappointed. I watched Twitter as fan after fan announced the arrival of their Ten Club email, my nerves bent to the point of frenzy. I’d only put in for one set of tickets for a single show, but I wasn’t sitting on the edge of my seat because I was desperate to see Pearl Jam. Getting the tickets meant I was going to Seattle for the first time.
Finally, anxiety weighing down my eyelids, my iPhone lit up with an email notification from the Ten Club. I dove for my phone and flicked open the email. It was a congratulations—the tickets were mine.
I screamed. I flew practically into the ceiling. My tears mingled with nut house laughter.
I was going to motherfucking Seattle.
If you’re going to do urban exploring right, you have to spend more than a measly weekend there. This was grunge Mecca. To be able to appreciate Seattle like it deserved, I was going to turn it inside-out. I’m all about discovery on my trips, hunting down historical locations to expose a fuller picture of what really happened. I don’t mind ratting around in back alleys and on abandoned roads to find a place where one little event helped shape history. That’s where the real color is, after all. So I did a little research, made some lists, and prepared to immerse myself. It was destined to be the ultimate grunge tour.
To keep this blog from running away into a book-length manifesto, I will have to gloss over some bits of my 10-day trip. Trust me when I say there were, in fact, too many epic moments to describe each in exact detail. Not only was there the Pearl Jam concert itself, but theater tours, coffee, a trip to Aberdeen, a number of record store raids, seeing a rainforest in the snow, more coffee, doing the truffle shuffle in front of the Goonies house, attending a secret Mudhoney show, a Singles tour, and randomly meeting a guy who used to pay Kurt Cobain to sweep floors.
Thursday, December 5th
Ironically, the first coffee shop I ever visited in Seattle turned out to be the best one. The hubs and I started off the day in West Seattle at a little house called C&P Coffee Company. Dogs were flopped all over the floor and the coffee was rich and strong. Everything had to live up to that experience, which was kind of unfair. The only thing that would’ve made it better was if Mr. Vedder himself had walked in and plunked on the couch between us with his ukulele.
Immediately after, we visited Easy Street Records and picked up a couple CDs before grabbing lunch there. Yes, they sell food, and it is delicious. Namely, the Alejandro quesadilla. What’s up Seattle? How do you make such a tasty quesadilla? Hola. I wanted to be sure to check out the merchandise truck over at the Key Arena since it opened a day early, so we zipped over there next.
Somehow, we ended up right in the middle of a train of tour buses turning into the Key Arena. It seemed we had arrived at the concert venue the same time as the band and their entourage. As the buses slipped behind the iron gates to their private parking lot, we hung back to make sure Mike McCready and Co. wasn’t hopping out to say hello. They weren’t, and that’s okay, because it was about 30 degrees and I was freezing and wasn’t really keen on the idea of standing out in the cold any longer than I had to. That was the weird thing about my trip to Seattle. Apparently, it’s not normally sunny and 30 degrees with snow covering the ground; not even in the winter. It was basically like being in Chicago with mountains and the ocean flanking you on either side.
The merch truck was parked in Seattle Center, and my jaw kind of dropped when I saw the line draped across the grassy park for a quarter of a mile or so. Thanks to Twitter, I’d gotten a sneak peek at Seattle’s poster, and it was ugly as sin, so I had no intention of purchasing one. All I wanted was a tour t-shirt, which I could buy at the show, so there was no point in hanging around.
This is kind of when my epic grunge tour began. The hubs and I decided to go check out Discovery Park, where Temple of the Dog’s music video for “Hunger Strike” was shot. The thing about the park is, you have to take about a mile hike to get to the beach and the lighthouse. There’s a treatment plant on the other side of the park, and you’re not supposed to park there without a special pass. Since we didn’t have enough daylight to do the whole hike, I bolted out of the idling car and snapped a few shots for the time being.
Then we got lost and I spotted the red steampunk pillars of Gas Works Park, and we made a two wheel turn into the place for a mostly private visit. In case you’re not familiar with it, Gas Works Park is an abandoned gasification plant that used to make gas out of coal. It sits right on the edge of Lake Union, looking out on a spectacular view of the city. Not only did Gas Works Park serve as background for several band photo shoots, it was the original location for Pearl Jam’s free live show, Drop in the Park. The show was cancelled and moved to Magnuson Park out of fear of the overwhelming amount of kids that might show up to a free Pearl Jam show. It’s a shame, because the site is breathtaking.
Gas Works Park was the setting for a couple of movie locations, however. Not only was it featured in Cameron Crowe’s movie Singles, it was in the paintball scene in 10 Things I Hate About You. (For fans of this movie, I visited more filming locations from 10 Things later on my trip.) Can you say bonus? Even if it didn’t have all these connections, it’s just a really cool place to take pictures.
Friday: December 6, 2013
Show day! The hubs and I grabbed lunch and an apple cinnamon roll at Pike Place Market before heading into Belltown to see a few more sites.
Not only am I musically obsessive, I am a huge fan of classic architecture; especially old theaters. It only made sense to start off our grunge tour by checking out a couple of the clubs and concert venues made famous by the likes of Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Our jumping off point went by neighborhood, picking the venues we knew had good coffee within walking distance. (Because of course.)
The first club we went to was the Crocodile, formerly the Crocodile Café. It opened in the spring of 1991, right before the “Seattle scene” exploded into a phenomenon. Its first show featured The Posies and Love Battery. One of its more infamous shows was when an unknown band called Pen Cap Chew opened for Mudhoney on October 4, 1992. Imagine the surprise of the club-sized crowd when Nirvana, who were just about the biggest band in the world at that time, walked out on stage.
Next we headed over to the Moore, Seattle’s oldest continuously-operating theater. The sight of several huge shows from the early 90s, it might be best known to Pearl Jam fans as the theater where the music video for “Even Flow” was shot. I only got to see the exterior of it at this time, but luck would later land me inside in the middle of a private tour.
Pick-up time for Ten Club ticketholders begun at 2:30 at the Key Arena box office, so we headed over a little early to check out the merch line situation. By the time we got there, the line for the merch truck had turned absolutely preposterous. But what was worse was the fan club ticket line. I know what you’re thinking… “if you already paid for your tickets, why would there be a huge line at will call?” This is why the ensuing two hours was utter ridiculousness.
Honestly, there was no reason to show up at the designated time to pick up my will call tickets. I could’ve waited a few more hours and more than likely avoided the line entirely. But anxiety always wins, and I figured it was better to suffer the unnecessary line than find out in a few hours they’d lost my tickets or the box office had burned down or Pearl Jam had issued a restraining order against me. Because you never know, do you?
So I stood in the will call line in the freezing cold for an hour to pick up tickets I’d already purchased, all the while marveling at the sheer brainlessness of the line shepherds as they failed to organize people alphabetically at the ticket windows. Each window was designated with a different chunk of the alphabet to avoid the exact state of clusterfuckery in which the line existed, but the line was funneling into the last half of the alphabet because nobody was telling people about the different lines. On top of that, some people from the Ticketmaster line had wandered into the fan club line like lost sheep and were plugging up progress. The whole thing was kind of hilarious in a pathetic, society-is-fucked kind of way.
Once I finally made it to the front and claimed my tickets, I booked it back to the car to revive the feeling in my toes. An hour before doors opened for the show, I made one last trek to the merch truck behind the Key Arena to see if I could avoid long lines inside. Lo and behold, someone had come up with the brilliant idea of forming two lines at the truck, since there were at least two cashiers inside. We met a couple of fans in line who had a good sense of humor about the line situation, which made the twenty minutes move faster. The truck had sold out of stickers, and as it happened, the only size they had left in the shirt I wanted was my exact size. I held onto my tour t-shirt like some sort of battle coup.
On to line at the doors, which were inevitably late to open. The bizarre lines notwithstanding, I really enjoyed the Key Arena, the Seattle Center, and the surrounding area. Especially in the wintertime, when the trees are dressed up in twinkly white lights, it’s a fuzzy, happy place. The Space Needle is just a stone’s throw away and hovers over the Center like a lantern guiding you home. It’s a beautiful place, which eases the memory of the crowd of fans who gathered there in 1994 to remember Kurt Cobain after his death.
Once doors opened, we found our seats inside. Even though I was higher up than I preferred, it was better than finding my seat was a bucket behind the stage, which I had almost expected given my high Ten Club number. My vantage point was great, looking at the stage from left center, on Mike McCready’s side. A couple of fans showed up in our section carrying an enormous banner that read “LET STONE SING,” but they couldn’t find a place to hang it that wouldn’t be obscured once everybody stood up. I took a picture of it for them and posted it on Twitter so Pearl Jam might still see it. One of the guys said, “I really don’t want to hear him sing. I’m just assisting.” I hear ya, dude. “Mankind” isn’t exactly on my song wish list, either. But I applaud the effort.
Truth be told, I was almost more excited to see Mudhoney than Pearl Jam. Almost. I mean, we were seeing a throwback show. Seattle, the forefathers of grunge—it really didn’t get much better than that. Well, unless there was a Temple of the Dog reunion, which wasn’t destined to happen thanks to Chris Cornell being on tour elsewhere. Nice timing, Chris.
Mudhoney was impossibly rocking. Their energetic, tight set was the perfect kick-off for an epic night. Mark Arm seriously knows how to command a stage, gesticulating around like some kind of punk rock Baptist minister. All those people who skipped Mudhoney should be fitted with a Cone of Shame; I’m sure Eddie kept tabs on you, so you’d better watch yourselves. What a performance you missed. As good as they were, seeing them at the Key Arena only made me want to see them again in a smaller setting. Mudhoney’s sound was made to live in darkly-lit, grimy clubs with electric bodies thrashing in appreciation. I had no clue my wish would be granted several days later.
There was about an hour between Mudhoney and Pearl Jam’s sets, so I used that time to venture to the other side of the arena to meet a couple of Twitter pals, Andee and Kate. We chatted just long enough to get hit on by some gross drunk guy. Way to spoil our brief time together, creepo. Still, it was great to finally meet a couple of gals I’d only talked to online about our shared appreciation in music.
Finally, it was time for Pearl Jam! They began with my favorite song off of their new album, “Pendulum,” which is kind of a weird choice for a show opener, as it’s a somber song about depression and suffering the dark times in life. (It’s also probably a weird song to also call your favorite, but I’m just a special kind sunbeam, OK, peaches?) From there, the show continued to build until it escalated like a volcanic eruption around the extended solo in “Betterman,” when Eddie and Mike leaned back-to-back and shredded guitars until they were nearly lying on the stage. And then, in their first encore, they pulled out a string of nostalgia, beginning with “Chloe Dancer” and sending the crowd into an absolute tailspin of bliss with “Crown of Thorns,” “Breath,” “State of Love and Trust,” and “Porch.” The timewarp sent Eddie into vintage Vedder mode, and he climbed up one of the hanging lanterns some twenty feet up in the air. Maybe it was the enormous bottle of wine he kept chugging, but Eddie seemed in good spirits this night. (Pun not intended, but I’m totally leaving it there anyway.)
Pearl Jam brought Mark Arm and Steve Turner from Mudhoney back on stage during their second encore for “Kick Out the Jams” with special guest Kim Thayil from Soundgarden. So close to a Temple of the Dog reunion it hurt. Watching Eddie and Mark take turns frontmanning was one of the highlights of the whole show. It was a sparring match with the microphone, like they were trying to out-rock each other. There was so much awesome going down on that stage, if I’d been in the GA, I probably would’ve spontaneously combusted. Then Eddie tripped and fell on stage for about the fiftieth time that night, and Mark Arm started crawling under everyone’s legs because he’s Mark Fucking Arm. Truly rock ‘n roll madness at its finest. But Mike McCready, y’all—are we sure this guy is human? Somewhere in the middle of his solo cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption,” I swear he levitated out of his body and floated over the crowd like some force of nature. The Key Arena shook. Angels wept. All while this guy sitting behind me lay passed out from a drinking binge.
For their grand finale, the band played “Yellow Ledbetter;” it was their 37th song that night, but I would’ve stayed for plenty more. For Pearl Jam, it marked the end of their first North American tour in several years. For me, the show was a hint of what was to come in an epic Northwest adventure.