Staying in the Vacuum

This was Pearl Jam concert number 4.

As we got off the tram in Flemington I felt a bit sick, looking around at the other ‘old’ people in doc martens and Pearl Jam tshirts and wondering whether we’d be able to get close to the stage at the end of the day. I was sure that the proper fans would be camped at the front of the blue stage from 9am. If I were a proper fan, wouldn’t I camp out all day too?

As it was, our plan was to see the Drones, Cosmic Psychos and maybe the Hives or Mudhoney before camping out at the Pearl Jam fence. I intended to see the Hives while Rob went to Mudhoney, until Rob reminded me that Mudhoney might involve bonus Eddie Veder, because the Seattle bands often tour together. I was glad for that advice. Mudhoney were brilliant, captivating and what’s more, Eddie Veder was backstage with his kids for the whole concert, so I did kind of get bonus Eddie.

By the time we made it to the Pearl Jam stage, with three hours of camping out in the sun ahead of us, we had made it to about 6 people back from the barrier. Not too bad, although if you’re short (as I am) that still only means occasional glimpses of the band between people’s shoulders and a mouthful of whoever’s hair is hanging an inch from your face.

Still, it’s worth it to to be close. Because in those glimpses you see the band members’ eyes and faces and sweat and guitars. You can feel the amps.

As the time gets closer, I want to ignore all the excitement around me. I don’t want to listen to everyone else’s thoughts on Pearl Jam, how long they’ve loved them, how many concerts they’ve seen, their favourite song. It’s just me and Rob and our Pearl Jam and our anxious anticipation.

But when the band arrives and you’re in it, in the concert, in that weird vacuum of concert brain, you’re sharing that vacuum with everyone around you. It’s you and those ten club fans who’ve lived and breathed Pearl Jam for decades. The long-haired dudes in the mosh pit. The girl near me who nearly cried when they played Low Light, who knew to call out for Kick Out the Jam when Mark Arm from Mudhoney came out. She was a proper fan alright. But it’s you and all those others with their arms raised in a V in Jeremy, singing the responses in the Daughter break, counting the 5s in Animal. You’re all in the vacuum.

This year I was hoping for a Man trilogy. Mainly because I wanted Nothingman live in front of me. I got it. No Leatherman, so no trilogy, but close. Betterman, not one of my favourites, but one of the best parts of every concert; the whole crowd singing the verses after Eddie plays just that first distinct chord. It’s the vacuum again.

I never want to leave that vacuum. I still remember my first Pearl Jam concert and the shock of leaving the dome, but wanting the concert to go on forever. Every time, playing the songs on constant repeat for weeks until the feeling is spent. On the Backspacer tour, I thought that would be my last Pearl Jam concert – they’re getting older, surely it won’t be as good and I’ll want to finish with good memories, right? But I went to that concert, waited 5 hours for a good spot, just about killed my feet and the long-haired sweaty tall person who was in front of me for the entire gig, but then cursed myself for not buying tickets to the Sydney show as well. I went home and joined ten club, because there was no way I wouldn’t get to the very front next time.

I’m not even one of the proper fans. Rob definitely is. I’m a blow in really. But I’m in post-concert mourning still. I don’t want the show to end. I am searching out set lists, photos from the concert, bootlegged video. I know I’ll have to stop daydreaming when work returns, but I’m desperate to hold on to the memories, to stay in the vacuum. I’m sad at the thought that one day the concerts will end, that they’ll be too old to tour, that Eddie’s voice won’t hold out.

But for now, for another day, there is Jeremy playing a loop in my brain and there are pictures to find and the new album to learn. And the daydreaming about what I want them to play next time.

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