The Rundown: Reviewing Pearl Jam’s ‘Let’s Play Two,’ Shrinking Market for Starting Pitchers

“The first time you walk into Wrigley Field, it’s like stepping into Oz, and I’ve never left.”
– Eddie Vedder, lead vocalist, Pearl Jam.

Let’s Play Two: Pearl Jam Live at Wrigley Field” is truly a homecoming soundtrack, a blend of concert film and baseball documentary chronicling both Pearl Jam’s pair of August 2016 shows at Wrigley along with the Cubs’ championship season. It also includes insight from team president Theo Epstein and Murphy’s Bleachers owner Beth Murphy, among others. If you purchase this in DVD or Blu-Ray format, two discs are included: the documentary film and the full-length concert.

I was gifted “Let’s Play Two” for Christmas from a personal friend who works with the band. I’m obviously a fan of Pearl Jam and the Cubs, so I apologize in advance if this reads as a puff piece. My journalistic career started with album and concert reviews and includes a review of Star Anna, a Seattle performer discovered by PJ lead guitarist Mike McCready, who performed with Anna as part of her backing band the Laughing Dogs. So this is sort of a homecoming for me, too.

If you’re neither a fan of the Cubs nor Pearl Jam, the film may feel a little forced. Vedder has been a lifelong fan so that is expected. While Pearl Jam has long been regarded as Seattle rock royalty — and yes, this is an anthem rock band, not a grunge band — Vedder is a native of Evanston and has been attending Wrigley Field since his uncle took him to a game when he was 10 years old.

Vedder even wrote “All the Way” for and about the team back in 2008. The song is a longing tribute to a hoped-for World Series championship and was written with the encouragement of Ernie Banks. The late Hall of Fame shortstop asked the singer-songwriter to pen a Cubs-specific song and his famous favorite phrase posthumously inspired the title of the documentary.

On more than a few occasions, Vedder requested that the band not tour during October 2016 because he knew the Cubs were going to reach the World Series and he wanted to remain unencumbered to could attend each game, which he did. This film, a unique juxtaposition of baseball and rock show, really showcases Vedder, oracle and common man with an unmistakable, booming baritone, as a champion in his own right.

That’s not to slight the other band members — and trust me, McCready is on fire during every song of the concert portion of this film — but this is Vedder’s love affair with his boyhood team and a tribute to his favorite ballpark. The enigmatic lead singer admits his favorite player was Jose Cardenal, that he didn’t believe in the Billy Goat curse, and that he still considers Chicago home. There’s even some great footage of Vedder serving as a Wrigleyville tour guide in 1992 with a stop at his go-to watering hole, Murphy’s Bleachers. The joy on his face as he performs on the centerfield stage is palpable, even during the band’s more angsty songs.

The film includes a casual rehearsal with guitarists McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron atop Murphy’s Bleachers that recalls the Beatles’ rooftop concert. The live performances of hits Corduroy, Jeremy and Alive show that even after more than a quarter century of recording and touring, Pearl Jam remains as potent as ever.

Corduroy is my favorite song of the set and includes an audio montage of the Cubs clinching the NLCS against the Dodgers. Jeremy is pure heat, so don’t be afraid to turn up the volume. A dedication of Given to Fly to manager Joe Maddon is equally sublime. Inside Job > Go is another treat and segues into footage of Games 1-4 of the World Series. Alive blasts against the backdrop of Game 7. The music sequencing is obviously deliberate but it really ties the film together, as any great soundtrack should.

Like me, these guys have reached middle age; in fact, Vedder and I share the same birth year. And like many of us, they’re working parents, though their jobs are a lot cooler than the rest of us. Vedder is depicted as sharing our level of fanaticism, and he paints Epstein as a leader who treats his organization with a family-first mindset. That attribute is a reflection of Pearl Jam’s core values, according to the Cubs president.

In my mind, that’s what makes 2016 so much different than any championship season for any other city in any sport. It wasn’t just about breaking a 108-year old curse, it was the way in which it was accomplished. The organization, the team, its fans – it felt like one big family that just happens to include a band we have every right to call our very own, apologies to Seattle.

As for highlights, there are plenty: Vedder scoring some outfield sod and a glimpse of him filling out his Cubs’ scorecard; the impromptu rooftop jam; a tour of the Cubs new clubhouse by Theo Epstein; Game 7 footage of home runs by Dexter Fowler and Grandpa Rossy; Ben Zobrist’s big hit in the 10th inning; Kris Bryant’s game-sealing grounder; a cameo by Ernie Banks taken from the band’s 2013 show that really serves as Banks’ farewell to Wrigley Field; archived footage of Pearl Jam performing as opening act for Soul Asylum (I know, right) at the Metro in 1991; and, of course, an apropos and goosebump-inducing encore of All The Way and I’ve Got A Feeling.

More goosebumps? The Cubs won Game 7 of the 2016 World Series in the 10th inning. Pearl Jam’s first album, released on August 27, 1991, was titled Ten. Coincidence, or is Vedder truly a rock ‘n’ roll prophet?

Cubs News & Notes

I don’t want to get into ulterior motives and conspiracy theories, but what if the Cubs simply kickstarted meetings with Yu Darvish to get a true barometric reading of how far teams are willing to go to sign the pitcher? There aren’t many suitors for Darvish or Jake Arrieta at the moment and Alex Cobb comes bearing unrealistic financial expectations. With the Nationals being past the luxury tax threshold for this season and the Yankees looking more toward the trade market, it appears the list of free agent suitors for the top three starters may be down to the Cubs, the Brewers, the Twins, and the Astros.

Once Darvish signs, that leaves Arrieta and Cobb. Milwaukee and Houston have a number of minor league assets that can be used to acquire pitching now or at the deadline and the Astros really have no urgency to do anything immediately unless it is 100 percent on their terms. A lack of buyers in any market will cause a pricing collapse.

I guess what I am getting at is that if Darvish doesn’t sign with the Cubs — though I think he will — the demands of the remaining starters will have to adjust downward. If I had to handicap it right now, it would be Darvish to the Cubs, Arrieta to the Brewers, and Cobb to the Twins. If Chicago doesn’t sign Darvish, they may get their former ace at a more palatable rate, though Houston could swoop in at that point too. I just don’t see it after last season’s trade to acquire Justin Verlander.

Christmas Stove

We had a roast and all the fixings, but more important than food is time spent with family and friends. From my family to yours, it is our sincerest hope that your time together was as warm and joyful as ours.

Tuesday Walk Up Song

All The Way by Pearl Jam. Naturally.

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