When I started planning my big summer vacation, seeing Pearl Jam in Stockholm was thrown in as an option, but I had little hope it would work out. I was ecstatic that as destinations were narrowed down, Stockholm remained in the mix. And when I figured out an easy way for us to also see them play in Oslo, that just made it that much better. So we planned, booked tickets and finally were on our way. The show was Saturday, June 28 and after doing a bit of shopping we headed out to Friends Arena in Solna, a bit north of the city. This arena is massive – I heard 88,000 as max occupancy for concerts. Half of the arena was closed off (24,000 showed up for the concert) but it was still like nothing I have ever seen. Just amazing. It is basically in the middle of nowhere, with no easy access to public transportation and the locals think it is a waste of money and a bit of a joke, but I was impressed with the size and overall sound and feel.
We had gold circle tickets which allowed us to be in the general admission part in front of the stage. We got to the arena at 3:30 and found the line. We put our names on a list and were given numbers, 66 and 67. We were then told we could walk around or stay, up to us. But when the time came, we would just find out place in line. How civilized! I just love that they did this – it makes so much sense! And the person “in charge” was just another concert-goer. So great. I sat down and Mike went to buy merch but not 15 minutes later we were told we were “going down” so I ran to get Mike, we ran back and got in line at our designated spots. We went down under the arena and proceeded to wait again. Doors were set to open at 5:30 but it took a bit longer – was closer to 5:45 by the time we went in. We found a place in front of the stage and then everyone sat down! I was so thankful since my feet were very sore and it was still a good 2 hours til the show was scheduled to start. I did wander over to the merch stand to get posters and was surprised to see the free water booths set up all around the arena.
The show was scheduled to start at 7:30 but apparently Pearl Jam never starts on time (this bothers me – why not have a later time as your start time but actually start then!?) At 8:07 they walked on stage and started the show with Release, one of their songs that brings tears to my eyes when I hear it live. From that they stayed mellow playing a few slower songs like Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In A Small Town and Black. Then they stepped it up with Go and the crowd started jumping and moving and I had to jump or be trampled. There is no doubt that Pearl Jam has some
rage in the music and the lyrics, but at the shows I was at in the states, there seemed to be a general feeling in the crowd of “yep, the music is ragey but we are all old now, so stand there, be respectful of the music and of the other fans.” This was absolutely not the case in Europe. Mike thinks that it might have been an issue of being in general public vs the Ten Club section but by the time the second “angry” song Animal played, we had been pushed ahead several rows and the energy was negative and very mosh pit-esque. In the beginning I admit it was fun and it did get us closer to the stage, but it got to be very scary, very quickly. Mike ended up standing behind me, with both arms outstretched around me into tight fists, basically punching off people so they wouldn’t hit me. The bouncers did call out some of the people but the main offenders were able to talk their way out of leaving and stayed. We gave them wide berth and they moved along and we were able to enjoy the rest of the show.
Overall the band seemed in a good mood, at one point signing a person’s show at the request of the “Sign My Shoe” sign, even taking one person’s camera on stage (fast forward to the 1:50 mark ). They do a masterful job of controlling the speed, tempo and flow of the crowd, moving slow to fast to slow to a ramp back up. As a casual fan, I really enjoyed this show. While I wasn’t lucky to hear any of my “wishlist”, the overall playlist was great, playing enough of the popular old hits with the newer stuff that I really like. I was able to hear Just Breathe, one of my favorites: “I’m a lucky man to count on two hands the ones I love” I got to hear My Father’s Son and U, both concert rarities, only being played 8 and 22 times in the history of the band. (Compare this to the 683 times that Alive and Better Man have been played and you can see why people were excited to hear them, U more so since My Father’s Son is off the 2013 album.) As someone with no musical talent, I was amazed by Mike McCready’s flawless solo with guitar totally behind his back.
They played for a solid three hours closing with The Who’s Baba O Riley and Indifference. Despite some technical difficulties with the ball lights that swing during some of the songs, the entire concert was entertaining and I was so glad I was able to be there. I did buy a poster as well, my second Pearl Jam merch purchase.
Some notable European concert vs American concert differences:
- There were free water tables throughout the arena. If you were thirsty, you just walked over and got a cup of water. For free. In the US you would have had to go to the concession area and pay $15 for a bottle. It was so nice to be able to get some water since it was so hot in the pit area.
- If you didn’t want to leave the pit, the security in the front row had water bottles and were squirting into peoples’ mouths. There seemed to be an overall “Hey we know it is hot, everyone OK?” attitude in the security and staff.
- Port a jons were set up on the lower level of the arena so going to the bathroom was pretty convenient, albeit a port a john.
- People in Sweden are tall. We noticed this all over Stockholm but it was apparent in the crowd where we were both very short, when usually are on the average size.
- The aforementioned gold circle queue system and the fact that everyone got situated and then sat down were both lovely things.