“The first time you walk into Wrigley Field, it’s like stepping into Oz.” – Pearl Jam frontman and big-time Cubs fan Eddie Vedder.
If you’re a Chicago Cubs diehard AND a hardcore Pearl Jam fan, AND you were lucky enough to be at Wrigley Field on the nights of Aug. 20 or Aug. 22 of 2016, that must have been heaven on Earth.
The Cubs had yet to win the World Series, of course, but by that point in the season, it was clear they were the best team in baseball, and they had a chance to go all the way. The perennial doom-and-gloom attitude, the Billy Goat curse of 1945, the black cat in the on-deck circle crossing in front of Ron Santo in 1969, the Bartman ball nonsense of 2003, etc., etc. — those black clouds were dissipating. Kris Bryant’s bat and Anthony Rizzo’s heart and Jon Lester’s arm were oblivious to doomsday history.
So yeah. Good time to be a Cubs fan.
As for Pearl Jam — well, they’re Pearl Jam. Middle-aged and a generation removed from their Grunge Era breakout years, to be sure, but still capable of rattling the ivy on the walls of Wrigley Field and filling the summer nights with the sounds of powerful and resonant anthems such as “Jeremy” and “Better Man” and”Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town.”
Watching “Pearl Jam: Let’s Play Two,” even this lifelong White Sox fan was blown away. I was stirred by the lush and pristine sounds of the band, including of course Eddie Vedder’s oft-imitated but never really duplicated guttural growl of a voice, and I was greatly impressed by the gorgeous visuals in the concert sequences.
This is one of the most vibrant-looking rock performance films of recent years.
I’ve even got to give a #Respect shoutout to the band’s frontman Eddie Vedder, whose passion for the Cubs (like Bill Murray’s) goes far deeper than the casual celebrity “fans” who show up only when the home team is on a roll, wearing newly minted jerseys with their names on ’em and hoping nobody asks them who their favorite player was when they were kids.
We learn that when the Evanston-born Vedder was growing up, his favorite Cubs player was Jose Cardenal, a gifted but mercurial figure who played for some mediocre-to-lousy teams in the 1970s, once missed an exhibition game because crickets had kept him awake the night before, and begged off playing on Opening Day one year because he claimed when he woke up, one eyelid was stuck open.
The talented director-photographer Danny Clinch respects Pearl Jam (and their fans) enough to show us unbroken performances of some of the band’s biggest hits, and to not get too tricky or showy with the camerawork or the editing. We’re with the band as they go over the set list, we’re onstage with the band as they rock out, we’re in the stands with the faithful, and we get some beautiful medium and long shots of the North Side’s definition of the Field of Dreams. You can’t help but drink it all in.
Interspersed with the concert footage, we get scenes of the band jamming on the rooftop at Murphy’s Bleachers; shots of a CTA train festooned with Pearl Jam artwork; brief glimpses of Cubs game action old and new; Vedder playing catch on the field. This isn’t the most in-depth documentary about what it means to be a Cubs fan, but that’s not what it’s trying to be. “Let’s Play Two” is primarily a record of what surely had to be two of the most memorable concerts in Pearl Jam’s history — for the fans and for the man with the microphone.
Abramorama presents a documentary directed by Danny Clinch. No MPAA rating. Running time: 120 minutes. Opens Friday at Arclight Chicago, with TV debut to follow the ALCS Game 1 on Oct. 13 on FX1.