Friday, October 17, 2014

Pearl Jam, the Joe, Chelios, and Change

My boyfriend Dave and I had a big date night in The D on Thursday: dinner and beers at Slow’s Bar BQ, then more beer at Nemo’s before taking their shuttle over to the Joe for the Pearl Jam concert. It was a perfect evening and an incredible show. This afternoon, my best friend and former college roommate asked me, “So are you going to review the Pearl Jam concert for your blog?” I told her no, it’s a sports blog, not an entertainment blog. But then she challenged me with a sports angle. Et voilรก!

I’d been waiting to see Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam again for over 20 years, since a friend and I won tickets from a local rock station to see them at the acoustically wondrous Masonic Temple in Detroit. We were 5th row left of center back in 1994 and two of maybe 4000 people in the crowd. Loud, dark, and angry, the band was young. We were young. Mangy flannel was cool. And there was no Chris Chelios, the hated Chicago Blackhawk. (Yeah, that did kind of come out of left field, didn't it?)

At the Joe last night, of course many things had changed from the 1994 experience. We were two of 19,000 and seated way back in Row 11. (Well, that is, Row 11 of section 207, upper bowl center ice in Wings seating terminology.) Twenty years older, we drank slushy daiquiris instead of beer so that we wouldn't be the over-50s running out to the loo all night. Halfway through, I switched to water and Dave and I passed a soft pretzel instead of what everyone else was passing. The girl next to me said “Wow, I wasn’t even born when you went to see Pearl Jam in ’94.”  Hmmph! I missed the sound at Masonic, too. Although the concert and set list were all I wished, the second greatest voice in rock didn’t reach our ears in anything near its brilliance after bouncing from the cavernous rafters of the Joe, dozens of sound-buffering championship banners notwithstanding. There was no swinging from ropes or diving into a mosh pit, just dozens of hard rocking anthems and soaring ballads we could sing along with. Wearing lines on his face and a few gray hairs, Eddie Vedder’s only nod to his wild stage presence of the past came in energetic rushing around and the endless bottles of red wine, plucked from behind stage that he frequently passed on to the audience below after a few swigs of his own. A bottle even made it to one of his good friends, a fellow Chicagoan who was in the crowd. You guessed it! Chris Chelios. And the crowd went wild.

Surrounded by banners and retired numbers detailing the storied history of the Red Wings, Eddie talked a lot about Chelios and their friendship, singing “Man of the Hour” in his honor. It made me think of how something else had changed between 1994 and 2014. Chelios, a man despised in Detroit as a nemesis of the Red Wings became a beloved member of the winged wheels and helped bring two Stanley Cups to the city during his 10 year stint on the team. If you’d have asked me in March 1994 what I thought of him, I’d have been ashamed to write here the things I said then. I think at one point I declared I’d never accept him, even if he was traded to Detroit. (Kind of like I say now regarding Sidney Crosby.) Well, I ate those words long ago when Chelios’ contributions made him impossible to hate any longer. It even seemed that Detroit living over time made him a little more attractive. I hardly ever think of Chelios now as the hated Blackhawk of my early adulthood -- the player-turned-friend remembered by Chicago sports-loving Eddie Vedder.

I’ll add this concert and even this glimpse of the wine-chugging off-ice Chelios to my list of great Joe Louis Arena memories, joining a string of Wings victories and a 2012 Red Hot Chili Peppers concert that featured an onstage visit by Wings retiree Nick Lidstrom.  (And the crowd went wild!) I don’t mind that a new stadium will mark this old venue for the wrecking ball. Although I love nostalgia, I also enjoy comfortable seats and cupholders, bars and restaurants within walking distance, and not walking up 1000 steps just to enter the building wheezing like an old woman. In people, rock bands, sports legends, and stadium venues, change isn't always a bad thing.

And to finish a couple thoughts – the number one rock voice in the world? Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Brilliant. A must see. And yes, I would still revile Sidney Crosby if he became a Red Wing. I loathe him more than I ever did Chelios. Luckily I don't think I'll ever have to worry about eating those words. They would go down like that dry pretzel we ate last night.

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