Pearl Jam goes to the ballpark with ‘Let’s Play Two’

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“Let’s Play Two” got baseball in my Pearl Jam movie. Or did it get Pearl Jam in a baseball movie?

It’s a mix of both scenarios here with the film that documents the band’s 2016 Wrigley Field concerts and airs tonight on Fox Sports 1.

The two-hour film is part sports documentary covering the history of the Chicago Cubs and their 2016 run to a World Series title, and part concert film with Wrigley serving as the setting. Sports fans will find something to enjoy here, and of course Pearl Jam fans will enjoy the film too considering the band ends up being the soundtrack to an unconventional film that is almost more about the Cubs than Pearl Jam.

Director Danny Clinch does an excellent job of capturing the band’s onstage passion and its devotion to the loyal fans who helped make a career milestone moment like playing multiple shows at Wrigley Field possible. The performances of the roughly 18 songs chosen for the film are powerful (though not the band’s best) with “Crazy Mary,” “Release” and “Corduroy” being highlights.

The way Clinch shoots concert footage alone makes “Let’s Play Two” well worth checking out. The closeups of Eddie Vedder snarling out lyrics during “Jeremy” and the focus on guitarist Mike McCready delivering a scorching solo during “Black” are wonderfully done. And the quick-cut edits of “Go” perfectly capture the kinetic energy of that song.

While this is a Pearl Jam movie, the focus is more on Vedder’s love of the Cubbies than the entire band’s obsession with the goings on at Wrigleyville. And that’s okay, because for this to be as appealing to as broad of an audience as possible Vedder needs to be in the spotlight. He’s the face of the band for the fans who lost interest after “Ten.” Just as there are fairweather fans who only know the Cubs as winner with names like Rizzo and Bryant on their roster, fairweather Pearl Jam fans who only know “Alive” and “Even Flow” from of the band’s substantial catalog also exist.

The band played 69 songs over two nights at Wrigley, so Clinch had some heavy editing work to do when selecting what to feature. Most of the group’s high-octane hits fill the set list for the film, which helps the film appeal to casual fans. “Daughter” and “Even Flow” are the two hits noticeably absent, but there is enough commonly known rock fodder here to appease the fans still waving their flannel flags.

Thankfully, the exclusion of those hits makes room for the deep cut “Inside Job,” which features an onstage intro by Steve Gleason, an aggressive “Last Exit” and the title track from the group’s most recent record “Lightning Bolt,” which is the only song from that album to appear in the movie.

As expected, the diehard Pearl Jam fans looking for something more than live footage will be disappointed. There’s not a lot of candidness so you’re looking for an inside peek at the band’s show prep, or a glimpse into drummer Matt Cameron’s personality, you’re not going to get it. In fact, it takes nearly an hour before any member of the band other than Vedder has quality speaking time in front of the camera. And after those five minutes or so it’s back to being the Eddie Vedder show.

That’s not to say Vedder doesn’t deliver charm or that there isn’t any insight into the band offstage. There’s some fun back and forth band banter when guitarist Stone Gossard starts noodling on Steely Dan during a rehearsal on top of Wrigleyville bar Bleachers. And bassist Jeff Ament gets to talk about the inspirations he literally has written on his guitar. But throughout the film it’s clear Vedder is the lens through which this experience is filtered.

There’s a scene of Vedder keeping score at a game with his daughters. A scene of Vedder on the field during pregame warmups with his wife. A scene of Vedder singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the Seventh Inning Stretch. You get the picture. There’s also quite a lot of archived footage of Vedder and the band during their first trip to Chicago in 1992, including fun footage where he steals a box of sod from outside of Wrigley‘s gates (as if Vedder’s loyalty to the Cubs needed to be further illustrated).

On the subject of the Cubs, Clinch documents their story well folding in more than 100 years of the team being lovable losers between songs. And just like you can’t really tell the story of Pearl Jam without including the fans, the story of the Cubs is incomplete without some fan focus as well. It’s nice to see the Cubs fans, but unfortunately all of the Cubs fan service comes at the expense of killing any engaging momentum the concert portions of the film creates. The baseball threads often take viewers out of the moment of what was surely an exhilarating concert experience, not allowing the film to capture the catharsis, vitality and energy of a live Pearl Jam concert.

Overall, “Let’s Play Two” feels like more of an indulgence documenting a personal milestone for the band than an essential entry to Pearl Jam’s impressive decades-long career. It’s a film filled with nuggets for casual fans and might get some of those fairweather folks to jump on the Pearl Jam bandwagon.

“Let’s Play Two” airs tonight on Fox Sports 1 after the American League Championship Series.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.