The phrase “timing is everything” is applied to many things these days, but one of the most accurate uses involves Pearl Jam, the band’s fans and the city of Chicago, as captured in Let’s Play Two.
The film, directed by renowned New Jersey-raised rock photographer Danny Clinch (who attended the recent screening at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, N.J.), documents the band’s two-night stint in August 2016 at Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. (The film’s title is in reference to late Cubs legend Ernie Banks, who famously said, “It’s a great day for a ballgame: Let’s play two.”) At the start, Cubs general manager Theo Epstein talks about his work in rebuilding the team’s personnel and the stadium’s structure. Moving on to Pearl Jam’s two-night concert stand and the preparation for that, Illinois-born lead singer Eddie Vedder shares his stories of growing up a Cubs fan and also his band’s history with the Windy City. The musical backdrop to all of this is a quiet soundcheck version of the national anthem played by guitarist Mike McCready. The symbolism invoked by this start might be a bit corny if it wasn’t so sincere — especially from Vedder, who comes across as so appreciative to have the opportunity to do what he does.
As the concert portion of Let’s Play Two begins, another key component of what makes this a special movie emerges — and that’s the perfect marriage of audio with visual. Pearl Jam has a healthy catalog to choose from, and so many songs qualify as cool choices to play at Wrigley Field. But starting with “Low Light,” from the 1998 album Yield, as the sun is setting on the packed stadium full of adoring fans, makes for the best tune at the best time.
The film explores the scene and people around Wrigley Field, and that includes Beth Murphy, who owns Murphy’s Bleachers, one of Wrigleyville’s sports bars. She has history with Vedder and talks about how he’d get hot dogs from her when in town for a gig or a game. This mutual admiration leads to a PJ rehearsal session on her rooftop that grabs the attention of both locals and the band’s fiercely loyal Ten Club.
As Clinch jumps back and forth between concert and baseball footage, the sounds of both begin to swell together. The crowd’s sing-along to “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter of a Small Town,” in the setting of a long-suffering sports franchise fighting for a playoff spot, sounds identical to the roar after an important division win. The use of crowd noise for the song “Corduroy,” matched with the song’s lyrics about defiance and perseverance, serves as a beautiful backdrop as the Cubs reach the World Series for the first time since 1945.
While Vedder’s relationship with the Cubs is a focus of the film, his memories don’t get all of the attention. Bassist Jeff Ament takes time backstage to talk about the band’s history playing at The Metro, a block away from Wrigley Field. (This plays into the purpose of the tour, which is the celebration of the 25th anniversary of PJ’s debut album, Ten.) McCready speaks about his touching friendship with former New Orleans Saints safety Steve Gleason, who suffers from ALS and appears in the film during the concert segments.
The sports world knows the story of the 2016 Chicago Cubs ends with a World Series championship, and this Pearl Jam documentary ends on a high note, too. What Let’s Play Two does best is highlight passion — as exuded by the legions of loyal concertgoers waiting up to four days for the best seats and the long-suffering baseball fans riding their team’s success through the tail end of a magical season, with the band’s singer bridging the gap between both stories. Clinch’s film illustrates how that passion can pay off in more ways then one.
— By Mike Madden
Let’s Play Two will be screened in select U.S. theaters throughout October. The documentary will air Oct. 13 on Fox Sports One, following game 1 of the American League Championship Series. It will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray on Nov. 17.