Peanuts, Cracker Jack and rock ‘n’ roll? Pearl Jam’s latest documentary bridges the gap between the sports and music worlds as if there never was one.
“Let’s Play Two” made its television debut Friday on Fox Sports One following a week of advance screenings in theaters across America. Directed by Danny Clinch, who previously worked with the band on its “Immagine in Cornice” concert film, the documentary showcases Pearl Jam’s 2016 sold-out performances at Wrigley Field in the midst of the Chicago Cubs’ historic championship season.
While Pearl Jam’s roots are in Seattle, frontman Eddie Vedder was born in a suburb outside of Chicago and has held the Cubs close to his heart ever since his uncle took him to his first game as a kid.
“The first time you step into Wrigley Field, it’s like stepping into Oz,” Vedder said.
The film not only focuses on Vedder’s connection to Chicago but also features behind-the-scenes looks at the Cubs organization and its fans. Cubs president Theo Epstein shows the cameras around Wrigley’s facilities and talks a little about how it felt having a part in Chicago’s first World Series win in over 100 years, while local bar owners give a glimpse into the city’s culture and atmosphere.
The rest of the film consists of select performances from the two late-August shows, including fan favorites like “Better Man” and “Alive.”
Sometime in between scenes from the shows and interviews with fans comes the best part of the documentary, when the band rehearses on the rooftop of Murphy’s Bleachers, a Cubs bar that Vedder has frequented since the early ‘90s.
The stripped-down practice session turns into somewhat of a mini impromptu performance when fans gather below to enjoy some of the band’s rarely played tunes like “Thumbing My Way” and “Black, Red, Yellow.”
The film isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Pearl Jam’s last documentary, “PJ20,” but this one’s not meant to be lengthy. It’s a fun little documentary for Cubs and Pearl Jam fans alike. It’s nice just to see the band members hang out at the ballpark and the local bars and act like a couple of regular guys that simply love baseball.
The accompanying soundtrack includes all performances featured in the documentary and a few bonuses, but on its own leaves a lot to be desired. While Pearl Jam is known to release nearly all of their live shows as bootlegs through their website, the two Wrigley shows were omitted.
Typically, bootlegs are taken directly from the soundboard and are not subjected to a substantial amount of mixing, if any at all, so to get the sound quality of a release like “Let’s Play Two” is a treat. For this reason, it leaves listeners wondering why both shows were not released in full despite being labeled as a soundtrack.
Fans familiar with Pearl Jam’s live releases will miss Vedder’s banter between songs and band mates’ stories of exploring the city. The collection completely lacks the flow that makes Pearl Jam’s nearly three-hour sets so special.
Though the soundtrack includes a particularly meaningful version of “All The Way,” a song Vedder wrote at the request of Cubs legend Ernie Banks, it still misses a chance at setting itself apart from previous live collections. Why not release the band’s cover of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” a song they hadn’t played before the 2016 tour, over a song like “Jeremy” that has been released hundreds of times via bootlegs?
Perhaps there were legal reasons, but the collection also includes a cover of The Beatles’ “I’ve Got a Feeling,” so who knows. With the collection already being as limited as it is, it would have been nice to include a few more performances unique to this tour.
With that being said, cuts of Pearl Jam classics featured on the soundtrack are admittedly pretty awesome. This performance of “Corduroy” may be one of the best ever released and, next to “All The Way,” is the highlight of the soundtrack. The extended interplay between Vedder and the Chicago crowd during the bridge leads nicely into one of the many guitar solos found on the soundtrack from lead guitarist Mike McCready.
Other highlights include the band’s encore staple, “Crazy Mary,” and a performance of “Release” that Vedder dedicates to a fan featured in the documentary who tearfully described how the song helped him through the death of his father.
What “Let’s Play Two” has going for it is that it may be the most accessible Pearl Jam documentary yet. New and old fans of the band will find something to like, as the performances show they’re far from slowing down, and Cubs fans will enjoy reliving the team’s legendary season from the perspective of a musician who’d been suffering as long as they had.