I must begin this review with a major example of full disclosure. I’m a die-hard Pearl Jam fan; I’ve been in the band’s fan club since their second album (I would have been a member earlier, but I didn’t know there was a fan club until just before album two). And I have attended more of their concerts than I can remember (it’s probably around 20, but it might be more), including the two shows performed last summer at Wrigley Field that are the focal point of the wonderful documentary Let’s Play Two.
More than a standard-issue concert film and behind-the-scenes music doc, this remarkably emotional work blends singer Eddie Vedder’s almost-lifelong obsession with the Chicago Cubs (he grew up in Evanston) with the team’s championship 2016 season, during which Vedder attended quite a few games, especially during the World Series.
Directed by the great Danny Clinch (who has made concert films and music videos for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ben Harper, Audioslave, John Mayer, as well as a more traditional concert doc for Pearl Jam, Immagine in Cornice–Live in Italy 2006), Let’s Play Two is almost a love story between Vedder and Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, as is evidenced by Vedder, Epstein and their families frequently watching key games together. But Vedder also became something of an unofficial team mascot, getting to know the players, manager Joe Maddon, and pretty much anyone else connected to the team. It’s actually quite endearing to see the recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame be transformed into an excitable kid in front of his heroes.
Archival video footage shows Vedder and the band at their first couple of shows about a year apart, both at the Metro Chicago, just steps up the street from the ballpark. And it’s clear watching Vedder pace around Wrigley Field back in 1992 that the not-so-distant memories are flooding back to him; he’s perhaps less jumpy today but no less enthusiastic about his favorite team. And even more touching is seeing his bandmates—bassist Jeff Ament, drummer Matt Cameron and guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready—get emotional on their friend’s behalf.
Let’s Play Two (the title comes from an Ernie Banks saying about wanting to play two games in a single day because life—or the weather—was so good) is a great look at the way the team, the neighborhood, and even the band have changed over their respective timelines. On top of that, it’s also a beautifully shot concert film that features a little less than 20 songs (mostly in their entirety), from first-album staples like “Jeremy,” “Black,” and “Release” to a healthy mix of hits and rarities, including Vedder’s tribute to the Cubs “All the Way” (which was written at Banks’ request, when he appeared on stage at the band’s rain-delayed first Wrigley concert three years earlier).
Not surprisingly, the culmination of the film combines footage of the final game of the World Series with the band playing what is often the emotional apex of their shows, their first single “Alive.” Cubs fans that see this are likely going to cry just like they did last October, but now they’re going to have a soaring soundtrack to coax those tears out.
Director Clinch finds some nice, smaller moments at which to point his cameras from time to time. There’s a bit about the band’s close relationship to Murphy’s Bleachers owner, Beth Murphy; a couple of sequences involve the man at the front of the general admission line (who waited four days) just to be at the front of the stage to hear the band play “Release” because it had great personal meaning for him; and there’s a truly sweet moment when former NFL player Steve Gleason, who is wheelchair-bound because of ALS, announces his favorite Pearl Jam song, “Inside Job,” from the stage. Then of course, there’s a scene where one-time Bulls player Dennis Rodman shows up, and Vedder jumps into his elevated arms. You can’t win ’em all.
Let’s Play Two covers a lot of ground, especially if you live in Chicago (check), near Wrigley Field (check), and are a Pearl Jam admirer (check). But I feel fairly certain that if you can only tick off one of those boxes (or none, quite frankly), you’ll still appreciate the story being told here. It’s rare to get what is primarily a concert film to also have such a dramatic story propelling it forward. But clearly to those in Pearl Jam, the story of the underdog Cubs is partly their story as well; it certainly resonated with a teenage boy from Evanston who grew up poor and never knowing his real father. The film is also that rare instance when sports, music and their overlapping fandom seem almost destined to come together.
The film opens today for a one-week run at ArcLight Cinemas in Chicago.