“The first time you walk into Wrigley Field…it’s like stepping into Oz,” Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder says in the opening to Let’s Play Two, the new documentary about the legendary rock band’s sold-out performances at Wrigley Field on August 20 and 22, 2016.
After a long pause, Vedder finishes the thought: “…and I’ve never left.”
As images of a young Vedder at Wrigley Field flash across the screen the viewer senses the deep connection that the 52-year-old musician has with the team and its iconic ballpark.
“That feeling, it still happens every time,” Vedder says later in the 2-hour documentary. “There’s something incredibly special about that place.”
Directed by Danny Clinch, whose previous credits include two other Pearl Jam films, 2007’s Immagine in Cornice and 2013’s Lightning Bolt, Let’s Play Two plays out as much more than a documentary of the band’s 2016 Wrigley Field concerts; rather, it is about how the journeys of this Seattle grunge band and this North Side Chicago baseball team are intertwined.
As Vedder notes, Pearl Jam broke out in Chicago on July 21, 1991, at Metro on Clark Street, a block away from the Friendly Confines. “To think,” he tells the audience at one of the two 2016 Wrigley Field shows, “it took 25 years to make it one block.”
The film includes vintage clips of Vedder in 1992 strolling around the ballpark at Clark and Addison when he stumbles upon a box of Wrigley Field sod and acts as if he has come upon holy ground.
Another highlight: the intimate clips of the band’s impromptu rooftop rehearsal above Murphy’s Bleachers in 2016 where small crowds gathered on Sheffield Street. Says tavern owner Beth Murphy afterward: “It was probably one of the most exciting things that ever happened here.”
The film’s title, Let’s Play Two, is of course a nod to Cubs’ great Ernie Banks’ catchphrase. The Hall-of-Famer who died in January 2015 made one of his final appearances at the Friendly Confines during Pearl Jam’s first Wrigley concert on July 19, 2013, which went on into the next morning after being delayed by a lightning storm. “It turned out to be Ernie’s farewell to Wrigley,” Cubs President Theo Epstein says of the 2013 concert.
But ultimately this film is about Pearl Jam returning in 2016 in the midst of the Cubs’ epic season in which the team finally ended its 108-year World Series drought.
Vedder makes the connection between the many diehard Pearl Jam fans and those of the Cubs. “If you’re a lifelong Cubs fans your hope muscle, it’s been through a lot,” he says. “It’s sustained a lot. You’ve worked out that muscle. You’ve got a pretty good hope muscle and it’s a character builder and I think it makes for good activists and it makes for a community that comes together based on not glory and winning but comforting each other. It’s been that way for quite a long time.”
Epstein, who engineered the Cubs’ revival, credits Vedder and his band as an inspiration. “The whole band has been a great role model for us, how we want to run our organization,” he says. “Pearl Jam is a family, they’re all brothers in the way they treat each other, the space that they’ve carved, what they stand for. The crew is a part of that family and their fans are as well. They bring people along and make them all feel a part of it and connected. It’s been great to learn from those guys.”
In the film, there are extended concert sequences of the band performing renditions of signature songs including “Better Man,” “Alive,” “Low Light,” “Release,” and “Inside Job,” among others.
But not surprisingly it ends with the song that Vedder penned and that had become sort of a Cubs’ pre-World Series anthem, “All the Way.” The band’s performance of the song plays against a montage of clips from that 2016 championship, including Vedder singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch of the pivotal Game 5 at Wrigley and Vedder sitting in a box with Epstein and his family during the epic Game 7.
This is a concert film but it is also much more than that. It is Eddie Vedder telling his history with the Cubs, the relationship that he has with the team, and what that means to him. It is also about his own career arc, the start of a fledgling rock band and the role Chicago played in that beginning.
If you’re a Cubs fan and feeling a little blue after the team’s exit in the National League Championship Series, you’ve undoubtedly got an open calendar for the next week and a half. Let’s Play Two is the perfect tonic to revive that Cubs’ spirit.
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation. He is presently working on a book about celebrity Cubs fans with fellow Wrigleyville Nation contributor Becky Sarwate.