By Matt Spiegel–
(CBS) Hot Stove, Cool Music was held Thursday night at the Metro. I’ve been looking forward to it for months, following the lead of the tireless and enthused Len Kasper. There were lots of schemes and plans. Len has grabbed the reins of the musical side of this thing and made it better every year. I’m really happy to help him with it.
Last year, the headliner seized an opportunity to grandstand. This particular attempt at being a fearless truth-teller was woefully misguided. He embarrassed himself with inaccuracies and downright foolishness. He bummed out a group of organizers and participants who deserve far better.
So this year, Theo Epstein called in the big gun.
Eddie Vedder, what a gem. Warm, mellow, kind. He paid for his longtime guitar tech and monitor person to fly in. He decided he wanted his favorite Cub growing up, Jose Cardenal, to be there. So Eddie flew him in.
Eddie was pleasantly surprised at the musical competence at our rehearsal, because we got the right guys Pros. Great players with good vibes, who did their work to learn everything and showed up ready to go. The rehearsal stretched long, arrangements were adjusted by good ideas, and he showed what a generous musician a big-time rock star can still be.
Joe Shanahan and the Metro are the perfect host and venue. That place reeks of historic rock credibility, and it sounds amazing when it’s full. Every year, this is my favorite green room. Musicians, baseball execs, radio people, Hall of Fame writers, random former Cubs and/or Red Sox.
Early in the night, I turned a corner and eavesdropped on a moment: Theo and Jose Cardenal one-on-one.
Jose: “You’re doing a great job, man…”
Theo: “Thank you Jose. This is a special team to work for, and you’re a part of it. I want you there when we win, OK?”
Jose: “Yes, yes, man … I’ll be there, thank you.”
The Mysteries of Life played first, joined by Gerald Dowd. Great songs, excellent people.
The Boston Hot Stove All Stars are next, led by Peter Gammons, a solid vintage soul and rock singer and a charmingly earnest guitar player. He also talks, knows and loves music as passionately as he does baseball.
These are my people.
Our set as the Chicago Hot Stove All Stars featured the man himself, Len Kasper, on bass. To pay homage to the city of Boston, where this event began, we played four songs by Boston bands. I started with “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” by The Cars. It was such fun to front that one and cop Ric Ocasek’s tone and attitude. Curt Morrison’s guitar solo was incendiary, the hot axe-on-axe action with Jason Narducy was spot on. The energy in the room took a leap.
“Voices Carry” by ‘Til Tuesday was next. Jennifer Hall killed the Aimee Mann lead vocal, the crowd was singing along, happy people. Scott Stevenson on the synth was essential and perfect.
Then it was “Long Time” by Boston. That’s a complicated and technical challenge, but it’s so fun to have the audacity to try it. When a crowd realizes you’re doing something difficult and you’ve been good to them already, they’re on your side immediately, hoping you can pull it off.
Steve Frisbie absolutely nailed the stratospheric vocal. A Boston musician, Chris Cote, sang the harmony part that’s even higher than the lead. He was so much fun, and he and I helped lead the claps on the breakdowns. The band hit all the stops, riffs and pauses, then ended with drama like our drummer Daxx Nielsen has learned to do so well with Cheap Trick.
The explosion of reaction sound after that one was something Len had never felt. We talked later; in many years of music and bands for him, that was a high. He had more of those as the night went on. Be careful — it’s addictive and hard to find.
Our closer was “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils band. There’s a spoken part in every chorus, an isolated low and well-known LOVE STINKS. It was a been a much-discussed role in the months leading up to the gig. A celebrity of consequence needed to do it. I was ultimately tasked with assigning it/begging someone to join us on the fly.
My depth chart for the job: Eddie Vedder, Joe Maddon, Theo Epstein. I hadn’t gotten further than that. There were three great emcees: XRT’s Lin Brehmer, comedian Mike O’Malley and actor Joel Murray, but I was looking for a surprise appearance.
Theo begrudgingly agreed. But as we’re 10 minutes away from our set, he begs off; it’s a massive charity night, and the man has myriad schmoozing duties.
Hey, there’s Jose Cardenal on the couch. Hmmm. I have to try. The people would love it.
Me teaching Cardenal
He laughs. He’s into it. He learns it. One of the ladies seated near him agreed to make sure he makes it to the stage at the right time. She happened to be a professional party planner. This worked out.
Upstairs, as the emcees were introducing us, three bearded dudes were standing side stage all of a sudden. I walked over and realized who they are.
Cubs step up
Theo had run into them upstairs in the balcony and recruited him for the spoken part. Brilliant, resourceful. I choose to think of it as he and I co-producing that particular song.
I taught Travis Wood, Jason Motte and Jason Hammel the part. They laughed. They were into it. They learned it.
Before we started the tune, I realized this is one of those moments I’ve been unknowingly training my whole life for. If someone has to make these worlds collide by teaching four ballplayers from different eras the spoken word part of Love Stinks, I’m probably the right guy.
The crowd went nuts for all of them. They stole the show to that point. Our quest culminated absurdly and wonderfully.
Love stinks Cubs
Split Single, Jason Narducy’s amazing band, played next, with Daxx and Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey’s McGee on guitar and Wilco’s John Stirratt on bass. I heard they were great, as they were at sound check. But I was green rooming, basking in some joy and then hanging in the crowd. Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak and I had good buzzed conversation and bro hugs. He’s a great guy.
Then it was the headliner. The green room emptied as we all went to watch from somewhere. He started solo with a Beatles tune.
Daxx and Jason made it a trio. Four songs in, Curt added guitar. Phil Aiken went to keys. “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town” is gorgeous. Ever heard Wishlist with a sax solo? I have now. Paul Ahlstrand was tasteful. Mid-set, Jennifer Hall, Will Dailey and I joined as backing vocalists.
And here we were, musicians of wildly varying degrees of success and fame, all backing up one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. And yes, it was fabulous.
I got a verse on “The Weight” by The Band. Go down, Miss Moses. We do all the choruses en masse.
Weight wide shot
I made lots of eye contact with Eddie, making sure we timed the “put the load right on me’s” correctly. I did all the Richard Manuel falsetto “ooh’s,” isolated and in my wheelhouse.
And the last verse of that tune, that legendary spiritual tune by one of my favorite bands of all time, that last verse was his and mine. He took the high part at sound check, I went low. We switched it for the gig.
Catch a cannon ball now, to take me down the line
My bag is sinking low and I do believe it’s time
To get back to Miss Fanny, you know she’s the only one
Who sent me here with her regards for everyone
Eddie and me
It was surreal. The best part, the part that’s awkward to give voice to, is that I felt like I belonged. I was glowing. Such is the power of confidence, and the importance of keeping it at a high level for any performer or athlete. I can sing with anybody, damnit.
We do “The Kids Are Alright” by The Who. Pete Townsend is to Eddie as Eddie is to a lot of people in that room. Here’s the whole tune. Len swapped with Jason to play bass and nailed it. Eddie let him do the jump stop finish. Jason, you see, almost forgot to come do his high harmony (while I go low). You can see me frantically asking Jennifer to remind him, see Jason run to the mic barely in time and see him look back at her with a laugh.
I love those little moments of communication that you only pick up if you’re watching carefully. I love them in baseball in exactly the same way — when a first-base coach waves his arm to make sure a runner busts his butt back to first when the play is behind him, when a shortstop tells a second baseman that he has responsibility if there’s a stolen base.
Eddie then went to the piano for a quiet, surprise cover of Comfortably Numb. Jennifer and Will doubled up on the high harmony on the B section. I crept in with a low part on the second half of each. Cote came out for the scream after “OK, it’s just a little pin prick. There will be no more…” in verse fur. Then Curt played the best solo ever played on that tune by someone not named David Gilmour.
Yeah, that’s brash. But I’m telling you, that guy is as good as it gets at nailing a particular sound, style and melodic approach while still bringing 100 percent of himself to it. He knows how to build a solo and get the drama as high as conceivable. He’s my favorite musician in the world and a huge part of why Tributosaurus is whatever it is. I was so happy for him, watching him play his butt off all night for a lot of people who may not have heard him. That solo was called a highlight by dozens I talked to over the next couple days.
At that point, my heavy lifting was done, except for coming back on harmony for Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” choruses, the closer. First, I watched Corduroy from side stage, one of PJ’s best songs. Theo was on guitar for this one among others and having a blast.
The hallways were filled with Cubs, far more of them there than I realized. Anthony Rizzo, Chris Denorfia, Joe Maddon. Jon Lester was trying to tell an emcee what he wanted from the crowd when they went out there.
“I’m gonna need two claps and a Ric Flair,” he said.
I overhear “a what?” So I gave two claps and a “whoo!” from 10 feet away. Lester pointed at me and said “that.”
David Ross walked by, saw Len and grabbed him.
“Dude! You’re awesome! I had no idea you were that good! How great is this?” Ross said.
Len told me that’s how Ross is every day. So there’s the pitch framing, the defense, the help teaching the rookies, there’s the Lester personal catcher thing and there’s that attitude. Value to a team. The manager has explained it.
I’ve always known and argued that chemistry matters. On teams and in bands, it’s important to have mostly good people and good relationships. It’s helpful to that debate when undeniable strategic/sabermetric savvy guys like Maddon know it too.
I missed the encore/finale. I heard about it. Every Cub in the building, including Jose, stood behind Eddie as he sang “Someday We’ll Go All The Way“. They circled him and chanted his name. A few players picked him up and carried him off stage, and the show was done.
We stayed until the club kicked us out. Then a bunch went to The Gingerman next door and closed that down. Then a bunch more went to a place down on Division Street.
I offer no details of that, no details of concerts and parties that happened on the nights surrounding Thursday. Privacy was requested and ought to be granted.
Just know that Eddie Vedder was incredibly giving with his time, music, money and friendship throughout the whole thee days. He was originally supposed to do three to five songs. By show time, his set list was at 13.
The Foundation To Be Named Later raised more than $350,000 on Thursday, the most of any event in its 10-year history. At the core of this is a terrific cause and a great legacy of philanthropy from Theo Epstein and his twin brother Paul.
How soon can we do that again?
Eddie’s set list
“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”
“Love Boat Captain”
“Love Building On Fire”
“Watch Outside, I Am A Patriot”
“The Kids Are Alright”
“Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”
“Rockin’ in the Free World”
Encore: “All The Way”
Matt Spiegel is a host on the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on weekdays. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.