Eddie Vedder loves the Cubs. Since his days as a kid growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, he’s been a devotee, so it makes sense that playing on the Cubs’ home turf, Wrigley Field, would be a big deal to him and to the band he fronts, Pearl Jam. Strictly from an audience-size perspective, it’s certainly a big deal: The band played two shows in August of 2016 that sold out almost immediately, to the tune of more than 90,000 total concertgoers. It just so happens that those shows coincided with the Cubs’ lead-up to their first World Series win in more than a hundred years—the longest dry spell in the history of professional sports.
Let’s Play Two, a documentary ostensibly about those two concerts, actually ends up spending far more time than you might expect on the historic Cubs season. It’s not, though it might first appear to be, a concert film—not exactly, anyway. Selected songs from the shows, both of which I attended, anchor the stories, but only two at a time. They’re broken up by stories about Vedder’s fandom, interviews with band members, interviews with Pearl Jam fans, and various neighborhood characters tied to both organizations. The film, directed by rock photographer Danny Clinch, tries a little too hard to draw parallels between the Cubs and Pearl Jam, when really just one major one exists: Each inspires a deep, abiding fandom.
For Pearl Jam, that’s represented by a guy who sets up a chair on the sidewalk outside Wrigley four days before their first concert. He’s a regular fella—could be a lawyer or a dentist—whose friends probably think he’s nuts for hanging out just to be in front for the show. His devotion pays off when the band dedicates “Release” to him. Cubs fandom is shown in the form of the throngs that gather year after year at the Friendly Confines, praying for a victory but never exactly expecting one. The film also, a bit weirdly, gets deep on the Cubs organization, highlighting young GM Theo Epstein, whose determination and smarts helped the team finally find its Series win.
And then, almost secondarily, there’s the concert footage. Pearl Jam is one of the best live bands in the world: Even in front of a jillion people—and the wide crowd shots here are epic—they find a connection. It’s in the music, of course, that sort of passionate, personal rock that took hold in the early ’90s and never let go, but also the performance. Pearl Jam always looks genuinely grateful to be playing, and it always looks caught up in the spirit rather than going through the motions. The songs in Let’s Play Two were culled from more than six hours of performances, and they run the gamut from the fully expected—“Jeremy,” which naturally inspires a sing-along—to excellent deep cuts (“Last Exit” is a standout) to the ever-present covers. Presenting them in short bursts doesn’t capture the massive nature of the actual live show, but it can be thrilling nonetheless. Vedder sometimes gets shit for being too earnest and grunge-mumbly, but when he says things like, “Thank you not just for taking the ride, but for giving us the fuel,” it’s hard not to want to embrace that sincerity.
And he’s, again, sincerely a fan. Footage of Vedder excitedly wandering around Wrigleyville in 1992 is interspersed with the band setting up to play in 2016, and he’s in as much awe at both times. A quarter decade ago he was a kid who’d grown up idolizing the players inside Wrigley, and here he was, inside the very organization that he idolized, back-slapping with its players both at his own gig and at theirs. There’s no story to Let’s Play Two, really—no central conflict other than a team that hadn’t won in a while. But like a Pearl Jam concert itself, it’s a celebration of something shared, something communal and valuable. Cubs fans might tire of all the concert footage, and Pearl Jam fans without much interest in baseball may not need the backstory on various players. But those who love both—and that looks like a lot of the crowded crowds on these nights—Let’s Play Two is a fine double-header.