Updated: Thursday, September 28, 2017, 10:50 AM
Such was the enthusiasm of Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks that the slugger would greet his teammates each day with the same three hopeful words: “Let’s Play Two!”
Last August, Pearl Jam took the late Mr. Cub to heart when the Seattle band fronted by Evanston, Ill., native and lifelong Cubs fan Eddie Vedder played two sold-out shows at Wrigley Field. The Seattle band’s doubleheader of sorts came in the midst of the 2016 season in which the Cubs would end the longest drought in American professional sports history and win their first championship in 108 years.
Let’s Play Two is a combination concert movie directed by rock photographer (and Jersey Shore native) Danny Clinch that focuses on those two August stadium shows, interweaving performance footage with a recounting of the Cubs’ travails and the enduring fandom of Vedder. The sonorous-voiced singer has been a regular at Wrigley since he was a boy, and has frequently stood in for late announcer Harry Carey in leading the stadium crowd through a seventh-inning stretch “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
Mixed in with performance highlights that include such brawny, crowd-pleasing Pearl Jam staples as “Given To Fly” (dedicated to Cubs manager Joe Maddon), “Corduroy,” and the Victoria Williams cover “Crazy Mary,” are anecdotes about the band’s history in Chicago. We meet Beth Murphy, the owner of a Wrigleyville bar whose rooftop the band uses for an acoustic rehearsal, and Theo Epstein, the architect of the championship team that ultimately lifted the Curse Of the Billy Goat after previously doing away with the Boston Red Sox’s Curse of the Bambino in 2004.
How much does Vedder love his Cubbies?
A lot. “I don’t believe in goats,” he says, expressing his disbelief in the curse, which supposedly doomed the team to perennial failure after an incident involving the ejection of the barnyard animal from Wrigley during a failed World Series visit in 1945.
And at the request of Banks himself — who appears on stage with the band in footage from a previous Wrigley performance is 2013, two years before his death — Vedder wrote “All The Way,” a hopeful acoustic anthem that kept faith that one day a championship would be attained. In Let’s Play Two, he sings it while being accompanied by, among others, Jose Cardenal, the Cuban-born outfielder who was his favorite Cub in the 1970s.
The two-night stand took place in August before the run to dramatically defeat the Cleveland Indians in the World Series took place, but the footage is sequenced to create an ongoing soundtrack to games that hadn’t yet taken place when the music was played live. A cover of the Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” expresses belief that fate is on the team’s side. An acoustic take on The Ramones’ “I Believe in Miracles,” shows us that Vedder’s faith never wavers, even when down three games to one to the Indians. And the cathartic “Alive” is delivered after the Cubs win game five at Wrigley to stave off elimination.
All this baseball business qualifies Let’s Play Two as a concert movie with an identity of its own. There might be too much musing on the national pastime for nonsports fans, but Clinch draws out the human element in the the team’s (and the band’s) ultra-loyal followers, and shifts the spotlight from Vedder enough to get to know guitarist Mike McCready and bassist Jeff Ament. And he avoids the familiar music-flick pitfall of not showing songs in their entirety. Virtually every performance in the Let’s Play Two runs from start to finish, catching the band in still-vibrant middle age and making plain the deep connections they’ve made in the quarter century since they became grunge sensations.
Philadelphia sports fans might find Let’s Play Two’s nonmusical moments grating. Who wants to hear more about the already endlessly romanticized suffering of another city’s fans, especially when the story ends with a happy ending that has long been denied to us? (It’s been nine years and counting since the Phillies won the World Series, and the Eagles, as you might have heard, have never won the Super Bowl.) But for the subset of humans who are both Cubs fans and are really into Pearl Jam, Let’s Play Two will probably be the greatest movie they’ll ever see.
MOVIES Let's Play Two Directed by Danny Clinch. With Eddie Vedder Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Matt Cameron, Jeff Ament. Distributed by Abramorama.
Running time: 2 hours.
Parent's guide: Not rated.
Playing at: Prince Music Theater.