by Robyn Smith
It was a night 25 years in the making. Pearl Jam, the band that came to define Seattle’s indie music scene in the ‘90s. Pearl Jam, the band that became mainstream, in spite of itself. Pearl Jam, consisting of Eddie Vedder (vocals), Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), Jeff Ament (bass), Mike McCready (lead guitar) and Matt Cameron (drums), is so much more than simply “a band” was inducted, on their first shot as nominees, into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame’s 32nd Class.
Walking through the doors of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, those wearing Pearl Jam garb far outnumbered those in formalwear. While this was a formal event for those at the tables on the floor, the true music lovers and fans were surrounding their icons throughout the arena. It was clear this was Pearl Jam’s night.
As Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner opened the ceremony, he introduced the evening’s inductees. Each artist and band received cheers as Wenner described their accomplishments and accolades. Then he announced Pearl Jam. Actually, he did not even speak the band’s name; their picture appeared on the gigantic screens and the entire Barclays Center crowd was on its feet – cheering, whistling, applauding and screaming. The resulting 5-minute standing ovation of deafening proportions seemed to simultaneously embarrass and overwhelm the guys. After the crowd took their seats, Wenner did not even read his prepared introduction. Who could blame him? The welcome from the crowd of tens of thousands had more impact and spoke volumes of Pearl Jam’s inclusion in this year’s group of prestigious, iconic musicians.
Inducted last (but certainly not least), a montage of clips from Pearl Jam: Twenty, the critically-acclaimed rock documentary by Cameron Crowe played on the screens, intermixed with photos and videos from recent shows, introduced the band. Friend and fan David Letterman (a replacement for original inductor Neil Young who was ill) spoke from the heart of his admiration and adoration of the band.
“I know them as friends as well as cultural icons,” Letterman said. He highlighted their fight against Ticketmaster (whom he referred to as “blood-sucking beady-eyed weasels”); their continued recognition of injustices and activism; and their continued fight for human rights, the environment, and poverty. “They wouldn’t let it wash over them. They would stand up and react, even if it meant risking their careers,” he explained.
Letterman spoke of their music, and how it united generations. How a B-Side (“Yellow Ledbetter”) became an anthem 25 years later, and “a musical icon.” As cameras panned Eddie, Mike, Stone, Jeff, and Matt, the look on their faces was one of true graciousness.
Graciousness was a ribbon weaving through the entire evening, from inductors to inductees. Letterman brought his own personal anecdote to his speech, regaling the audience with the tae of when he had three shows left. He spoke of Eddie Vedder giving him a personalized guitar for his son, Harry, with an accompanying letter. The guitar and letter were on the stage. Letterman read the letter, which said, in part “Playing guitar is kinda like fishing – fishing for songs.” As his voice broke, he concluded “Personally, this is the most important reason they are in the Hall Of Fame.”
Eddie, Stone, Jeff, Mike and Matt took the stage, all dapperly dressed. Stone spoke first, eloquently stating: “Maybe the most important reason we came here tonight isn’t to receive this honor, but to honor others. Those who fought for us, cared for us, gave us perspective, made phone calls, hung lighting rigs, bought thousands of tambourines, changed hundreds of strings. You make us feel genuinely happy.” Stone continued his thanks to the artists who create their tour posters, and “more importantly, to our fan club. Your belief carried us through the times we didn’t believe in ourselves.”
Those thoughts were echoed by former drummer Dave Krusen, who mentioned 10Club, Pearl Jam’s fan club, and The “Jamily” – a moniker given by Gossard – and credited Pearl Jam with saving his life.
As fans stood through all of the speeches, Matt called thanked them for “the lifeblood you give to our art form – rock and roll.” Mike repeated this sentiment, telling the fans that they keep him going. He also gave a shout to Duff McKagen, who had told him “You guys [Pearl Jam] did it right.”
The most heartfelt words came from Jeff and Eddie. Jeff, the multifaceted artist, spoke of when he moved to Seattle in 1983, looking for his tribe. A tribe of fellow artists and musicians. Going to indie punk shows with Stone led to this, he said. “Now I get to travel and meet other people and minds all over the world. That’s a pretty great fucking life. This is for every small town kid who has a dream.”
Eddie’s turn at the microphone turned, of course, a bit political. He spoke of how we, as humans, are constantly evolving and have a lot of evolving to do. “It’s evolution, baby,” he crooned. His jabs at President Donald Trump were evident – “Climate change is real. This is not fake news.” But he quickly switched topics to his side of meeting with David Letterman, the people he cares about. He thanked all of the Pearl Jam drummers – Jack Irons, Dave Abruzzesse, Dave Krusen, Matt Chamberlain, and “for the past 15, 16, 17 years, Matt Cameron. You enabled us not just to survive, but to thrive.”
Pearl Jam band members are always a gracious group, thankful to their fans, constantly in awe of how far they’ve come. They remember the tough times, when they were sleeping in the van that also held their handmade merch in the early days of Mookie Blaylock. The snapshots they still have from their first Lollapalooza. The fact that, “if it weren’t for everyone coming to the shows, we wouldn’t be here. We knew we were better together than apart. You forged this brotherhood.”
In a true sign of grace and thanks, Eddie closed with this memorable line:
“I feel we’re about halfway there to deserving this accolade. But this is encouraging. And I’m very, very grateful.”
Pearl Jam turned the Barclays Center into a rocking 4-song concert stop. Alive featured Dave Krusen on drums, Eddie jumping around in his tux, and Mike leaving the stage and running through the audience during his solo. After the song, Eddie gave a nod to Michael J. Fox, sitting in the crowd, who mentioned “this next song in your book.” Cue Given To Fly with Matt back behind the drum kit. 10Club members were evident in the audience as they did all the audience participation movements. The arena seemed to be shaking with the thousands of bodies dancing and singing.
As the performance closed with Betterman, the crowd started singing the first verse. Eddie let it go on for almost the entire verse but then shushed the crowd to introduce, on the B3, Boom Gaspar. Shouts of “BOOOOOOOOM” (also typical of a Pearl Jam concert) echoed throughout Barclays. Betterman rocked the crowd, including those in eveningwear on the floor. Eddie ended it with the “Save It For Later” tag and multiple guitar windmills. Vedder in a tuxedo is still Vedder.
As the stage was reset for the All-Star Jam, members of Rush, Yes, Journey, and Dhani Harrison (George Harrison’s son) took the stage. Eddie shouted “This is for Uncle Neil!” and launched into Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World.
HBO will air the induction ceremony on April 29th.