Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Pearl Jam's Rock Hall Ceremony: A Review
On of our friends on the Red Mosquito Forum, durdencommatyler, made it out to Brooklyn for Pearl Jam's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. With many thanks and much enthusiasm, we share his review below.
I almost didn’t go. I didn’t have a ticket and all efforts to procure one had fallen through. I had one card up my sleeve but it would be a pain in the ass to play. What was the point? Was it even going to be worth the effort? It would’ve been easy to go home, spin some records, and hunt for a decent live stream of the event online.
As chance or fate (whichever you prefer) would have it, the playlist I was listening to on my commute switched songs just as the B train pulled out of the Dekalb Avenue stop. “Life Wasted” come blaring on the headphones. What was I thinking? This was a literal ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity. I couldn’t retreat into comfy pajama pants and too many tacos. Leave that for next Friday night when history wasn’t being made a mile down the road from my apartment. I decided to get off at the next stop: Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center. You only live once, right?
I was in my seat before the event began. Immediately, I knew I’d made the right decision. Pearl Jam is, was, and has always been the most important and influential band in my life. And as I walked through the doors into the Barclays Center I could see I was with my people. Everywhere, people of all ages, were decked out in Pearl Jam gear. A woman in her sixties was wearing a pantsuit; under the blazer was a vintage ‘Stickman’ shirt. There was a pre-teen proudly sporting a Lightning Bolt logo. A middle-aged man was wearing a shirt he’d clearly made himself: red with a ‘PJ’ drawn with black marker inside an upside down triangle: a clear reference to both Superman and Yield. Seven bands/artist were being honored but the bell of the ball was Pearl Jam. The people were here to see them. To see their band anointed and installed, once and for all, amongst the greatest.
Say what you want about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Maybe it’s cheesy. Maybe it’s completely stupid. Maybe it’s political or biased or hollow. Didn’t one of the evening’s inductees once pontificate publically about the silliness of judging and awarding art? The thing is though... this ceremony wasn’t about judging art at all. It wasn’t about an award. It was about celebration. Maybe art shouldn’t be adjudicated. But it deserves to be celebrated. Absolutely. Art is a celebration of the world around us as much as it’s a reflection. It’s an honor as much as it’s a question. The notion of an artistic “Hall of Fame” might seem absurd but gathering to dance and sing and celebrate music that has affected millions of people, that is anything but absurd. Communion and community are vital components. And for fans like me the chance to say “thank you” to a group of artists that has affected, shaped, challenged worldviews, molded, given joy, eased heartbreak, been part of a wedding or maybe even a funeral... for us, this opportunity was necessary. You could see on the faces in the crowd, hear in the performances on stage, feel it radiating from all directions: this really fucking meant something.
The evening began with a tribute to the late Chuck Berry -- often called ‘The Father of Rock and Roll.’ There was no more fitting way to begin than ELO’s blistering cover of “Rollover Beethoven.” I teared up for the first time because it was hitting me right across the face: so many people, so many eras, so many phases of rock and roll, and all of them were connected. Clear lines of history were drawn, and profound dots connected. Before the night was over we’d see modern rock, grunge rock, 70’s psychedelic rock, 60’s folk rock, 90’s rap, soul music, and then there was Nigel Rodgers to fill in all the gaps: a man who has performed or produced every other possible incarnation of rock and roll music. It was all there. And so were we.
David Letterman’s induction speech exceeded expectations. It was funny (of course) but it was also touching. He delivered a potent message about the importance of live music in one’s life and warned against taking that joy for granted. I don’t seek out live music as much as I used to and this was a tender reminder of why I fell in love with Pearl Jam to being with. It was also another reminder of why we were all there that night. I was touched by the letter Ed wrote to David’s son and that David felt comfortable sharing that letter with the crowd. But my favorite part of the speech was Letterman’s jab and Ticketmaster. The fact that all of us went through Ticketmaster to get into that room wasn’t lost on any of us and I’m thrilled that the elephant in the room got called out. I really miss David Letterman.
Bar far, the best part of the band’s acceptance speeches was how they combined to echo the spirit and history that permeated the entire evening. We saw each and every side of Pearl Jam through the years. Stone was funny and strange and thanked all those people behind the scenes, in offices, at home, and on the road who make the Pearl Jam experience so wonderful and unique. It was the inclusive side of Pearl Jam; the "Jamily" side of Pearl Jam. Krusen was shy and emotional, a man of few words but huge feelings. It was the grateful side of Pearl Jam. Mike (who managed to get the loudest and longest ovation of any single member of the band) spoke to the fans and to the history of himself and how it was inseparable from that of the band. It was the fan-friendly, fan-first side of Pearl Jam. Jeff (clearly the best dressed) seemed in awe of the entire night. He spoke of those who came before and those still left behind. I loved how he managed to mention other (perhaps more worthy in his mind) bands that were not in the Hall of Fame yet. It was the humble side of Pearl Jam. Matt Cameron kept the beat: short and sweet, in and out. The loose and pliable side of Pearl Jam. And then there was Eddie Vedder.
At the beginning of the ceremony when all the artists being honored were introduced, the camera panned to Ed. The crowd went ballistic. Eddie’s name was chanted from the rafters. The applause was deafening. The rumble went on for what had to be at least a full minute. Eddie Vedder the Rock God.
During his speech, we got all sides of Eddie Vedder –- not just Rock and Roll Ed. We saw the gas station attendant, the surfer, the music fan, the father, the husband, the band leader. We got it all. And once again we were reminded why Eddie Vedder is the dynamic and exhilarating front man that he is: Eddie Vedder finds a way to connect with every single heart in the room.
Ed began as though he were still that shy, reluctant kid back during those first three records. He voice was muted, his speech staccato. He didn’t look at the crowd much. There was a sly comment about evolution and how far we still have to go. Clearly, this was a reference to the idea of the ceremony itself, the strange need to archive artistic achievement in buildings and brass. We all smiled, reminded of that brash idiot on stage at the Grammy’s in 1996. I half expected him to flip us all off.
Deftly, Ed shifted gears into a space he’s always seemed more comfortable habituating: Ed the activist. Between jabs at the man currently taking up space in the Oval Office and lectures about climate change, Eddie looked invigorated. I started to wonder if they had another protest album in them. He looked ready to fight, ready to get back out there and incite. I had chills. I could feel something old and rusty coming to life inside. And I was hopeful. And there were tears in my eyes again.
Not long ago I wrote that I could imagine a world in which Lightning Bolt was Pearl Jam’s final studio album but they carried on as a live act for years to come. Perhaps in that world, we’d get new box sets and reissues, maybe even one or two more b-side/rarities collections. At the time I believed that I was okay with such a world. I’m not okay with it anymore. There is still life left in this band. The fire is there and it’s ready to be stoked. I’m not ready to lose them. Not yet. And I don’t think they’re ready either.
Ed went on for a long time. He showed several more versions of himself that we’ve gotten to know over the years. There were laughs. There were a few grimaces. I was pleased that he complimented Dave Abbruzzese’s skills as a drummer. Call it polite, call it a P.R. move if you want to, but he didn’t have to say anything. It’s easy to forget sometimes how gracious and giving Eddie Vedder can be, even when we’ve just been reminded by someone like David Letterman. Eddie Vedder is a lot of people. Like Whitman, he contains multitudes. Maybe some of them are uglier than others but they are all a part of who he is and he’s brought each of them to the band at one time or another. All of them were being celebrated and offered an opportunity to speak.
Ed closed with the newest version of himself. The one that probably divides fans more than any other. The ‘Just Breathe’ and ‘Future Days’ Ed. He was honest and gooey and full. He thanked his wife and his children and his mother. Jill was a weepy mess -- almost as bad as I was. It was tender and for some reason I felt proud. I don’t know anyone in Pearl Jam personally. We’ve never met. But as a group they have affected the way I think and feel and see the world. So much of who I am belongs to their music and their ideology, even when it was misplaced. You’re damn right I was proud of them. Proud of them for being men and fathers and husbands and for being inducted into the freaking Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And for embracing it completely.
The band performed three songs. Dave Krusen joined them on drums for Alive. It was the first time the original line-up had played together in something like twenty-one years. It was immaculate. Easily the best version of Alive I’ve seen. I don’t imagine it’ll be topped. The band were tight. Ed sounded great. The tempo was perfect. It was a highlight of the evening and of my concert-going career.
Given to Fly was dedicated to Michael J. Fox –- who was in attendance. I’ve long said that Given to Fly was a great song but that it never really moved me the way it did other fans. I’ve even gone so far as to call it slightly overrated. Perhaps it was my own nostalgia and sentimentality, or perhaps it was really that the band was just feeling, I don’t know, but I’ll never say Given to Fly is overrated again. I got it Friday night. Sitting in that room, watching myriad fans of all ages and genders and backgrounds throw their arms in the air and sing out with shameless joy... it was potent. The music lifted and carried me away. The intent of the song rang true for the first time. It was a special moment, one I’ll treasure and keep with me as long as I can. I’m not sure what made the energy so much different for me this time than at other Pearl Jam shows I’ve attended. Probably, it was the weight of the event. Probably, I was swept up in all that glitz and splendor. But I don’t care if it was artificial. I felt it then and there. For me, it was real. And once again, Pearl Jam changed the orientation of my insides.
Better Man was stellar as always. The crowd sang the first verse before Ed was ready. He had to laugh and shake off the moment. After a quick little speech he began the song again, singing the first verse over by himself. It was the first time I’ve heard Eddie sing those lines in years. Usually the crowd sings over him, drowns him out. Or he lets the room have that verse. It was oddly emotional to hear him sing those words. Knowing how hard Ed fought to keep that song buried. Seeing how the song wouldn’t let him. It’s pretty wonderful when you stop and think about it. The lift, the anthemic qualities of the song are a large portion of its power, but in that moment I would have loved to hear Ed perform the entire song solo. But in an evening drenched in special moments, I’ll gladly sacrifice that one pet desire.
The all-star jam of Neil Young’s Rocking In the Free World (complete with shout out to “Uncle Neil,” of course) was full of piss and vinegar and wild energy. But the best part for me was seeing Jack Irons on stage. It was brief and he was only side-kicking Cameron but man what a rush that was. I missed seeing Jack perform with the band back during those brief tours in the mid-90’s. It was just one more cherry to top a mountain of cherries on top of the two ton sundae that was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Pearl Jam delivered. The evening exceeded my wildest expectations. There were other, non-Pearl Jam highlights: Joan Baez being the biggest and brightest. Her speech was powerful and artful. Her playing was mesmerizing. Watching her getting down and super funky during the Tupac tribute set (I wonder if this was caught by the HBO cameras; I hope it’s on the broadcast because live it made me melt with glee) was fantastic: a human moment, one pioneer to another, across decades and barriers. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. The Tupac induction was honest and moving. Seeing Steve Perry with Journey again brought a tear to my eye, though he didn’t perform with them. His presence was enough. Niles Rodgers was overtaken by emotion during his speech. It was a beautiful thing. This man is so talented. He’s played with and/or produced anyone who is anyone in the music industry. The man is a living legend. And he was bent with emotion as he expressed his gratitude. Don’t you dare tell me the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame doesn’t mean anything.
All in all, the experience was incredible: emotional and surreal. One of the greatest nights of my life. To some degree, it sucked that I went alone. It would have been nice to share the evening with close friends. However, in another, more earnest and somber way, it was fitting. A lot of my Pearl Jam experience has been between me and my headphones: listening, writing, thinking, absorbing. Alone. Allowing myself to have whatever experience I deserved without worrying about anyone else or how they were reacting was liberating. That ceremony was the culmination of twenty-six years of the best parts of my artist life. It was beautiful and humbling. And I can’t believe I almost didn’t bother trying to go.