Eddie Vedder can still recall the exact date of his first Who concert: June 18, 1980, at the San Diego Sports Arena. By then, Kenney Jones was drumming in the band, and he "was on fire," Vedder remembers. "These guys changed my whole world. It's a big part of why I get to do what I do."
Vedder and Pearl Jam got a chance to repay that favor on Saturday at the VH1 Honors tribute concert to the Who at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, reaching across the generations to perform two songs from the Who's 1973 concept album Quadrophenia. Following sets by the Foo Fighters (who covered "Young Man Blues" and "Bargain"), Flaming Lips (who performed a Tommy medley that included "Pinball Wizard" and "Sparks" and Wayne Coyne's signature bubble) as well as from Incubus ("I Can See for Miles" and "I Can't Explain") and Tenacious D ("Squeeze Box"), Sean Penn introduced Pearl Jam, who erupted with "The Real Me" and a soaring, emotional reading of "Love, Reign O'er Me," as a string section swelled with Vedder's Daltrey-like wail.
Pearl Jam has frequently included Who songs (including "Baba O'Riley") in their live shows. "I came out all the better for it," says Vedder, standing outside the venue after a dress rehearsal, several Who buttons pinned to his olive-green army shirt. "That time was almost like a peak for rock & roll bands. The arrangements and the musical structures and the maturity really reached a high level. That's why this is good — there is a potential for reinvigorating people's interest in the Who, because we're getting to the point now where [younger listeners] might have missed them. I don't hear that use of instrumentation and even the natural approach to musicianship in some of the newer bands."
For those performing at the tribute, it has been a chance to closely dissect "songs that you've heard literally 2-or-3,000 times," says Vedder. "That's been a cool part of the exercise, to get in there. You wouldn't normally have the excuse to do that."
For complete coverage of VH1 Rock Honors, check back at rocknrolldiary.com on Thursday July 17th. Also look for Rolling Stone correspondent Jenny Eliscu on VH1's broadcast at 9 PM ET this Thursday.