Neil Young/Pearl Jam
June 28, 1993
At first glance, it seemed a classic generation-gap bill. On the one hand, there was Pearl Jam, hard-edge champions of the Seattle sound whose fans immediately set up a mosh pit in front of the stage; on the other, there was Neil Young, an old-fashioned singer/songwriter whose decision to use Booker T. & the MG's as his backing band seemed only to underscore his elder-statesman status.
Yet for all the obvious disparities, what came across most vividly in this pairing were the similarities – the strong sense of narrative in the songs, the iconoclastic sense of style, the close attention paid to pacing and dynamics. And when the two acts finally joined forces for a show-closing rendition of "Rockin' in the Free World," it seemed almost a match made in heaven.
Pearl Jam got into gear quickly, opening their set with a briskly chugging rendition of "Even Flow" that immediately set the crowd in motion. With its dark verse and keening chorus, it seemed the perfect vehicle for Eddie Vedder to establish his presence and lay claim to the audience. Once that foundation was in place, Vedder had no problem building upon it, drawing the listeners ever closer as he moved from the impassioned urgency of "Don't Go Out There" to the cathartic conclusion of "Jeremy."
Yet as in control as Vedder seemed at the front of the band, it was the rhythm section that ultimately called the shots. Because despite its grunge-rock reputation, Pearl Jam are a groove band at heart, deriving their energy from the interplay between rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament and drummer Dave Abbruzzese. And that was as true of moody midtempo numbers like "Black" as it was of full-throttle rockers like "Porch."
Of course, it would be ridiculous to expect any band to outgroove an outfit like Booker T. & the MG's – even if they are backing a singer as notoriously unfunky as Neil Young. Young poked fun at the pairing throughout, opening with a sly, straight-faced reading of "Mr. Soul" and including "Dock of the Bay" in the encores (what a treat to hear it sung by a white guy content to sound that way).
But it didn't take long before the chemistry between the two became evident. What Booker T. and company brought to Young's music wasn't just a deeper sense of rhythm but an almost instinctive understanding of when to push a performer and when to lie back. "This Note's for You," for example, sizzled over guest drummer Jim Keltner's fatback pulse, lending extra authenticity to the tune's stylized blues licks, while an encore rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" was so incendiary that one of the PA cabinets was actually in flames at the song's end. Yet Booker T.'s chirping B-3 rendered their arrangement of "Harvest Moon" more evanescent than the original, and when Young sat at his piano for a heartbreaking run through "I Believe in You," the rhythm work was understated enough to present the illusion of a solo performance.
This story is from the September 2nd, 1993 issue of Rolling Stone.