Voters For Choice Benefit: Pearl Jam, Neil Young, L7 and Lisa Germano

Pearl Jam's first performance since adding new drummer Jack Irons proved they might be the best band on the planet

Neil Young and Eddie Vedder
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
Neil Young and Eddie Vedder
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Washington
D.A.R. Constitution Hall
Jan. 14, 1995

Noting that some fans were still a little angry about the dismissal of drummer Dave Abbruzzese, Eddie Vedder figured it was tune to set the record straight "Jack Irons saved the life of this band," he said, referring to Pearl Jam's new drummer. "So thank him."

That my seem a tad overdramatic in print, but after catching Pearl Jam's first public appearance since taking on Ticketmaster last summer, it's easy to see what Vedder meant. With Irons in the rhythm section, Pearl Jam didn't just sound better than they had with Abbruzzese – they sounded better than almost any band on earth. In fact, by the time Neil Young ambled onstage to join in on the final encore, it was hard to shake the sense that we were witnessing a singular evening.

The circumstances probably helped. Pearl Jam were there to support Voters for Choice, the pro-choice political committee founded by feminist Gloria Steinem, and had invited Young, L7 and Lisa Germano to join in staging a pair of benefits. Because the concerts were not for profit, Pearl Jam were able to bypass Ticketmaster and sell tickets by postcard lottery; some 175,000 requests were received for the 6,000 seats available.

Naturally, reproductive fights was a recurrent theme throughout the evening. Vedder brought topicality to "Daughter" by ending it with the refrain "My body's nobody's but mine/You have your own body/Let me have mine." Jennifer Finch put it more bluntly during L7's set, at one point instructing the audience to 'stick your hand down your pants. And remember," she said, "that's yours, and nobody can fucking tell you what to do with it."

That sort of gesture was par for the course for L7, whose energy level was so high that it made Young's performance with Crazy Horse seem almost soporific by comparison. But unlike L7, for whom volume was just another component in their aural juggernaut, Young seemed to turn the implicit aggression of overdriven amps inside out to reveal the soothing core of that ear-searing sound. Although Young's set ranged from the acoustic beauty of "I Am a Child" to the surly crunch of "Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)," its most affecting moments came when he and Crazy Horse stretched out and let the amplifiers roar, as with the great, rolling swirls of sound in "Cortez the Killer" or the ambling solos and oddly soothing feedback that fueled "Change Your Mind."

Good as Young was, though, this was dearly Pearl Jam's night. From the slow-building intensity of "Release" to the breathtaking abandon of "Blood," Pearl Jam performed with an almost uncanny degree of unity, at times playing as if the five of them had become a single organism. "Deep" found the band playing with such freedom and power that the audience couldn't help getting swept up in its wake, while "Go" surged along with such vigor that the guitar hook seemed to leap from the speakers like a 3-D picture. Even better, Pearl Jam were wholly convincing regardless of what musical effect they attempted, be it the live fade at the end of "Corduroy," the unrelenting drive of "Rearviewmirror" or the hushed intensity of "Indifference."

Vedder sang beautifully throughout the evening, bringing a vivid sense of narrative and character to "Daughter" and a bracing abandon to "Blood." But as usual, the band's real strength built from the bottom up. Inspired by Irons' supple pulse, bassist Jeff Ament contributed a surprising soulfulness to "Not for You," bringing a sly sense of funk to its otherwise static central riff. "Tremor Christ," by contrast, pulled most of its drama from the relationship between the liquid momentum of the bass and drums and the angularity of Stone Gossard's and Mike McCready's guitar lines. Add in the giddy overdrive of "Spin the Black Circle," and Pearl Jam presented a sound so complete, so compelling and so intoxicating that it could turn any fan into a fanatic.

This story is from the March 9th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 703: March 9, 1995