Pearl Jam scored a bunch of headlines this week for singing a bit of “Let It Go” at a recent show in Italy. It was hardly their first time digging out a surprising cover over the past two decades, but they’ve rarely been as committed to tackling another band’s work as they were on Halloween of 2009, when they dressed up like Devo and played “Whip It” at a show in Philadelphia.
It was a particularly bizarre night in Philly. Game 3 of the World Series was being held directly next door at Citizens Bank Park, and since it was Halloween many people at both events were wearing costumes. The Pearl Jam show was also the final public event staged at the Spectrum, and they closed out the legendary arena with marathon 41-song set packed full of super obscurities.
The group came onstage dressed in full Devo gear at the beginning of the second encore. “I think that Ed decided we were going to do that,” Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard told Rolling Stone in 2009. “We talked about it a month ago and it didn’t really sink in. When I knew we were going to do it and I listened to that song I really started thinking about the impact of Devo. They mean so much to us and it really was a salute to them.”
Gossard did admit he was a little surprised that Vedder decided to tackle the song. “If you thought back to Pearl Jam ten years ago, you wouldn’t immediately think we’d be celebrating Devo,” he said. “You wouldn’t have heard we even liked that band, but everyone in this band was affected by that band. In my perspective, their place in Western pop-music history is pretty clear. They broke down a real barrier of what is typical rock and what you can do within the framework of rock and how you can challenge convention.”
At the time of the interview, Gossard had a crystal-clear memory of getting suited up as Devo before the encore. “I was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got about ten more songs to go. I’m pretty hot and I know Ed is three-times hotter than me and Matt Cameron is three-times hotter than him. And now we’re putting on suits that are absolutely the most thick plastic, absolutely not breathing one bit.’ But it was exciting. I was excited to see the next day that people had been YouTubing it. It was taken from about twenty rows back, but you can still capture the energy of the room.”
Mike McCready channeled Devo’s signature robot-like moves during the performance. “I wasn’t able to do that,” Gossard said. “I knew if I started moving around, it would be detrimental to the arrangement. I was completely still just trying to get through the freakin’ song.”