The world’s most famous Who fan, Eddie Vedder, was not feeling particularly cocky as Pearl Jam opened for his idols at a sold-out $400-a-ticket charity show. “It takes a lot of guts to come onstage,” he said, “when you know a guy named Pete Townshend is gonna come out later and wipe it with you.”
But there was no reason for Vedder to apologize, as Pearl Jam roared through a brisk set that encompassed singalong favorites such as “Better Man” and “Last Kiss,” a handful of tunes from their forthcoming album, Riot Act, and a garage-soul cover of the minor Motown hit “Leaving Here,” first covered by Townshend and company in their incarnation as Mod-era rockers the High Numbers.
Then the decimated but still proud Who got down to business, less adventurous than Pearl Jam but more bullish. With John Entwistle recently joining the late Keith Moon on the permanent casualty list, Townshend and Roger Daltrey simply turned it up a notch to compensate. The guitarist windmilled power chords and machine-gunned clusters of notes, blazing new ground in standards such as “5:15,” “Eminence Front” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” Daltrey brayed not just with conviction but with a newfound sense of nuance, transforming “The Kids Are Alright” into a folk-rock hymn and investing “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” a 1971 B side, with a countryish lilt.
Faced with impossible legacies, the new rhythm section held its own. Pino Palladino lacks Entwistle’s Godzilla-like swagger on bass, but he stood his ground in the face of Townshend’s blitz, and though drummer Zak Starkey can’t match Moon’s mania, his heavy volleys proved to be the guitarist’s most reliable foil. With Pearl Jam still at the top of their game and the Who refusing to just fade away, a Quadrophenia-style summit between the punk (Vedder) and the godfather (Townshend) would have been the night’s perfect capper. Maybe next time.
This story is from the October 31st, 2002 issue of Rolling Stone.