Eddie Vedder teamed up with Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra for a rousing, fitting performance of Pearl Jam‘s “Better Man” on The Late Show Monday night as David Letterman began his final three-night stand as host.
As Letterman noted, Vedder has taken the Ed Sullivan Theater stage numerous times since Pearl Jam first appeared on The Late Show in 1996, even once trying his hand at comedy (“I think that will probably be the highlight of the man’s career,” Letterman cracked). Vedder’s riveting performance on Monday, however, undoubtedly earned a spot in Late Show lore.
The song began simply, with Shaffer poking at his piano and Vedder crooning the opening lines to the Vitalogy cut. The pace soon quickened as Shaffer jumped to organ, with the CBS Orchestra joining in and Vedder attacking his guitar with so much zeal, he popped a string halfway through the song. Still, the frontman continued furiously, delivering a Pete Townshend windmill for good measure as “Better Man” arrived at its thrilling end, buoyed by a bombastic solo from CBS Orchestra guitarist Sid McGinnis.
Letterman’s tenure on The Late Show ends on Wednesday, May 20th. Along with Vedder’s performance, Monday night’s episode featured Letterman previewing his post-host life — chatting up post office clerks and pricing hummingbird feeders at Home Depot — a Top Ten list delivered by Shaffer and announcer Alan Kalter, and guest Tom Hanks.
Despite all the fireworks and fanfare surrounding his departure, Letterman recently admitted to Rolling Stone he’s ready for the end. “As Regis used to say, ‘I don’t like going down memory lane’ — and I’m afraid that’s what this is all about,” Letterman said of his final episodes. “After we get through with it, then I’ll sit back and see what we’ve done. But for now, I just want it to be over with.”