Pearl Jam and Neil Young
Jammin' with Neil
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Release "Time Fades Away"
Pearl Jam and Neil Young have been collaborating since at least 1992 when Pearl Jam and Neil played separately at the Bob Dylan tribute ("BobFest") at Madison Square Garden in New York City on October 16. It is believed that this is when Neil and Eddie Vedder first met and possibly Neil invited Pearl Jam to play at the Bridge School Benefit concert. on 11/1/92.
A few weeks later Pearl Jam would play the Bridge School concert and mark the beginning of a long and productive relationship. Since their initial meeting, Pearl Jam's music has been heavily influenced by Neil Young as demonstrated by their numerous covers of Young songs. For example, Pearl Jam has covered "Rockin In The Free World" over 100 times, often as final encores, according to the Pearl Jam fan site Lukin.
A year later, Neil would join Pearl Jam onstage at the MTV Music Awards on 9/2/93 to play an incendiary Rockin in The Free World. Critics would call the onstage interplay the highlight of an otherwise lackluster affair. The attention gained from "BobFest" and playing with Pearl Jam would introduce Neil to a new generation of admirers.
It is likely that during this period that Young invited Eddie Vedder to induct him into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame the following year.
For Neil's induction speech, Eddie Vedder said (from Five Horizons):
And I think I'm gonna have to say that I don't know if there's been another artist that has been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame to commemorate a career that is still as vital as he is today. Some of his best songs were on his last record."
Several weeks later, Neil would return the favor and perform at the Voters For Choice Benefit Concerts in Washington, DC.
Neil went on to rescue a PJ show in San Francisco at the Polo Field on June 24, 1995 when Eddie fell sick after 3 songs.
The only recording Neil and Pearl Jam did together was the Mirror Ball and Merkin Ball albums. (The recording sessions and tour are covered in detail below. To play and listen to a MP3 sample from Neil Young Mirror Ball and Pearl Jam's Merkin Ball.)
From New Musical Express article "Reflective Glory" (07/15/95) by Steve Sutherland & Kevin Cummins on the aftermath of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain's suicide:
Young says he met the band, "two or three years ago on tour" and immediately established a rapport. "It wasn't that they were good, I could relate to what I would do if I was playing with them. And I could see myself doing it. The music worked. It had this drive. There's this big machine in there. I like that power."
Pearl Jam, like many of their contemporaries, were already covering Neil Young songs in their live set when they met him. But it was only after the shared trauma of Cobain's suicide that they teamed up.
Initially, Young invited Pearl Jam to join his annual Bridge School Benefit Concert last year and marked the occasion by reintroducing the "burn out" song 'Hey Hey My My (Out Of The Blue)' into his set despite reports that he would never play the song again. Poignantly placed the set just after 'Sleeps With Angels', Young's requiem for Kurt Cobain, it was a symbolic statement of his intent to reclaim rock music from the darkness. Working with Pearl Jam on "Mirror Ball" can be taken as his next regenerative step."
The NME article continues with this observation:
'I think becoming cynical is the first step of reaction,' he says of the much - publicized slacker / grunge ethos. 'But, after that, you can only be cynical for so long, then you move on. It's not that being cynical is not good because it's an expression of this pessimistic thing. It's good to get that out - this is how you feel, then fine, you gotta say that. Better that than carry it around. You might as well unload it. But then, after you've got that out, OK, great, now what's next? That's where Pearl Jam is going and it's good.' "
On recording Mirror Ball with Pearl Jam, Young said in the NME interview:
The beauty of the record, for me, the thing that really gives it a depth, is who's playing and when. Where they decide to play is so great and shows so much more wisdom than their years. You see, there was no direction. There was not one word spoken to do with, y'know, 'You play here, you play there, let's do this, let's do that.' Nothin', not one word. We just started off, I'd play a little bit on the guitar and show them the changes and then play it and sing it and by the fourth time, it was over."
From the book "Shakey", Neil Young's biography, by Jimmy McDonough:
'The music had a consistency level that was staggering,' said Elliot Roberts, Young's manager. 'One of the greatest tours we ever had in our whole lives. Neil got off every fuckin' night.'
Dean Stockwell remembers the show in Dublin, which was filmed by Jim Sheridan but remains unreleased. 'I'll never forget, before they went out to do the encore – there was a ladder leading up to the stage area. Neil started up the ladder, turned back, and the members of Pearl Jam came up to him. They all reached out, met their hands together in the center, like a high school basketball team – rocked them up and down and said, 'Yeah, let's go!'' Stockwell laughed. 'I said, 'Wait a second, what the hell is this? This guy is fifty and he's got these kids goin' out there like a team.' It's not just musical respect for him, it's love.'"
From a Neil Young interview in MOJO Magazine with Nick Kent:
A. The way most people seem to regard Eddie - it's a little out of perspective. No matter what he says, it all gets taken down and quoted back at him. Who else do you know who's his age and going through the things he's going through because he just wants to make music for a living and travel around a bit? Hopefully though, he'll get used to it. People will get used to him being around and they'll leave him alone a little more.
Recording Mirror Ball was like audio verite, just a snapshot of what's happening. Sometimes I didn't know who was playing. I was just conscious of this big smouldering mass of sound.
The whole record was recorded in four days and all the songs, barring Song X and Act Of Love, were written in that four day stretch. I played Act Of Love with Crazy Horse in January at The Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame. Then, the following night, I played it with Pearl Jam at a Pro-Choice benefit concert and the version was so powerful I decided there and then to record it with them as soon as possible. On a purely musical level, this is the first time I've been in a band with three potential lead guitarists since The Buffalo Springfield. Plus there's Jack Irons, their drummer, who was just unbelievable. He just played his ass off on every take at every session. I can't say enough good things about him.
I didn't even think about recording a whole album when we went in to cut Act of Love. I had two days with Pearl Jam initially. Two days and just two songs - that wasn't enough for me so I had five written by the time I went in. Recorded five of them, left one out. Then I came back for another two-day session with two more new songs. Plus I re-recorded the fifth one from the first session again. Then the day after that, I wrote another two new songs. Throw Your Weapons Down - maybe. Maybe not, tho' there's a large part of making this new album that's pretty foggy... (laughs)
From Musician Magazine , April, 1998, interview with pearl Jam's Jeff Ament:
Mike McCready's equipment destroying conclusion of the MTV Music Awards program "Rockin in The Free World" with Neil is described by James Rotondi in Guitar Player (January 1994):
McCready continues, discussing the 1993 tour with Young and Booker T. & the MG's:
In an interview with Guitar Player, (July 1994):
"To see some low-key veteran go up there and totally rock and have a good time with each other was a very powerful thing" Stone recalls. "It helped us through some pretty intense times." It wasn't just a personal epiphany. The MG's, described by Pearl Jam lead man Mike McCready as "the greatest band in the world," helped introduce the young ensemble to the world of seasoned grooves, what Stone calls "the amazingly deep Neil/Booker T. pocket." It's a rhythmic consciousness that imbues every track one Pearl Jam's Vs., from the scratchy funk-flavored "Animal" to the dub-core crunch of "Rats."
From Spin Magazine article "The Road Less Traveled", Feburary, 1997, by Craig Marks interview with Pearl Jam:
"Singing with Nusrat was pretty heavy," says Vedder. "There was definitely a spiritual element. I saw him warm up once, and I walked out of the room and just broke down. I mean, God, what amazing power and energy."
"And we learned so much from Neil," says McCready.
"Yeah, he's got a really quiet wisdom," says Ament. "He's not beating you over the head with his, um, big book of wisdom."
"I'd never felt, for lack of a better word, as high as when I'd look over and see Neil playing lead on 'Down by the River,'" says McCready.
"We get along like old neighbors when we're in the studio," says Vedder. "It's as comfortable as can be. But when you're on stage playing with Neil, well -- it's one thing to be at the zoo and watch an animal pace around its cage. It's another to be in the cage with him."
At a concert at The Catalyst Club in Santa Cruz, CA (11/12/97), just before the encore of "Immortality", Eddie Vedder calls Neil Young on a cellphone and has the crowd sing him "Happy Birthday" (his 51st). Vedder had the audience make "quacking" sounds and said something like when Neil plays at The Catalyst it's billed as "The Ducks". Instead of applauding, the audience has to quack. No word on Neil's response.
On September 21, 2001, Eddie Vedder and Neil Young performed together on the 9/11 benefit telecast "America: A Tribute to Heroes" during which they played "Long Road". Neil played the pump organ and sang on backing vocals.
And the tribute to Neil continues. During their 2003 tour, Pearl Jam invariably encored with either "Rockin in the Free World" or "Fuckin' Up". More PJ setlists from 5 Horizons.
Pearl Jam will again play the 17th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert in 2003 for their 6th time, the most of any guest group.
Some cynics said that Neil's pairing with Pearl Jam was a shrewd career move to boost his standing with a younger generation. This was counter argued by those who claimed it was a career move by Pearl Jam to establish legitimacy within the music establishment. It is doubtful that this the arrangement was contrived for ulterior motives than mutaul respect and admiration.
From an interview with Eddie Vedder in Rolling Stone Mag on 5/7/2003:
A: One of the things I picked up from Neil was his writing. He was so aware of what you had to do to write the song when the spark came in. If something hits you, for just a split second, you stop everything, and you complete it. You don't just write it on a napkin and, when you have time, flesh it out. You capture that bit of mercury and solidify it right there. That explains how he can be so prolific.
That's another thing we've learned from Neil -- always push things. We went and saw Neil on one of his last tours. He had [bassist] Duck Dunn and [drummer] Jim Keltner. Jeff and I talked to them, and Jeff said, "It was really in the pocket for some of those songs, in the straight groove." And they said, "No, no, no, don't say that. Neil doesn't want it locked in. He's trying to push it around."
Neil's always pushing the music, pulling it, shoving it. We haven't gotten there yet. But I imagine that's where we're going to end up.
Commenting on upcoming concerts by Neil Young and Pearl Jam in Seattle in June 2003,JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC writes on "Brothers in more ways than grunge":
After Dylan, Young remains the most vibrant icon of the '60s, while Pearl Jam is now an anachronism of Generation X (its 17 million slackers having long since been eclipsed by the 72 million cheerful consumerists of Generation Y). Despite the generational split, their connections run much deeper.
But perhaps the most significant connections between Young and Pearl Jam can be found in their respective followings--both have devoted to near-obsessive fan bases dedicated to trading and collecting bootlegs of their concerts, where they are rewarded with dynamic and ever-changing performances--and in their stubborn insistence on following their own paths in the recording studio, for better or worse. While the artists' disdain for trends and refusal to tailor their music to the demands of the marketplace is admirable on one level, it's hard to deny that it's been a long time since either made an unconditionally, beginning-to-end great album. Young's last unqualified masterpiece was 'Ragged Glory' (1990), while skeptics say it's been all downhill for Pearl Jam since 'Ten' (1991), with every subsequent release, including last year's 'Riot Act,' including at least as much uninspired filler as propulsive rock. "
Outside of Neil's relationship with CSN and Crazy Horse, no other band has had such a long running history.
On Pearl Jam's 1996 album No Code, the song "Off He Goes" makes clear reference to their collaborations with Neil Young on the Mirror Ball album. The lyrics of "Off He Goes" refer to Neil, his unique style, and habit of doing what he pleases:
The reference to a motorbike, unkempt clothes, "his thoughts are too big for his size", and the very "Off He Goes" on his own "Shakey Neil" terms.
Lastly, as pointed out on Rust, scope out the Missing Dog posters on the back of the Pearl Jam set 'Lost Dogs': one dog's name is 'Broken Arrow' and she 'broke her leash on Half Moon Bay Road.
"Call Neil or Pegi.[Young's wife]"
This page highlights the fascinating and loving association between Neil and Pearl Jam.
Jammin' with Neil Young
Friends of Neil Young
Thrashers Blog - A Neil Young Music Blog
A Neil Young Archives