Pearl Jam and Neil Young

Polo Field, San Francisco, CA - June 24, 1995


Neil Young News

  5. Pearl Jam and Neil Young at Polo Field June 24, 1995.


    ATN special correspondent Michael Goldberg reports: 11:42 AM. Pearl Jam's Monkey Wrench radio (88.1 FM) is blasting out Seattle punk. "Live 105 say they are broadcasting live from the Pearl Jam show," says the DJ. "They are nothing but a bunch of motherfucking liers."


       A skull and crossbones pirates flag is blowing in the wind above the
       white sound tent located on the Polo Field in San Francisco where the
       show will begin shortly.
       It is an amazing site, watching fans streaming onto the Polo Field
       until every square inch is covered with people. The crowd is,
       naturally, young. Lots of guys with no shirts; lots of women in
       bikinis. Lots of tattoos, like the one of a dragon on the guy sitting
       about 6 yards away from me. Backwards baseball hats, shaved heads, a
       woman with a t-shirt that reads: "Birth School Metallica Death." A guy
       with "O. J.'s Guilty" written across his chest.
       It is an amazingly goodnatured, friendly crowd. Strangers striking up
       conversations everywhere.
       Scalpers were having a hell of a time selling their Pearl Jam tickets,
       which I was happy to see. Apparently several 1000 tickets had been
       held back for the purpose of selling on the day of the show, thus
       killing the demand for scalped tickets. Cool.


    ATN special correspondent Michael Goldberg reports: 2:05 PM. Now what transpired next is beyond weird. Pearl Jam took the stage. Eddie wearing a grey t-shirt and brown pants looked OK. They went right into "Last Exit." They were rockin' like crazy. It was as if electricity was shooting off the stage, like wave upon wave of the loudest noise I'd ever heard. The band churning up there like a fuckin' rock 'n' roll machine. On the field, the moshers were kickin' in, building up some steam, but nothing out of control. And from my vantage point, maybe a 100 years from the stage, seemed like I had nothing to worry about. [Pearl Jam-4] Sure, people were crowding past. It was sardines-ville. The roomy area where I'd been sitting on the grass earlier was gone. But like I said, nothing out of control. All of a sudden, the band began "Spin the Black Circle" and all hell broke loose. Somehow, a new mosh pit created itself right where I was standing! Just in the nick of time I grabbed up the bag containing the PowerBook I'm writing on now, and held on for dear life. The crowd around me was pushing at me from several directions. I began trying to work my way back, past sweaty, tattooed bodies, to get away from the shoving. But there were a number of large, muscle-man types, only with earrings and tattoos, who were holding firm. They would not let me through. From the other direction, the slammers were moving in. That's when I lost one of my sandals. It was literally sucked off my left foot, and it was gone. I tell you, there was no going after it. I'm no fool. Crawling around on the grass while moshers went crazy would have been sure suicide. So I just said fuck it. Then someone jostled my glasses and they fell off. I grabbed them just in the nick of time. The band was furiously delivering "Spin the Black Circle," which good as it is on the album, is transcendent live. It is impossible for Pearl Jam fans not to spontaneously slam when they hear this song. It's like a Pavlov's Dog reaction, or something. Anyway, I kept pushing my way back until I got to a location about 250 or yards back from the stage. I hooked up with a buddy who had also been near me when the moshing pit spontaneously erupted. "I almost lost my life," he said to me. By the time I'd caught my breath, Pearl Jam was pounding out "Animal." This was when I was really able to appreciate the awesome power of Pearl Jam. Here they were, outdoors (never the best situation for a rock band), playing to 50,000 people (maybe more--sure looked like it) and they had total control of the crowd. The Pearl Jam rhythm section--bassist Jeff Ament and new drummer Jack Irons--are truly the Watts-Wyman of the '90s. They propel the songs like the engine of a rock 'n' roll locomotive barreling down the tracks. The solid power of the rhythm section allows Mike McCready and Stone Gossard to layer on loud, distorted rhythms and piercing leads. And then there is Eddie. When I first heard Pearl Jam, in 1991, I really thought Eddie sounded like a not so hot Jim Morrison. Boy was I wrong. As I repeatedly listened to Ten it became clear what a great singer he was. With Vs I became a fan, and when I saw the group deliver a truly amazing set at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco following the release of Vs, I became more than a fan. I made the leap of faith. This was one of my bands. Eddie Vedder's singing was truly powerful and deep. It really is amazing that this slender, curly haired guy could have a voice as big and wise as he does. And when Vedder sings, I no longer hear traces of Morrison, I just hear Eddie. A guy bumped into me from behind. He had his girlfriend on his shoulders. As the group began "Corduroy," she clapped her hand and shouted "wow!" On stage, Vedder was singing "I don't want to take what you won't give." I don't know why but it was one of many lyrics that seemed to make a lot of sense, as I stood in the sun and watched this band. Vedder was playing guitar on this one, along with Gossard and McCready. Then it was on to one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, "Not For You." "Restless soul enjoy your youth," he sang. Indeed, enjoy it now, for it will pass, and what comes later may never be this real. There seemed to be an intensity building on stage, the band warming up, getting better and better. From my notes: "This is the good." McCready took a truly on-the-edge solo, nailing the song to the wall. And this is when things got really weird. The band stopped playing. They had completed just seven songs. The performances were exceptional. Still, just seven songs. They had performed for 26 minutes. Vedder spoke into the microphone. He explained that he'd gotten a bad, bad case of the stomach flu. "This has been the worst 24 hours of my life," he said. "Last night I was puking and shitting--I'm all fucked up. But I think Neil Young's here..." What he was saying was that he was sick, that Pearl Jam were curtailing their own set, and that Neil was going to come on and do a set with the band, while Eddie went back to the trailer to try and rest and recover. The audience did not take well to this. A rather large asshole near me exclaimed: "That's gay! I paid $25 for this. He's a fucking asshole. Unbelievable!" Someone else said sarcastically of Young, "Hey, this guy's huge in Denver." "Neil Young?! Why don't we start listening to Sinatra."


    ATN special correspondent Michael Goldberg reports: 2:51 PM. The PowerBook, possible due to the incredible heat, stopped being able to recognize the modem. So after filing the first report, I was stuck with no way to send in the reports. So I kept writing them, with the idea to send them as soon as I got to a phone. Which I did. [crop] Neil Young took the stage looking less like the Godfather of Grunge than a certified member of Woodstock Nation. He was wearing a tie-dyed Harley Davidson t-shirt with an eagle on his chest. "How ya doin'?" he asked the crowd.... Let's just rock a little bit." "Big Green Country" off Mirror Ball was the set opener. Young and company were so loose and raw that their sound made Pearl Jam seem polished by comparison. This was true garage rock. Young's guitar sound--he was playing his modified black Les Paul--was like the sonic equivalent of a blow torch cutting through an iron safe or the hull of some sunken pirate's ship. When Neil Young solos, it is an amazing thing to behold. His body moves back and forth in a jerky fashion. It is as if the music itself is grabbing his body, moving him against his will. His face gets all screwed up. One can see pain, frustration, anger and many more emotions flash across it. He becomes completely lost in the moment. Nothing else matters. His entire essence is felt in the notes he is playing. The Pearl Jam guys were immediately caught up in playing with their hero. Gossard was literally jumping up and down in place. Ament and McCready were playing with an intensity even more severe than when they played with Vedder earlier (if that is even possible). I saw a body floating above the mosh pit. "Act of Love" was a wall of loud, distorted guitars. The verses ride on just two chords. As they band moved from chord to chord, it was as if a dinosaur were taking steps. Huge, thunderous, monolithic. They played much of Mirror Ball including "Throw Your Hatred Down," "Truth Be Known," "I'm the Ocean," "Downtown" and, for one of the encore numbers, "Peace and Love." They also dipped into the Neil Young songbook for "Powderfinger," "The Needle and the Damage Done," "Cortez the Killer," Down By the River," "Out of the Blue" and two versions of "Rockin' In the Free World" (one done as a final encore). All I can say about this is, I have seen Neil Young perform many times, but I have never seen him play this good. And I witnessed some of the landmark solos of his career. He may be nearly 50, but he's making some of the best rock 'n' roll the world has ever heard. And yes, people were disappointed that Pearl Jam didn't complete their set, and yes, many Pearl Jam fans didn't dig listening to Young. "I'm upset," said Michelle Koch. "We want a refund. Eddie should make sure he's healthy before he goes on tour." But Charles Black, who flew up from L. A. for the show had a different opinion: "It was awesome," he told me. "It was well worth it." Joe Newell, 25, didn't have so much fun. He was "a little disappointed" with the show. He too flew up from L. A. in the morning and went right to the show "I had a good time watching Bad Religion," he said, "but I wish we could've gotten closer to the stage." Newell was disappointed at Eddie's absence, but he thought the new Neil Young songs sounded "cool... I'm a Neil Young fan. I'm glad they had Neil Young to come in for [Eddie]. If they didn't, it would have been mayhem."


    ATN special correspondent Michael Goldberg reports: Sunday, June 25. The concert is all I've been thinking about for the past 24 hours. How good was it. As good as it gets. And this is why. Consider the risks that Neil Young took in taking the stage and carrying the full weight of satisfying the rock 'n' roll hunger of 50,000 fans who had come to the Polo Field to hear their favorite band, a band they hadn't had a chance to see in two years. Young had to turn them around. He had to make 50,000 angry people who had just seen the band cut short it's set after just 26 minutes, not just pay attention, but get into his music. You had to be there to understand that this was not a Neil Young crowd. 20 year old Pearl Jam fans don't give a fuck about Neil Young. At least they didn't when he took the stage on Saturday. They were angry. They made sarcastic comments about Young. He was someone their parents had been into. He was not of their generation. Young didn't simply take the stage and play a bunch of old favorites that this audience had heard on the Classic Rock stations. At least half his set was material none of them had ever heard before. Imagine having the guts to play seven brand new songs for a hostile crowd. But Young is that kind of stand-up guy. And he's truly a great, great performer. For anyone to actually listen to the music he was making with Pearl Jam, to really hear the guitar solos and not be won over by Young you had to be so dense and so lame that you deserved to have a bad day. I think thousands of Pearl Jam fans became Neil Young fans on Saturday, and I think Young should be applauded for putting himself on the line the way he did. Meanwhile, I can only hope that when Vedder feels better, and when he meets with the other guys to discuss the San Francisco situation, that rather than offer refunds, they agree to come back and play another show before the end of the summer. We want to see Pearl Jam. We don't want our money back. "Restless soul enjoy your youth," Eddie sang earlier. Come on Eddie, come back to San Francisco, perform for your fans, let them enjoy their youth. It's the least you can do, brother. Oh yeah, about that sandal. After everyone had cleared the field, I walked back to the area where I'd been standing, so many hours earlier, when the slamming had gotten out of control. I carefully walked back and forth. Nothing. I combed the ground. Nothing. Then I looked one more time. And I tell you, in a spot where there had just been grass, I spied my missing sandal. Like I said, weird.

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