Legendary grunge rock group Pearl Jam, which formed in Seattle in 1990, is now (finally) immortalized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band was honored at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on Friday night and celebrated the occasion with live performances of “Alive”, “Given to Fly”, “Better Man”, and Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World”. For “Alive”, Pearl Jam reunited with original drummer Dave Krusen, while members of Journey, Yes, and RUSH’s Geddy Lee joined the band for “Rockin’ in the Free World”.
David Letterman, who hosted Pearl Jam on the Late Show with David Letterman show seven times before he retired in 2015, delivered a heartfelt introduction. Originally, the “godfather of grunge” Neil Young had been scheduled to give the award, but a sudden illness forced him to cancel the appearance. “The truth of it is the guy can’t stay up this late. It was either that or he swallowed a harmonica,” Letterman joked.
As the Washington Times reports, Letterman praised the influential musicians, saying, “For thirty-three years every night I got to experience the blessing of live music. When I came here to rehearsal and heard live music again I was reminded, oh my God what a gift live music is. Never take live music for granted.” He went on to share several personal andecdotes, including his reaction to hearing Ten for the first time. “It had an anger to it and it appealed to twentysomethings who felt displacement and unemployment and left out. I was almost fifty and even I was pissed off,” he recounted. He also revealed that frontman Eddie Vedder had personally gifted a guitar to his son. “There are quite a few reasons why these people are in the Hall of Fame, but forgive me if this personally is the most important reason,” Letterman added.
The band’s rebellion against traditional music industry practices was a hallmark of the grunge era (“Because they stood up, every concert ticket today is free,” Letterman joked of the band’s feud with Ticketmaster, who he described as “beady-eyed, bloodthirsty weasels”). However, the prolific rockers demonstrated a softer side in their acceptance speech. “Pearl Jam, you’re my brothers,” guitarist Mike McCready told his longtime bandmates and went on to recount advice Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan once gave him: “You’re only as good as the people you’re around.” Bassist Jeff Ament added, “Making music and art, traveling the world … making small differences, that’s a pretty great life.” (via the Washington Times).
In true punk rock spirit, however, Vedder used his speech to get political. He thanked all of those “who came before us,” but said that humanity has “a lot of growing to do.” He added, “Climate change is real. That is not fake news. We cannot have [future generations] look back and say, ‘Why did they not do everything humanly possible?’ We don’t have 108 years,” Mr. Vedder added, referencing the time between the Chicago Cubs’ World Series victories.
Pearl Jam was one of six musical entities who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Baez, Journey, Tupac Shakur and Yes are also now enshrined therein. Additionally, Nile Rodgers, founding member of Chic, given the Award for Musical Excellence. HBO will air the complete telecast on April 29th. In the meantime, you can watch the live performances below and read our discussion and rankings of Pearl Jam’s discography over the years.