Saturday, 16 March 2013

Sunday Sessions: Neil Young and Pearl Jam

In 1993, at the height of the grunge era, the MTV Video Music awards happened and, as expected, a whole heap of alternative rock bands scooped the pool of awards. Pearl Jam don't usually turn up for awards shows, but I'm glad they did this time. They went on stage and performed a song that hadn't been released as of yet, and then, they introduced a special guest...

Once upon a time, Pearl Jam could be intense and fiery, as well as pensive and angsty. In 1993, they were full of sprite and energy. The track they played at the 1993 VMAs was "Animal" which was to appear on their forthcoming second LP "VS". They plowed through the song with their usual fervor, and then they welcome Neil Young to the stage to jam with them. They play Neil's social justice anthem "Rockin' In The Free World", a song from his 1989 LP "Freedom".

It seems like an odd pairing, but in retrospect, Neil had been working semi-regularly with a very grunge-y styled band for about 20 years (by that point) called Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse specialised in massive volume, feedback squalls, long jams and ragged but tight playing. The bands of the 90s grunge movement considered him "The Godfather of Grunge". In this performance, Neil out-grunges Pearl Jam with more noise and feedback than they ever did. The band turned in a solid, thumping performance of the song before Neil puts on a masterclass in amplifier torture that would have made Kurt Cobain jealous. Here's an old troubadour showing the young-uns how it was done, and they loved it.

This pairing was both timely and poignant, as less than 12 months later, the self-deprecating leader of the grunge movement, Kurt Cobain, was quoting lyrics from one of Neil Young's heaviest, grungiest songs ("Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)" from the "Rust Never Sleeps" LP) in his suicide note...

This match-up of young (no pun intended) and old led to a full scale collaboration LP in 1995 called "Mirror Ball" which featured 11 new Neil Young tunes played by Pearl Jam as a backing band. It's too bad that the new material Neil supplied for the album wasn't as strong as "Rockin' In The Free World".

This is Pearl Jam in their prime, playing with a passion that has all but dissipated from the band, both on record and on stage. It's thrilling to watch (it's too bad they didn't play with anywhere near this much energy when I saw them in Sydney in 1998). And then, to see ol' Neil come on and play one of his greatest songs with the band is a real treat. Pearl Jam regularly use this song to close the encore of their stage show. Take a look below.

NOTE: apologies for the poor audio fidelity. The uploader transferred this clip from an old VHS cassette.



  1. As you know I am a self-confessed pop fan but I didn't mind a bit of grunge rock back in the day. There are a few Pearl Jam and Nirvana tracks that I really, really like. I only vaguely remember this one but it was a classic performance, wasn't it? Neil Young really rocked out!

  2. He still DOES rock out - he played in Sydney last week with Crazy Horse. Apparently the volume was massive. Not bad for a bunch of over 65's!

  3. I had the album "ten' and the following albums after that and played them to death. they were an important and significant time in my life. For most of that time I had an off and on relationship with a guy called jeremy believe it or not :) Awesome video.

  4. "Jeremy" is a scary song when you know the context and subtext of the lyrics. I gave all their albums a good thrashing back in the day as well. Although I still prefer the first 4 of them...

    1. Agreed, it is a pretty disturbing song.