Concert Review - NEIL YOUNG & PEARL JAM

Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, Ontario

August 18, 1993

Neil Young News

Pearl Jam & Neil Young

November 1993
by Craig Marks



Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, Ontario

August 18, 1993

When Neil Young took new-breed noisemakers Sonic Youth on the road with him and Crazy Horse in 1991, it was significant for both brilliant outfits: Sonic Youth had the pleasure of being told to "get the fuck off the stage" at hockey arenas nationwide, while Young affirmed his status as the only performer of his generation to still feel connected to the freedom of noise, the only rocker from the '60s to be held in awe by this generation of boundary pushers. Still, there was no doubt that the crowd was Young's; as brave a gesture as it was to tour with the commercially minor SY, it was a safe move, perhaps even a shrewd one.

Pearl Jam, however, is anything but commercially minor; its debut, Ten, sold more records than Young's contentious '80s output combined. This crowd was at least as interested in seeing Pearl Jam as in seeing Young, probably more so. And although Young did have home-field advantage here in his native Ontario, following Pearl Jam's populist grunge would be a trying commercial challenge, if not a particularly demanding artistic one.

Only the most devout cynic could deny Pearl Jam's grand presence live. Singer Eddie Vedder dominates, surging with an electricity that seems mostly instinctual, the roots of which quite probably are mysterious even to him. Much like Michael Stipe in R.E.M.'s salad days, Vedder's charisma is nearly asexual, good looks aside; he connects, palpably, with both the boys and the girls, a combination of alienation and alternative nation. Also like Stipe, he's a gifted singer, largely inarticulate, yet he packs a tremendous visceral wallop, chewing up phrases, then abstractly spitting them out for maximum impact.

Clad in Team Pearl Jam regulation droopy shorts, the five-piece debuted five songs from its forthcoming LP during its 11-song set. Jeff Ament and Dave Abbrusseze form a deft rhythm section, Ament's fluid bass lines propelling most of the melodies. When Vedder strapped on a guitar for a new one, "Rearview Mirror" (which, I swear, sounds eerily like Paul McCartney & Wings' "Jet"), singing became more of an afterthought, whereas on the hit-bound acoustic sing-along "Daughter," Vedder's emotional wellspring was wrung completely dry.

Vedder is often compared to miscreant Jim Morrison (he filled Morrison's shoes at a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony), and while I'm no fan of Morrison's junior-high poetry and bad-boy bluster, it's precisely that sense of amorality and danger that Vedder and Pearl Jam lack. When they enthusiastically encore with the Who's overblown anthem "Baba O'Reilly," it's a paradigmatic Pearl Jam moment, full of sweeping, signifying rock'n'roll gestures, devoid of any mystery, menace, or even irony. It's purely to Vedder's credit as a riveting performer and a soulful singer that his public display of mild confusion with the world is at all compelling. The emperor may have no clothes, but he does have a really great body.

In a February interview in SPIN, Neil Young half-joked about his usual band Crazy Horse, complaining that he needs to keep the set lists the same night after night; that, at times, the band can get so sloppy 'they could stop playing in the middle of a song.' Of course, this fine line is also what drives Young and Crazy Horse to such cathartic extremes, but when Young decided to follow up Harvest with 1992's Harvest Moon, and recorded this year's mild Unplugged album, he turned to a more 'accomplished' set of musicians, sacrificing soul for skill.

When Young stomped all over "All Along the Watchtower" at the Bob Dylan tribute concert last year, it hinted that guts and chops weren't mutually exclusive. The band Young played with that evening and this one, the legendary Stax group Booker T. and the MGs, is the perfect marriage for Young's breadth, with a tender feel for the gentler material, and a nervy pluck when keeping up with Young's magnificent shitstorms of guitar. On a lovely arrangement of "Harvest Moon," Booker T.'s organ took the place of Young's acoustic guitar, lending a roller-rink charm to the song's Tin Pan Alley melody. On epic bloodletters such as "Like a Hurricane" and the new tune "Change Your Mind," Young was a monster, wrenching wave after wave of spine-tingling feedback from his six-string, a ceaseless and single-minded pursuit of better living through white noise.

The show's (and perhaps the year's) high point was the draining, 15-minute-plus finale of "Down By the River." Young and guitarist Steve Cropper squared off like Ali and Frazier in Manila, each prodding the other to new heights of ragged glory, an epic rock'n'roll classic reinvented, renewed, re-created. It was a miraculous display of will, of passion, and of soul, and it left no doubt on this evening as to who was the teacher and who was the student.


For setlists, see Sugar Mountain.

For more on Eddie vedder and Neil see, Pearl Jam & Neil Young page.

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