Pearl Jam are kicking off a fall North American tour tonight (Friday, October 11) in Pittsburgh in support of their new album, Lightning Bolt. Fans filling arenas across the country can expect new tracks and plenty of classics, from "Alive" and "Even Flow" to "The Fixer," "Given to Fly" and many, many more. But any band can walk onstage and play their own material; it takes seasoned, road-tested veterans to break out a litany of covers at a moment's notice. Pearl Jam is that band.
Over their 23-year-long career, frontman Eddie Vedder and the boys have paid homage to their heroes, from Johnny Cash to Devo, via a collection of spot-on covers. We collected the best of the best in the hopes that PJ break a few out this autumn on the road.
Pearl Jam and Neil Young are total bros. They've performed together numerous times (including at Young's Bridge School benefit) and PJ even played on Young's 1995 album Mirror Ball. EdVed and Co. often cover Young's "Rockin' in the Free World" live, but the Seattle band's rendition of this acoustic gem, the eponymous track from 1992's Harvest Moon, is plain gorgeous.
Pearl Jam, especially Vedder, are out-spoken critics of war and corrupt politics, so Dylan's anti-war ballad "Masters of War," originally released on 1963's The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, was a natural fit for PJ's hometown gig in 2003, recorded and released as Live at Benaroya Hall.
Jimi Hendrix is a Seattle native (a pilgrimage to his grave is a must for any local rock fan) and the guitar god's influence on PJ's two axemen, particularly Mike McCready, is obvious on songs like "Yellow Ledbetter." McCready often works the "Little Wing" riff into "Yellow Ledbetter," or PJ perform the Hendrix classic in its entirety.
Vedder sported a mohawk as he inducted The Ramones into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and has written numerous songs dedicated to the band that holds a special place in his heart. PJ continue to cover numerous Ramones songs, including "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker."
Eddie and Bruce are longtime pals, joining each other's bands onstage or jamming at big benefit gigs. PJ have covered numerous Springsteen songs over the years, but it's Vedder's solo acoustic performance of "No Surrender" that's the best, performed here in the Boss' Jersey stomping grounds.
Like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters is another one of Vedder and PJ's close pals, having joined the band onstage at numerous benefit shows and special one-off gigs. PJ have covered "Another Brick in the Wall," but prefer the thoughtful and acoustic "Mother."
By this point, Pearl Jam have jammed with many of their music heroes. But at a show in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1994, the band invited a lesser-known star, Steve Crooper, onstage to perform a track he wrote with Otis Redding. Perhaps you've heard of it—it's called "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."
The Gorge Amphitheater, located a few hours drive from Seattle, holds a special place in Pearl Jam's history, as the group have played the venue repeatedly over their career to sellout crowds of hometown super-fans. The band even released a seven-disc live album recorded there, called Live at the Gorge 05/06. During an '05 gig, Vedder performed a solo acoustic rendition of Petty's "I Won't Back Down," showing a new, stripped-down side to the rock classic.
When grunge exploded in the early '90s, Seattle was ground zero and Nirvana and Pearl Jam were the two reigning, and competing, kings. The bands had a well-documented tension, trading barbs in interviews (especially Cobain), but PJ rose above and began covering "Teen Spirit," among other Nirvana tracks, after Cobain's death in '94.