ELKHORN, WISCONSIN—Over labor day weekend, Pearl Jam invited a dozen of their friends, followers, and contemporaries to help celebrate 20 years since the release of their seminal debut album Ten (the band actually formed in October of 1990 though initially named Mookie Blaylock). The two-day concert took place at Alpine Valley in rural Wisconsin (sandwiched between Madison and Milwaukee) and featured The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age, Mudhoney all gracing the main stage in the evenings, while Glen Hansard (The Frames/Swell Season), John Doe (X), Joseph Arthur, Liam Finn and others alternating on two side stages during the afternoon. Saturday’s early lightning and rainstorms threatened to put an early damper on the weekend celebration, but luckily after a short 45-minute delay, the festivities kicked off with the more dedicated fans braving the occasional rainfall and by mid-afternoon they were already back on schedule.
Many fans decided to stay dry and camp out inside the venue’s large covered shelter with food, bathrooms, mercy stands, etc., which was also home to the Pearl Jam museum. I’ll admit, I went into the museum thinking it would be lame–just a few posters, shirts and instruments–but as a longtime fan of the band, I was blown away. There was a slew of artifacts, memorabilia, stage props, masks, original album artwork/art, rare live videos and handwritten lyrics that made even the casual Pearl Jam fan’s jaw drop.
Pearl Jam’s Saturday night show certainly catered to their hardcore fans, favoring the obscure songs over thee usual crowd-pleasing anthems. This can make for a weird-flowing setlist, but, despite that, I felt they paced the evening fairly well. It became clear very early on that the band was going for a celebratory vibe, indicated by bringing out many of the artists who played earlier in the day to play a song with them (Julian Casablancas on “Not For You,” Liam Finn on “Habit,” a group of people as a backup choir, so to speak, on “Who You Are”).
But the true “I can’t believe this is actually happening” moment came during the encore when the band brought out Chris Cornell of Soundgarden to play a set of Temple of the Dog songs, some of which had not been played live in 20 years. While it was rumored by many (and more or less validated by Chris Cornell’s tweet on Friday that he was in Chicago wondering what to do), kicking off the Temple set with a cover of Mother Love Bone’s “Stardog Champion” still came as a surprise to everyone in attendance. A couple other covers (The Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” and the MC5’s “Kick Out The Jams”) helped close out the first night on a high note.
Sunday’s weather could not have been any nicer compared to Saturday’s dark skies and rain, which certainly helped attendance on the two side stages. As they had done a few times on Saturday, numerous members of Pearl Jam sat in with side-stage acts. A few of the highlights were Eddie Vedder joining Liam Finn to play guitar and sing, then swap to drums and back, on a ramshackle cover of Pearl Jam’s “Habit,” a gorgeous duet with Glen Hansard on “Falling Slowly” (just as they had done on their recent solo tour together), as well as jumping onstage to help John Doe and Cindy Wasserman sing “Golden State.” Pearl Jam members Mike McCready, Matt Cameron and Jeff Ament all joined Joseph Arthur for a couple songs, too.
The communal vibe was amplified during the main-stage acts on Sunday. Eddie Vedder joined Queens of the Stone Age on wood block and vocals for “Little Sister,” while The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas sang “Sick Sick Sick” with them. Both returned the favor during The Strokes’ set, Queens’ Josh Homme playing a blistering guitar solo on “NYC Cops” and Ed singing on “Juicebox” as he had done the previous night.
Pearl Jam opened with the rarely played Ten era b-side “Wash,” which had fans giddy in anticipation for what other surprises they had up their sleeve on night two. While they played a lot more of their classic songs such as “Even Flow,” “Given To Fly,” “Daughter,” “Black,” and “Jeremy,” they countered with the very rarely played “No Way,” a Stone Gossard penned number from 1998’s Yield and Jeff Ament’s “Pilate” off the same album. I think most people assumed that they would bring Chris Cornell out again, but instead they played two songs that were not played on Saturday: “Call Me A Dog” and “All Night Thing.” The only repeat songs between the two nights and 61 songs were, amazingly enough, “Hunger Strike” (Temple of the Dog‘s most famous song, which features a duet between Cornell and Vedder) and another Temple tune “Reach Down.”
The band came out for a third encore of arguably their biggest song “Alive” followed by their usual cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World,” during which they brought out nearly every member of all of the acts that played throughout the weekend, in addition to many friends and crew to sing and play along. It was quite a site to behold to see that huge stage crowded with such talent. And while many hardcore fans are probably sick of hearing it, no Pearl Jam weekend would be complete without the set-closing staple, “Yellow Ledbetter”, which while it was originally a Ten era b-side, has taken on a life of its own to become one of bands more well known songs.
I would be lying if I said it they were the best two Pearl Jam shows I’ve ever seen (full disclosure, I’ve seen the band over 30 times dating back to 1995). But they were certainly two of the most memorable and enjoyable that I can recall. It was such a great feeling to see the band not only have fun on stage, but also be allowed to revel a bit in their storied 20-year career. Eddie Vedder summed it up nicely by stating he felt that even though they were celebrating 20 years as a band, the weekend to him felt like a rebirth and that they had “another 20 or 30 years in us… easy.” While he sort of laughed at the “easy” part, I would not be that surprised to see them still playing together in 2025 and beyond, as they have always seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of The Rolling Stones in terms of longevity. Only time will tell, but if the band ended tomorrow, their legacy and impact on rock music has already been cemented.
Day 1 (Saturday)
The Young Evils
Mike McCready guests during Star Anna’s set
Crowd braving the rain on Saturday morning
Glen Hansard and fan Damen duet on “Falling Slowly”
Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age
Day 2 (Sunday)
Jason Lytle of Grandaddy
Dhani Harrison of THENEWNO2
Drummer for THENEWNO2
Jeff Ament plays bass with Joseph Arthur
Joseph Arthur and Mike McCready guitar duel
Eddie Vedder plays drums with Liam Finn
Ed and Liam swap instruments on “Habit”
Glen Hansard and Eddie Vedder duet on “Falling Slowly”
John Doe of X
Eddie Vedder guests with John Doe
Cindy Wasserman, John Doe & Eddie sing “Golden State”
Ed and John hug
Queens of the Stone Age