It was an occasion to dust off the ol’ flannel shirt and ripped jeans when Seattle rock stalwarts Pearl Jam played the Santa Barbara Bowl on Tuesday night. The frenzy that surrounded the one-off benefit show for the Cedars-Sinai Prostate Cancer Research Center and the high demand for tickets did not go unwarranted as Pearl Jam performed a memorable and historic gig thanks to a little help from their friends.
With an eerie orange and smoke-filled sky providing the backdrop, Pearl Jam took the stage without an opening act. “We’re gonna bring a few of our good friends out later,” Eddie Vedder told the audience early in the set. “We didn’t bother to invite any of our shit friends.”
Vedder kept his word as the show turned into a star-studded event with one rock star being trotted out after another. Pearl Jam began the show with a one-hour acoustic set that featured crowd-pleasing covers of “Last Kiss” and the Johnny Cash gallows tune “25 Minutes to Go.” The Cash tribute featured a blistering guest spot by Beck’s guitarist Lyle Workman.
After the hour-long acoustic set, Pearl Jam packed away the acoustic guitars and strapped on their electric axes. They brought the sold-out crowd to their feet with ripping renditions of a few of their radio hits, like “Black” and “Hail, Hail.”
Having bowed out after the electric set, Vedder returned to the stage for the first encore with bubbly-toed UCSB film studies grad and chill-rock superstar Jack Johnson. The two singer-songwriters duetted on the Pearl Jam ukulele song “Soon Forget,” and were then joined by the full band for “Better Man.” Vedder and Johnson traded verses on “Better Man,” much to the delight of the Bowl audience, who rocked out to the sounds of their hometown hero making good.
The show’s climactic peak arrived in the second encore when Pearl Jam turned the stage over to former Soundgarden and current Audioslave frontman Chris Cornell. The countless grunge-heads in the audience went bonkers as Cornell performed the songs “Can’t Change Me” and “Like A Stone.”
Pearl Jam then joined Cornell to make grunge rock history on the Santa Barbara stage as the benefit gig suddenly turned into a Temple of the Dog reunion extravaganza. Those well-versed in grunge history will remember Temple of the Dog as a short-lived collaboration between Soundgarden and Pearl Jam in tribute to the late Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood. The long-haired and flannel-clad rockers in attendance banged their heads with glee as Temple of the Dog performed their sole hit “Hunger Strike” for the first time in 11 years.
The parade of rock stars concluded in the show’s third encore as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ guitarist John Frusciante joined Pearl Jam for two high-octane Ramones covers. Pearl Jam ended the show with a classic rock bang by inviting all of the evening’s guests back onstage for an all-star jam session on The Byrds’ “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.”
As the Pearl Jam fans (collectively known as “The Jamily”) streamed for the exits, many were comparing the star-studded benefit to some of the greatest concerts in rock history. Regardless of how history will judge Tuesday night’s rock spectacular, it was refreshing to see a group of artists come together with sincerity and caring to support a worthy cause. For those in attendance at the Santa Barbara Bowl Tuesday night, Pearl Jam definitely offered up an early Halloween treat.