Pearl Jam, the nation’s most popular rock group, abruptly canceled its U.S. tour Saturday, moments after a concert here during which singer Eddie Vedder left the stage ill.
After singing seven songs with the intensity that has made him one of the most commanding rock performers in years, Vedder stunned the crowd of 50,000 at Golden Gate Park by announcing that he couldn’t continue with the performance.
“I think that might be it for me for a while,” he said, explaining he had been so sick from stomach flu that he had gone to the emergency hospital at 3 that morning.
“Lucky for you,” he said before leaving the stage. “Neil Young is here.”
Young, who recently recorded a new album with Pearl Jam, was waiting backstage to play some of the songs from the album during the band’s encore.
After Vedder’s remarks, Young huddled with the other members of the Seattle quintet and led them back on stage for an inspired, two-hour set that included six songs from the new “Mirror Ball” album, which will be released Tuesday.
The cancellation of the remaining seven cities on the brief U.S. tour, which began June 16 in Casper, Wyo., was decided in a backstage meeting between the four other band members and manager Kelly Curtis. The band’s next concerts were to have been tonight and Tuesday at the San Diego Sports Arena. Refund information is expected to be announced shortly.
Though none of the meeting participants was available for comment Sunday, a source close to the band said that the four other group members--bassist Jeff Ament, guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready and drummer Jack Irons--canceled the shows because the “pressures of a full-scale tour simply took the joy out of making music” and, more significant, they feared “those pressures would ultimately destroy the band if not dealt with.”
Those pressures of touring are believed to be felt particularly by Vedder, whose most compelling songs reflect the alienation and anger of his troubled youth.
After Vedder’s remarks about a hospital visit Saturday, rumors spread that he had suffered a drug overdose, but both Vedder and people who work with Pearl Jam have repeatedly insisted that he does not have a drug problem.
The singer has spoken repeatedly in interviews about the difficulties he has had in adjusting to stardom--anxieties similar to those expressed by Kurt Cobain, the leader of Nirvana who committed suicide last year.
Vedder’s comments around the time of Cobain’s suicide were particularly dark.
The Pearl Jam leader told The Times he found the big-time touring process especially dehumanizing and destructive. To those young fans who look to him for comfort and advice the way they had looked earlier to Cobain, he said, flatly, “You can’t save somebody from drowning if you’re treading water yourself.”
After a year away from touring, however, Vedder tried to be optimistic as the band returned to the road this month for a tour that was complicated by the group’s bitter dispute with Ticketmaster, the nation’s leading concert ticket distributor.
Vedder had married during the time off last year and had enjoyed playing several club dates as part of Mike Watt’s band, where as a backing guitarist he was free from the demands of fronting Pearl Jam.
He hoped to avoid some of the old tour pressures by doing such things as driving from city to city in a van rather than flying to the shows with the rest of the band and by hosting his own underground radio shows after the concerts, allowing him to communicate with fans on a more intimate basis.
In Casper, Vedder acknowledged to friends that he felt apprehension but was trying to overcome it for the sake of the band.
But the pressures apparently began building as soon as the tour got beyond that tiny, isolated city. As part of the optimistic start, Vedder agreed to do a pair of newspaper interviews June 20 in Denver. Because he is uncomfortable talking about himself, he has given fewer than a half-dozen interviews in the last two years. At the last minute, however, he canceled them, explaining in handwritten notes to the reporters that he was having a hard time.
On the hot Saturday afternoon here, however, the fans had no knowledge of what was going on behind the scenes.
To stretch the set beyond the 40-minute length they had planned for the encore, Young and Pearl Jam--apparently playing with extra adrenaline from being thrown together so unexpectedly--teamed on some of Young’s old, landmark tunes, including a version of “Down by the River” that lasted nearly 20 minutes.
It was a gutty, galvanizing performance, especially when featuring the new Young songs that re-examine the ‘60s ideals of peace and love in a ‘90s context. “Throw your hatred down,” he sang in a song that addresses the social hardening that he sees gripping much of the land these days.
Through it all, one sensed that much of the young crowd expected Vedder to eventually return to the stage. When Ament finally announced that Vedder was too sick to do so, there was widespread booing.
Back on stage for the encore, Young defended Vedder, “I just want you to know that the last time I saw Eddie he was lying on his face [backstage].”
By that time, Vedder was back at his hotel and in bed.
In retrospect, Pearl Jam’s choice of songs in its abbreviated set with Vedder seems, perhaps inadvertently, like a public farewell, combining the contradictory blend of optimism and despair that runs through Vedder’s lyrics.
The band opened with “Last Exit,” a reflection on death that is one of its darkest songs, and Vedder sang it with manic fury in the hot afternoon sun. “Let the sun shine/Burn away my mask . . . /Let my spirit pass/This is, this is . . . /My last exit.”
Picking up his guitar six songs later, Vedder turned to “Not for You,” an expression of youthful idealism that ranks with the all-time great rock anthems. In a voice as soft as a benediction prayer, he sang, “All that’s sacred comes from youth/Dedication, naive andtrue . . . “
Vedder was expected to return home to Seattle as soon as he felt strong enough to do so.
Aside from his illness, the concert proved remarkably smooth despite media warnings of a logistics nightmare at Golden Gate Park. There were neither the predicted traffic snarl nor hordes of gate-crashers.
Asked about Pearl Jam’s future as a live band, a source who had spoken to some of the backstage meeting participants, predicted the band won’t tour for a “long time.”
“They’ve found over the last two years that the thing they love is being in the recording studio,” the source said. “It’s a whole different experience for Eddie. That’s where I expect you to find them for the foreseeable future.”