The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony ended with a raucous, enthralling all-star jam on Friday night, as a group of musicians that included Yes’ Trevor Rabin, Rush’s Geddy Lee and Journey’s Neal Schon joined Pearl Jam onstage at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to cover Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Young, who was originally slated to induct Pearl Jam but pulled out due to illness, was absent. “The truth of it is, the poor guy can’t stay up that late,” David Letterman quipped before inducting Pearl Jam earlier in the night. “It’s either that, or he swallowed a harmonica.”
Young’s absence didn’t hamper the performance, which featured enough guitars to equip a small army battalion. The all-star ensemble kept solos to a minimum, choosing to focus mostly on the central riff that gives Young’s track its rugged power. As all the guitarists slammed through the chugging progression again and again, “Rockin’ in the Free World” began to acquire the sludgy charm of primal garage rock. It’s a testament to Vedder’s singing abilities that he wasn’t drowned out by all the players around him.
Young released “Rockin’ in the Free World,” a critique of the first George Bush administration, on the Freedom album in 1989. A live acoustic version of the track opened the record, and a tougher electric rendition brought the album to a close.
The song proved to be durable, popping up on Young’s feedback-slathered live Weld album in 1991 and playing during the close credits of Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11. The track also earned Young a Grammy nomination for Best Male Rock Vocal performance in 1991.
Pearl Jam have a longstanding connection to “Rockin’ in the Free World” – the band joined Young to perform the song together in 1993 at MTV’s VMA awards. Members of Pearl Jam later contributed to Young’s 1995 album Mirror Ball.