The band opened with "Alive," which gave Dave Krusen, the drummer from the group's debut album Ten, a chance to sit in behind the kit. Guitars flared on both sides of Eddie Vedder as he rumbled and rasped through the song's life-affirming chorus. Mike McCready got the final word though, hurtling through a virtuosic, head-turning solo and unfurling long streams of notes at remarkable speed as Krusen bashed away at the drums behind him.
Pearl Jam's current drummer, Matt Cameron, returned for the next two songs, "Given to Fly" and "Better Man." "Given to Fly" built around a sturdy, martial beat. But for a band that loves to blast off and has the tools to do so with style, Vedder was singing with a full-throated roar while his bandmates kicked up a highly organized ruckus.
The group finished their set with "Better Man," a song about a dead-end relationship that became a No. 1 hit on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart. The crowd began to sing along, unprompted, as soon as Pearl Jam started playing. After the song's stately first half, the band ended their performance charging forward, as Vedder and the audience traded lines while McCready made space for another impressive solo.
Pearl Jam were originally slated to be inducted by Neil Young, but Young bowed out due to an undisclosed illness. On Wednesday, Rock Hall organizers announced that David Letterman would replace Young. Pearl Jam have a longstanding relationship with Letterman: during his tenure as host of The Late Show, the band performed on the program multiple times. "Every time they were there, they would blow the roof off the place," Letterman said during his induction speech. "For two years I did a show without a roof on the damn theater," he added.
This is the first year that Pearl Jam are eligible for the Rock Hall. Along with Tupac, also inducted (posthumously) on Friday, Pearl Jam are the first members of the Hall who began their recording careers in the 1990s.
However, not all members of Pearl Jam made it into the Rock Hall. Vedder, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard and McCready were inducted, but that core unit has played with multiple drummers since the band's inception, and only two of those percussionists were inducted: Cameron, former drummer of Soundgarden, who joined Pearl Jam in 1998, and Krusen, who played on the group's debut album.
Dave Abbruzzese, who drummed on Vs. and Vitalogy, objected to his snub in a post on Facebook. "I have always thought that every award given to a band that celebrates the band's lifetime achievements should be awarded to every person that was ever a debt-incurring, life-sacrificing, blood-spilling member of that band," he wrote.
"Maybe the Hall should reevaluate the need to put all the monkeys in the same cage in order to boost revenue, and instead let the history of the band be fully and completely represented as they were and as they are," he added.
Krusen, for his part, did not expect to be inducted into the Rock Hall. "I never gave it a lot of thought," he told Rolling Stone after it was announced that he would join his bandmates from two decades ago when they were honored at the Barclays Center. "I don't play in the band, so why would I? But I was quite surprised and very excited. I'm very proud to have been a part of that thing."
He did not address Abbruzzese's concerns. "The whole drummer controversy with the band, obviously Matt Cameron should be there," he said. "Beyond that, I guess I'll just stay out of it."
Last month, Pearl Jam announced on Twitter that they would invite all five men who had drummed in the band to the Rock Hall induction ceremony. "We're so fortunate, every one of [our drummers] was great," Vedder said during his acceptance speech. "But Matt Cameron was really the one who kept us alive these last 15, 16, 17 years when we weren't sure what was going to happen. He enabled us not just to survive, but to thrive."