Pearl Jam to mark 20 years at benefit gig

Oct. Bridge School show will be band's eighth appearance

NEW YORK -- Pearl Jam fans, save the date: guitarist Stone Gossard says the closest thing to a 20th birthday gig for the band will be a slot on the bill of Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, Calif. on Oct. 23 and 24.

"The only thing we've got going on in October is Bridge School, which is really special," Gossard told Billboard while in New York to support the new album by his side-band, Brad. "So that's our 20th anniversary, which is fitting. It's perfect: not too blown up. It's not about us, it about all those kids that are on stage with you and about Neil Young and his commitment, his influence." It will be Pearl Jam's eighth Bridge appearance. The group first played the benefit, which supports Young's school for children with severe physical disabilities, back in 1992.

The Bridge School dates, which will likely be held at the Shoreline Amphitheater, begin the day after Pearl Jam's exact anniversary. Oct. 22 marks the date in 1990 that the band, then called Mookie Blaylock, played its first show in Seattle's tiny Off Ramp club.

"It's so great that it's still going on, isn't it? 'Just stick together,' that's the advice we got from [U2's manager] Paul McGuinness," back in the early 90s, Gossard says, laughing. "I think we've just stayed on course in a way that's maybe encouraged people and surprised people, and I think there's more that we can do."

No other acts, aside from Neil Young, have yet been announced for the 2010 Bridge concerts.

Though Pearl Jam has been plenty busy this year -- they've done both a U.S. and European tour and released digital bootlegs of every show -- Gossard divulges that the band is mulling a South American trek for 2011.

Meanwhile, plans for the follow up to the Seattle rock veterans' 2009 album "Backspacer," which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, are just in the early stages, according to Gossard. "We were actually talking about trying to get in [to write and record] before Bridge School, but I think this Band Of Horses [tour] with Brad is going to make that harder to do. But the band is definitely going to get together probably [initially] without [frontman] Ed [Vedder] and start to hammer out some more demos and get some stuff to the point where he can hear it."

Pearl Jam's various members, however, have spent their summer vacations moonlighting with other musical projects. Gossard's Brad released its fourth studio album "Best Friends?" this month; it's available at As he mentioned, Brad will hit the road in October opening for Band of Horses, who themselves opened for Pearl Jam this spring.

"I'm hoping that Brad can do for [Band Of Horses'] show what they did for Pearl Jam," Gossard says. "[Singer] Shawn [Smith] hasn't played in arenas really and his voice through a big PA is going to really fill it up in a way that's going to surprise people."

Gossard adds that Brad will also slip in a few headlining New York shows and possibly a TV appearance while Band Of Horses heads to Texas to play the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which takes place Oct. 8-10.

"I'm really looking forward to interpreting this new [Brad] material and going back and relearning old songs that we've maybe never even played before, really showcasing what Brad's sound is. It started pretty naturally, I mean it was in '91, '92, so when everyone was going heavy we were going super mellow... I am fascinated by that aspect of being in bands and how time can strength your bonds; how that exaggerates the emotion of the music."

Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, who contributed brand new solo song "Better Days" to the just-released "Eat, Pray, Love" soundtrack, will pop up in Little Rock, Ark. to headline a West Memphis Three benefit on Aug. 28 alongside the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines. Proceeds from the concert, which will be held in the 700-capacity Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church, will go to Arkansas Take Action which has long been fighting to overturn what many feel are the wrongful murder convictions of three locals. Vedder has supported the cause for a decade.

Drummer Matt Cameron, as previously reported, is doing double duty: he has played a handful of reunion shows with his original band, Soundgarden. So far, the quartet has played a pair of club shows plus the closing night headlining Lollapalooza slot. An album of hits and rarites, "Telephantasm" -- which includes the previously unreleased 1991 outtake "Black Rain" -- is due Sept. 28. More Soundgarden dates have been rumored but not confirmed.

"I'm looking forward to seeing some more Soundgarden shows," says Gossard. "I hope that that's part of the mix of next year. Matt getting out there and playing some dates with Soundgarden would make the world so happy. They're crushing and the songs are so great. You can tell they are so reverential about their music, and they're playing with conviction. It just shows you how different bands make the same drummer play in different ways."