Just eight days after Kurt Cobain’s lifeless body was found in his Seattle area, Pearl Jam—the Beatles to Nirvana’s Stones—were tasked to perform on “Saturday Night Live.” It wasn’t the first time Pearl Jam played upon hearing the news that the Nirvana frontman committed suicide (allegedly, in deference to conspiracy theorists). In fact, Pearl Jam performed a 25-song set at Fairfax, Virginia’s Patriot Center hours after news broke Cobain was dead.
At the time, Pearl Jam was inarguably way bigger than Nirvana; in fact, Nirvana’s Nevermind follow-up In Utero was more or less considered a flop until Cobain died and, as per usual, bandwagoners shot the album from #72 to #27 on the Billboard charts. Conversely, Pearl Jam—with only two albums under their belt—could have easily sold out stadiums, had Eddie Vedder been a little less humble about the band’s breakneck success.
The relationship between Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain was considered frosty at best. In fact, Cobain once, non-cryptically, said he “hated” Pearl Jam, although softened the blow by saying he “really liked” Vedder. So no one knew if Pearl Jam or Vedder would even acknowledge Cobain’s passing on April 16, 1994.
That night the band opened with “Not for You,” a song set for their next album Vitalogy, and also performed “Rearviewmirror” from Vs. and a medley of Vs.’s “Daughter” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).” The inclusion of the Neil Young cover appeared to be a tribute (of sorts) to Cobain, as the song famously includes the lyric “It’s better to burn out than fade away,” a line Cobain borrowed for his (alleged) suicide note. That said, Pearl Jam actually began performing the song two days before Cobain’s body was found but only a day after medical examiners claim he died—so let more conspiracy theories begin. (Below is SNL rehearsal footage of Pearl Jam performing “Not For You)
Vedder did, in fact, pay tribute to Cobain after host Emilio Estevez thanked everyone at the show closing. Vedder, standing to the right of Estevez, opened his jean jacket to reveal a brown-ish shirt with the letter “K” Sharpied over the heart region. Looking somber, he placed his right hand just beneath the letter, as he stared off into the distance (or into the black).
Later that day—as it was now after midnight EST—Pearl Jam performed an hour, forty-five minute show (short for them) at New York’s Paramount Theater; it would be drummer Dave Abbruzzese’s last with the band.