Eddie Vedder’s Innings Fest set was a ukulele-smashing triumph — complete with guest stars

Eddie Vedder had already smashed a ukulele, dusted off a Beatles song and executed a spot-on impression of Tom Petty — after setting the tone for his performance with a breathtaking “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” — when he told the crowd he’d like to bring a friend onstage to join him.

And with that, Josh Klinghoffer, a former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers who joined Pearl Jam’s touring band in 2021 and worked on Vedder’s latest solo album, “Earthling,” strolled out and stayed on for most of the night, playing second guitar and keyboards during Vedder’s second stint as a headlining act at Innings Festival.

Bronson Arroyo joined Eddie Vedder at Innings for these covers

A few songs later, he and Klinghoffer were joined on a cover of U2’s “In God’s Country” by Clint Walsh, a guitarist for Major League Baseball star Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo, whose band had done a set that afternoon, later emerged to accompany Vedder on guitar for a moving rendition of Pearl Jam’s “Black.”

The four of them ended the night with an encore performance of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”

Why Eddie Vedder’s return to Innings still felt spontaneous and intimate

It would be tempting to assume a set with all those guest appearances would feel more structured than his first appearance at the Tempe Beach Park festival in 2019, when he was free to act on any given whim as the only musician on stage. All his 2023 guests needed to learn those songs in advance, of course.

But if this set was less spontaneous than Vedder’s previous performance at the festival, it didn’t come across that way at all.

It may have helped that Klinghoffer is well-equipped to follow Vedder’s lead through any song that manages to find its way into the set. It wasn’t always pretty, but the ragged edges had their own appeal.

Eddie Vedder reflected on his love of spring training and the MIM

Having special guests didn’t dampen the easy rapport Vedder had with the audience last time out. He told stories, made plenty of jokes and otherwise gave off the aura of someone who was hanging out with several thousand fans.

He reflected on the weather.

“A week ago, it said it was gonna be 48 and rain, so at least it’s only 49,” he said. “Keep singing. It’ll keep you warm.”

He sprinkled in some local flavor.

“One of the greatest museums not just in the country but on the planet is the Musical Instrument Museum,” Vedder said, sharing his enthusiasm for a ukulele exhibition set to open in the fall.

He talked about how much he loves spring training. “It’s such a cool part of the year when all the opportunities are open, everything seems possible, it’s infectious.”

Eddie Vedder brought plenty of stories — and smashed a ukulele

Vedder recalled the first time he set foot in Arizona. He drove in from San Diego, where he was working night shifts at a filling station, to purchase tickets to a 1987 U2 concert because he heard tickets were $5 each.

There was plenty of comic relief. After smashing a ukulele Townshend-style because it wasn’t working right, he said, “I might need another one.” Then after having to stop the song he was playing on a second ukulele because he hit a wrong chord, Vedder laughed as he said, “I wanna smash this one, too.”

There’s a type of person who likes to shout “Less talk, more rock” at shows where bands are being chatty. That type of person would’ve had a major problem with this set. But those frequently rambling anecdotes were half the fun and elevated the experience to something more than a headlining festival gig.

Of course, it helped that the music was great, from that opening version of “Elderly Woman” through his harmonica-driven rendition of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (which Vedder truly made his own) to the set-closing version of “Hard Sun,” which made a solid case for using backing tracks onstage.

Eddie Vedder set list at Innings Festival 2023

  • “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Far Behind”
  • “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” (The Beatles cover)
  • “Wishlist” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Soon Forget” (Pearl Jam)
  • “I Won’t Back Down” (Tom Petty cover)
  • “Just Breathe” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Long Way”
  • “Hunger Strike” “(Temple of the Dog song)
  • “Better Man” (Pearl Jam song)
  • “In God’s Country” (U2 cover)
  • “Society”
  • “Black” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Lukin” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Porch” (Pearl Jam)
  • “Hard Sun”
  • Encore: “Rockin’ in the Free World” (Neil Young cover)
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