Unfortunately, The Who and Pearl Jam are both no strangers to staring tragedy in the eye. Following the latter’s fateful Roskilde headline set in 2000, where nine fans were killed, Pete Townshend was there to console the band’s devastated frontman, Eddie Vedder.
The incident nearly brought Pearl Jam to an end as they dealt with the trauma of their concert causing such fatal consequences. While the crowd crush was not the fault of the band, the members of Pearl Jam couldn’t help but feel responsible for the disaster and almost called it a day as a result.
Halfway through their headline set at the Danish festival, many people in the crowd attempted to make their way to the front and fell into a deadly stampede. Pearl Jam stopped the show as soon as they were informed about the situation and told the audience to step back.
While Pearl Jam did everything in their power, they still beat themselves up over not doing more. Vedder later admitted: “At least one person in the band thought that maybe we should never play again, and if that’s something the rest of us didn’t feel, it still was not something that could be easily dismissed. We all had to process something that we all went through as individuals, but also with the help of each other.”
One person who knew all too well what was running through Vedder’s mind during this disturbing time was The Who’s Pete Townshend. In 1979, their show in Cincinnati resulted in eleven fans passing away from asphyxiation in tragic similarities to that incident that occured at Roskilde.
Staggeringly, The Who decided to carry on with their tour and played a show the following night in Buffalo, which Townshend sincerely regrets. When he heard about the tragedy in Denmark, the guitarist reached out and offered his sympathies to Vedder, who desperately needed to hear it.
“For us, it came close on the heels of the death of Keith Moon,” Townshend later recalled to Uncut. “So it was a double blow. I was definitely still really pretty fucked up from that. When Roskilde happened, I just sent Eddie a two-word message: ‘Don’t leave.’ And they did stay. And I think it was very important that they did.”
He added: “Because what we did is we left [Cincinnati], we left the next day, we went to Buffalo. And I remember going on the stage, and Roger [Daltrey] saying – and I should really make it clear I was perfectly behind what Roger said at the time – ‘Let’s play this gig for rock’ n’ roll and the kids of Cincinnati!’ It was just entirely inappropriate. I mean, just wrong. You know, we shouldn’t have gone on, we shouldn’t have performed.”
The Who were already collectively in an unfit frame of mind as they attempted to come to terms with the death of Moon, and the Cincinnati catastrophe only compiled their misery.
Pearl Jam listened to Townshend’s advice and returned to the stage a month after the incident, which they later said was critical as it “enabled us to start processing” the tragedy. While playing to large audiences was a frightening thought, they comprehended that the deaths weren’t their fault and Roskilde shouldn’t end their journey.