Little did Pearl Jam fans Down Under and in Hawaii know, but the Yield tour that stormed their shores beginning Feb. 20, 1998 would be their last hurrah with Jack Irons, the drummer responsible for introducing Eddie Vedder to the rest of the band.

In 1998, mainland America would have to wait to hear the rollicking new Pearl Jam album live — though they did premiere several songs on the nationwide Monkeywrench Radio broadcast a few days before Yield dropped on Feb. 3 of that year. Instead, the band began the festivities in one of frontman Eddie Vedder’s favorite places, Hawaii, to a tiny crowd of 4,400 at Kahului 's Alexander & Baldwin Amphitheater with their longtime friends Mudhoney onboard as support.

Indeed, Vedder’s surfing references were well represented as the band kickstarted its first world tour in two years. When he intoned, “I wish I was a 40-foot wave, breaking off the north shore” during the quiet “Wishlist,” you knew he meant it. And what better way to ease into things than with a tour of great surfing spots. But the month-long jaunt to the antipodes  that followed wasn’t a vacation, however, with 15 dates in 30 days, five albums of material and sold-out arenas across New Zealand and Australia.

Quickly, two songs from Yield emerged as live powerhouses. “Do the Evolution,” complete with its “hallelujah” interlude and funky guitar crunch, opened the second night of the tour in Maui — unusual as Pearl Jam’s sets typically open with slow-burning song. Whether deployed toward the top of a show (Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney) or during an encore (Auckland), “DTE” incited a writhing mosh pit everywhere it went. The pair of Yield gems made the setlist every night, a huge tribute to the power of those new tunes considering Pearl Jam is well-known for playing a different set every show.

The Led Zeppelin-inspired “Given to Fly,” on the other hand, was a grower, with Mike McCready’s twinkling guitar parts building to big choruses that had the many thousands pogoing as Vedder’s voice soared.

There would, of course, be surprises as well. Vedder packed some inspired covers — in Sydney and Brisbane, “Throw Your Arms Around Me” by Australia’s Hunters & Collectors; Cat Stevens’ “Trouble” in Melbourne; Little Steven Van Zandt’s “I Am a Patriot” in Perth. Bassist Jeff Ament’s birthday got the cake-fight treatment in Sydney, while Vedder guested with openers Shudder to Think in Perth. Fans got to witness Ament and guitarist Stone Gossard swap instruments a few times for 1996’s “Smile.”

This first leg fittingly wrapped on Australia’s last night of summer. Just weeks later, it would be announced that Irons was bowing out of the U.S. dates three months later to focus on his health. The former Red Hot Chili Pepper had been friends with Vedder since 1989, and had been the pal who handed the singer the tape of instrumental demos from his acquaintances in Seattle— songs that became Ten. Irons joined the band in the midst of tumultuous times in 1994, a few months after Kurt Cobain’s death and just as Pearl Jam’s fight against Ticketmaster took flight. It was with Irons that Pearl Jam leaned in to the more experimental polyrhythms of 1996’s No Code, but veered to straight-ahead rock for Yield to much acclaim.

His replacement was Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron. That mega 1998 U.S. jaunt, their first huge arena tour in years, would be another story entirely, with Cameron and his hard-hitting energy powering the proceedings.

But for a brief moment in time, in February and March 1998, Pearl Jam took the songs of Yield on a live workout with the drummer who helped write them.

I wish I was a lucky man,” Vedder sang during “Wishlist” in Melbourne. “Well, I guess that I am.”

Pearl Jam, Feb. 20, 1998, Alexander & Baldwin Amphitheater, Kahului, HI Set List 

1. "Corduroy"
2. "Hail Hail"
3. "Brain of J."
4. "Faithfull"
5. "Red Mosquito"
6. "Wishlist"
7. "Even Flow"
8. "MFC"
9. "Habit"
10. "Better Man"
11. "Jeremy"
12. "Given to Fly"
13. "Daughter"
14. "Black"
15. "In Hiding"
16. "Do the Evolution"
17. "Last Exit"

Encore
18. "Once"
19. "Smile"
20. "Yellow Ledbetter"

 

Pearl Jam Lineup Changes: A Complete Guide