This lucky kid just got to live out a fantasy quietly treasured by every aspiring rocker who ever lived.
Teen drummer Kai Neukermans had counted off the beat for many songs before, his drum sticks leading into fierce covers of bands including Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age.
But this time it wasn’t his younger brother and a friend at guitar, bass and mike. Seated at the drum kit, the 18-year-old from Mill Valley stared back at none other than Eddie Vedder and the rest of popular grunge band Pearl Jam. Plus a crowd of fans in the nearly 20,000-seat Oakland Arena.
“Everybody this is Kai; Kai this is everybody!” frontman Vedder called out to the cheering crowd.
Four beats from Neukermans, and they were off. He had led them into an explosive rendition of “Mind Your Manners” from the group’s 2013 “Lightning Bolt” album. Vedder leaned over and screamed into the microphone, chugged from a bottle of red wine and pumped his fist as the audience sang along.
Spin back about 24 hours to get to the unlikely series of events that led this Tamalpais High School senior to share Friday night’s stage with one of the most steadfast bands still kicking from Seattle’s grunge movement.
Neukermans is not just any teen drummer; he’s one-third of the hard-charging teen rock group the Alive, a band “launched between surf and skate sessions in 2018,” as their web bio explains. They’ve played significant stages, from the BottleRock Napa Valley main stage to Lollapalooza Chile and Boardmasters in England. His 14-year-old brother, Manoa Neukermans, plays bass, and their friend Bastian Evans, 17, of Laguna Beach (Orange County) handles guitar and vocals.
Neukermans and his brother had just seen Pearl Jam perform in Los Angeles — the band was in town for a recording session. During Pearl Jam’s first show in Oakland on Thursday, Neukermans and his family started receiving text messages from friends watching the band perform. Pearl Jam drummer Matt Cameron wasn’t performing because he’d tested positive for the coronavirus.
Unbelievable. So we’ve now reached such an advanced stage of pussification that nothing more menacing than a positive test for this grotesquely overhyped malady is excuse enough to skive off work and stay safely home quaking in fear over your imminent demise from the Chinky Pox, eh?
Now, I have no wish to bring down The Jinx on our non-pussy readership by being impertinent about this silliness, mind. But I can’t help but wonder: would those weak-kneed Pearl Jam panic-ninnies have called off the show if the stand-in hadn’t been up to it for whatever reason? Would disappointed, screwed-over fans have received an expiditious, full refund of the exorbitant admission price they shelled out? It’s a dead cert they’ll have to eat the cost of gas, food, drinks, plus the staggeringly high cost of parking about a good half-hour’s trudge, maybe more, from the venue, no helping that.
But still. Does Pearl Jam feel any obligation to not let their fans down if they can possibly avoid doing so? Can they possibly be so naive, so profoundly gormless, that they do sincerely believe that a single positive test is adequate justification for abjuring that solemn obligation? Could the band make a plausible case for that, collectively or individually, to the fans with a straight face? WOULD they?
They pressed him to offer himself up as a replacement for Friday night’s show.
“It was a last-minute thing, and I didn’t think it was going to work out,” Neukermans said.
But he gave it a shot.
Neukermans had met Vedder’s daughter Olivia Vedder in 2018 at Ohana Fest, founded by her surf-loving father and held on the beach at Dana Point in Orange County. So Neukermans sent her a text. She responded that night and said she’d ask.
Friday morning Neukermans went to school. Around lunchtime he heard they wanted to see a video of him drumming.
Neukermans left school before his last two periods — with permission from his parents, Stefaan and Alexandre Neukermans — and drove down to Green Room Music in Pacifica. He put “Mind Your Manners” on repeat in a rehearsal room and started drumming. Over and over and over.
Okay, enough with the excerpting. If you’re at all interested in these momentous affairs, click on over for our thrilling conclusion.