Bay Area teenager fills in for Pearl Jam drummer at Oakland show

When 18-year-old drummer Kai Neukermans went to a Pearl Jam show at The Forum in Inglewood earlier this month, he saw frontman Eddie Vedder take a sheet of paper from someone in the crowd who had been scribbled down with a list of song suggestions. , including “Mind Your Manners” from their 2013 album “Lightning Bolt”.

But the Bay Area high schooler never imagined he’d be on stage performing the same song with the legendary Seattle grunge band at Oakland Arena nearly a week later, when he was told asked to replace Matt Cameron, who tested positive for COVID. and had to sit the gig.

“He hasn’t finished high school yet. This is the year, isn’t it? Vedder said before waving Neukermans over and introducing him to the crowd. “Everyone is Kai. Kai is everyone!”

The teenager, who is about to graduate from Tamalpais High School in Mill Valley, took a seat behind the Ludwig Vistalite brass drums and watched the sea of ​​about 20,000 people. Four years ago, he had formed his own band, The Alive, with his brother Manoa Neukermans, 14, who plays bass, and his friend Bastian Evans, 17, who is the singer and guitarist. Together they performed at surf shops, skate ramps and a number of festivals including Lollapalooza Chile and Shaky Knees in Atlanta.

But he had never played a show like this.

“It was surreal, the number of people that were there,” he told SFGATE on Sunday afternoon. “The arena lit up and everyone was screaming.”

Pushing his hair back from his face, he counted the group and hoped for the best.

Neukermans said text messages from his friends started coming in Thursday night – they had attended the first of two Pearl Jam shows in Oakland and, after hearing the news that Cameron was sick, encouraged him to try to contact the group. .


It certainly helped that he knew Vedder’s 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, whom he had met while performing at the Ohana Music Festival in Dana Point a year earlier. But when he texted her, she said that Josh Klinghoffer, the former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist who is currently touring with Pearl Jam, was replacing Cameron.

“I went to bed and kind of forgot,” Neukermans said.

Around noon the next day, while at school, he received another text from Olivia, who said the band was getting submissions from potential drummers and told him to send her a video of him playing the song. one of Pearl Jam’s songs.

“Worth it,” she said.

Jumping at the chance, he quit school and headed straight for Green Room Music in Pacifica, where he met his drum teacher for practice.

“I had a stats test in my next period course, which I’m not doing very well in, but I’m sure they’ll let me do it next week,” Neukermans said.

All he could think of was “Mind Your Manners,” which he listened to on repeat for a few hours, recording take after take until he felt this one was good enough to submit. Shortly after, he got a call from Pearl Jam manager Smitty that he was here.

“I called my dad and he told me he felt like he was having a heart attack,” he said.

When Neukermans arrived at the stadium, he was asked to take a COVID test and join Pearl Jam for a sound check.

“There was a small rehearsal room where me and the whole band practiced before the show,” he said. “They were having so much fun. It was trippy to see them all.

Once the show started, Neukermans waited with his younger brother at the side of the stage. He was told he would play a song, and when the time came, he couldn’t help but feel the pressure building.

“My heart skipped a beat and I was scared for a second,” he said. “But I was convinced that I could do it because I had trained a lot.”

Three minutes and a lifetime later, his time in the spotlight was over – but he killed it. Vedder triumphantly raised Neukermans’ hand and waved him to the rest of the group. Later that evening, as he walked out of the arena, he said people in the crowd approached him for photos and congratulated him.

“It was the drummer!” some of them shouted.

Kai Neukermans, 18, performs with Pearl Jam at Oakland Arena on Friday, May 13, 2022.

Melissa Lamp

Since then, it’s been constant phone calls from radio stations, media, friends and family, Neukermans said. He was also asked to write a guest column for Riff Magazine about the experience.

“It all happened so fast,” Neukermans said. “I’m super grateful.”

He is currently working on new songs with The Alive and said they hope to release an EP soon. Their next gig is at Bottle Rock in Napa.

But first, Neukermans said he needs to graduate from high school in a few weeks — and maybe take that stats test.


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