I went to see Pearl Jam and Sleater-Kinney last night, and it seems highly likely that this “controversy” is wildly overblown.
First, the political part:
In their first encore, Eddie Vedder came out on stage alone with a miniature guitar and a Bill Gates mask. He said (I'm reconstructing from memory), “Let me show you how to impale a mask in a bizarre ritualistic fashion. First, you wear the mask. (Vedder pulls on a full rubber mask that covers his head like a helmet.) You put on the mask and do a little dance. Then you take it off and- here’s the sick part- are you ready? (Vedder removes the mask and lowers it onto an adjacent microphone stand, like putting a hat on a hat stand.) Total fucking impalement. And then you sing to it. This is a bizarre, violent ritual that I made up, because I’m a sick fuck. And a celebrity.” (He proceeds to sing a song to the floating Bill Gates head next to him.)
I don’t know what he did with the Bush mask the other night in Denver. But if the "impalement" was anything like what he did last night, there was nothing violent about it.
(However, I should add that dozens left even before the first encore. That’s one offensive political statement - it offends people even before they hear it!)
Other political statements... for the big encore, they brought back Sleater-Kinney to play along with Pearl Jam, and they performed “Fortunate Son” and “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Carrie had new lyrics to the second verse, which went something like this:
“There’s a woman in the night
And she’s worried ‘bout her son
She sent him to Iraq
Wonders if he’ll come home
I’m worried ‘bout my kid, and he isn’t even ten
When will it end, when will it end?
…(and two lines I missed entirely)”
Carrie wore a guitar strap that said “Peace and Love.” She opened one song by saying, “Are there any moms out there? I’m a mom. This song goes out to anyone who’s the mother of a U.S. soldier, and to anyone who’s the mother of an Iraqi.” This got a big cheer.