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.
The only boos that I heard came in the middle of Pearl Jam’s set, when Eddie Vedder started talking to the crowd about the state of the world. At one point, he said “It doesn’t feel like the United States of America any more, it really doesn’t.” There were mixed cheers and boos, and the woman behind me started yelling “JUST SING!”
Now, the musical part:
I haven’t felt so good after a concert in ages. Sleater-Kinney may be the best rock band out there today. The amazing thing is that they do it in spite of the voices of the lead singers. Corin Tucker constantly sounds on the verge of hysteria and can’t seem to turn off the intense vibrato, and Carrie Brownstein has more than a hint of duck in her voice. But their songs more than make up for it – their songs are just so dense, passionate, catchy and contrapuntal that the wailing and quacking somehow seem right. I can’t get enough of them.
I haven’t bought any Pearl Jam albums in years, but that might have to change. Those guys have a real gift for fast, urgent rock songs, and Eddie Vedder still must be one of the greatest rock vocalists alive. I had a voice major friend in college tell me that Eddie Vedder’s technique was ripping up his vocal cords, but he sounded terrific last night. I love my ironic post-modern bands, too- I’ve said that I want to quit my job and start a Hives cover band- but to see Pearl Jam honestly raging, wearing their collective heart on their collective sleeve, was really powerful. I don’t know if it was the moment or the contact high or what, but during “Rockin’ in the Free World,” I got a genuine lump in my throat.
I spent $50 for lawn tickets (after %#$* convenience charges and whatnot), and didn’t feel ripped off. I love it when I can say that. At the end of the night, I felt energized and invigorated. Pearl Jam put a speed bump on my slow road to cranky old manhood, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.
One more thing:
Saturday night, my fiancée and I got free tickets to see a “redneck comedian” who goes by the name Larry the Cable Guy. He filled the Verizon Wireless Theater (capacity around 2000). I assumed that he’d be a Jeff Foxworthy type, but that wasn’t quite right. Jeff Foxworthy mostly finds humor by poking fun at himself, his family, and his friends.
Larry the Cable Guy, on the other hand, prefers to find humor in farts, poop, immigrants and “queers”. A few of his jokes centered around the fact that many of these people working airport security are… (wait for it) of Middle Eastern origin themselves! (A woman two rows ahead of us started screaming “THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” at this joke. I’ve got to give him credit, though- when talking about Arabs and Middle Easterners, he doesn’t use the term that rhymes with “Stand bigger.” He used the more respectful “rag head.”) He didn’t do any of his Asian impressions from the “Gooks of Hazzard” skits, but you can listen to them online.
Really, though, the biggest subjects were farts and poop. Take them out, and he’d lose about 30 minutes of his act. I’m not a fan.
As you might imagine, Larry the Cable Guy made a few critical jokes about Clinton, Democrats and especially Janet Reno. It seems to me that it’s as appropriate for celebrity comedian Larry the Cable Guy to criticize Clinton as it is for Pearl Jam to criticize Bush. Turnabout makes the world go round. Right?