ROCK 'N' ROLL DURING WARTIME 

Vedder, who impaled a Bush mask during a performance of "Bushleaguer" at a recent Denver, Colorado gig, reportedly caused his fans to walk out of the auditorium in disbelief. So expectations were high for his Saturday, April 5 San Antonio gig: What would the cultural relic say in the land of Bush himself?

Not a whole lot. The offending song didn't make an appearance on the bloated two-and-half-hour setlist (as published by Pearl Jam's official Web site) - and scattered references to political activism were wedged between long, weary bouts of grunge nostalgia. As reported

 
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Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder performs during the band's long-awaited visit to San Antonio. Pearl Jam, along with opening act Sleater-Kinney, played the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Saturday, April 5. Photo by Mark Greenberg
by the LA Times, Pearl Jam's manager said the decision not to include the song on the April 3 Oklahoma City playlist - the second stop on the band's North American tour - was part of normal set changes, and not a "toning down" in response to the walkout. One can only assume the same reasons held true for the San Antonio gig two nights later.

In contrast to the headliners, opening act Sleater-Kinney, whose 2002 One Beat received almost unanimous acclaim as one of the top albums of the year, packed a cruelly-short set with fire and spunk. Between "Far Away," an emotional post-9-11 wound, and "Combat Rock," a tongue-biting take on American reactionism, Sleater-Kinney thanked Pearl Jam for taking them on tour. Known for intense, well-crafted live performances, SK paused to dedicate a violent cover of Creedence's "Fortunate Son" to a man on TV wearing an "Another American for Peace" shirt. Building into a cacophony, drummer Janet Weiss, who sports a hugely inflated pedal-calf, seared her ending drum solo by blasting straight into SK's anthemic "Dig Me Out." It was a defining moment in protest - and even the Pearl Jam fans took note.

Taking the stage at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Vedder gripped the mic like the vestiges of his career, delivering staples like "Even Flow" and "Black" with his trademark double-fisted intensity. Heavy on material from Vitalogy and Ten, the few songs played from Pearl Jam's latest release, Riot Act, included a placation called "Patriot," featuring such controversial lyrics as "I am a patriot, and I love my country."

At the beginning of the first of two five-song encores, Vedder made one inaudible comment about George Bush: The audience cheered, but when questioned, none seemed to know exactly what he had said. Yet, to judge a musician on any basis but his music seems unfair: After all, as Vedder said that night, "I'll let the song protest." So what song did he choose to follow up his mumbled Bush comment? The popular cover of the love ballad "Last Kiss," followed by alt-rock primer "Better Man."

In hindsight, it seems ludicrous to have expected a sustained, intelligent line of protest from Pearl Jam, whose much-publicized bout with Ticketmaster did not prevent ticket prices for this show from soaring above $60. Stuck in the back of a concrete patio, not allowed to smoke or stand in the aisle, sipping a $6.75 warm Budweiser, and watching half-a-dozen fans hoist their cell phones into the air in an unconscious imitation of the commerical (was it Verizon?): It ain't me, it ain't me. I ain't no fortunate son. •


More by Laura M. Fries

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