At least part of this event's appeal was the pairing of former Ticketmaster-challengers Pearl Jam and their uber-political openers, Sleater-Kinney, within the Orwellian corporate environs of Alltel Pavilion. ("Alltel" is such an entity that the spell check feature on my computer doesn't even underline the word; is it an accepted member of the English language, probably bought by the company itself?) Basic human needs like water will cost you at least $4 after you're herded around like a cow at the most expensive slaughterhouse in the world. The pavilion is managed by Clear Channel, a company that will probably start breeding and harvesting its own workers in a decade. To make matters more interesting, our country just finished wreaking "justified" havoc in Iraq, and Mr. Vedder has created some recent controversy by impaling a mask of Herr Bush on a microphone stand at the first show of the tour. I was curious to see what sort of conflicts would arise with the aforementioned ingredients in this not-so-liberal state of ours.Well, I failed on one count, because I missed Sleater-Kinney. All I experienced of them was Carrie Brownstein and Corrin Tucker's caterwauling amplified through the Alltel Pavilion parking lot, an incongruous soundtrack for all the "gettin'-fucked-up" imbibing going on among the tailgates of Jeep Cherokees. Once inside, after finding our seats, we sat down as Richard Hell's "Blank Generation" blared through the PA ... an irony lost on many attendees, I would wager.
When Pearl Jam took the stage with "Release" and "Even Flow," two "deep cuts" from their debut Ten, I really wanted to like them again. And for a few brief moments of the first song, they proved to be the best at what they do. Eddie Vedder, whose deep vocal warblings spawned a multitude of mediocre neo-grunge bands (Creed, Candlebox and worst of all, Collective Soul), has refined his voice into a versatile instrument capable of some truly enviable skills. He definitely was the high point of the band, most of whom looked really bored, except lead-axe-man Mike McCready, who took every possible opportunity to take a cookie-cutter, guitar-magazine-column solo. The man whose blazing leads once set fire to the kindling of my early-'90s adolescent confusion now succeeded in boring me out of the concert.
Things started to get interesting once Vedder strapped on a guitar and led the band through an admittedly powerful version of "Not For You," a hymn to the admittedly powerful vigor that flows through the veins of disenchanted youth. But it was not to last long; hard as I tried, I couldn't justify sitting through the rest of the set just to end up being herded out of the venue with the same bovinian mass. As Vedder sang, "All that's sacred/Comes from youth/Dedications/Naive and true ... I still remember/Why don't you?" I realized with a shock that some of these songs were over a decade old. I also realized that the blind, frustrated anger I once cherished as an asset had been replaced, for better or worse, by a more cultivated cynicism. Evolutionary inevitability, or just a sign of the times?