Play Rock ‘n’ Roll! Or – When Jocks Attack

So I was in the process of preparing a post on the ultimate Pearl Jam set list (I should point out that Pearl Jam are on that list of Bands Who Can Do No Wrong) were time and times not a factor when I came across a particular rendition of Bu$hleaguer and this post was born as a stopgap.

Now not only am I lucky enough to have caught Pearl Jam live back on the Binaural tour (they haven’t really played here much since when I’ve been able to catch a show) but I’m also lucky enough to have a wonderful wife who kitted me out with the full set of merch surrounding the PJ20 film last year – the soundtrack and book. While reading through I came across a more detailed account of something that I’d only really heard a little about – the negative response the band would get to the song.

For those that don’t know the tune here it is:

Quite the Bush-baiting track with a pretty decent guitar phrase and a nice touch in the sinister “black out weaves its way through the city”… it’s a pretty decent tune on an album (Riot Act) that was overlooked despite having it’s fair share of them.

Anywho. The track didn’t go down at all well with the Republicans among PJ’s fanbase and on April 30th the band played it at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale with Vedder in his shiny suit and Bush mask. It doesn’t go down well at all. From the PJ20 book:

Matt Cameron: There was a hail of quarters being thrown at us, and that was the first time at Pearl Jam show where, like, I felt the crowd was really mad, and they were trying to hurt us.

Mike McCready pointed out that there was “one fireman in the front row, and he was, like, showing me his badge. He looked at us like, “you’ve betrayed us”. I felt like, as Americans, we should have the right to say what we have to say.”

Of course I went straight to the PJ20 soundtrack where said performance is captured and it’s true you really can hear a wave of hostility (even though it was just a small part of the crowd that weren’t digging it) being fired back. Problem is that the track cuts off after Vedder’s “I busted out the nice suit for you, yeah.”

pj-bushleaguerThankfully I then decided that given how many amazing live shows the book documented, it might be worth seeing if I could get some of em on the Bootleg series. Bit pricey but never fear, the internet is here and there’s an amazing site – Pearl Jam bootlegs – that had an amazing array of the band’s live shows so I could listen and download until my iPod exploded. Among those shows is the April 30th 2003 show at the (ah, this might explain a bit more of the Republican feeling) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale.

On the bootleg the track isn’t cut and what you get is the full 4 minutes after the tunes last bar. What you get is Vedder trying to talk to a crowd while still Bush-baiting – “maybe you like him cos he’s gonna give you a tax cut, maybe you like him cos he’s a real guy that relates to you cos he’s so ‘down home'” – while they’re still booing. He goes as far as to point out that, of course, he’s pro-USA and for the most part the crowd lap it up but what gets me… and I guess what got them too.. is that there’s one guy who’s voice is so cutting it sounds way too high in the mix. Not only is he booing but he’s chanting something repeatedly: PLAY ROCK N ROLL, PLAY ROCK N ROLL…

Now, I can imagine this guy as being what the American call your typical jock. A meat head who thinks that music should be devoid of message and meaning and should be just mindless, thumping music to chug beers and get out of your head to. I’m not sure what that is (though I have a suspicion it’s Nickleback and Ted Nugent) but I’m pretty sure it’s not Rock N Roll. Hell, look at when rock n roll started – it was pure rebellion. It was something purely for teenagers, it was anti-establishment before Punk was even conceived and it’s spirit is about freedom and challenging the rules. Why else do you think it made such a stir?

The strangest thing is how well Vedder keeps his cool. He has the vast majority of the crowd on his side, he also has the microphone but rather than doing, say, a Josh Homme (have you heard him tackle a heckler on Monster In The Parasol on Over The Years? “Hey cock-smocker, eat a bag of dicks…. you cock-smocking fuck hole”), he tries to reason and calm. Then again he’s clearly pissed off – you can hear the anger in his voice when the band breaks into Know Your Rights next (seriously, how Rock N Roll is that – playing an even more anti-government song after being booed for playing your own?) and then calls it quits after another – Rockin In The Free World – two songs early.Pearl Jam Riot Act

Surely the frustration isn’t so much the fact that they were booed – and had quarters thrown at them – they’ve had it before (“shoe the shoeless” in a youtube will give you some smiles). I think the frustration is that they’re still getting these jocks in their audience some 12 years in. It’s a common thing really with similar bands. I’ve seen and read enough biogs on Nirvana to know that they were equally surprised and frustrated to see these jocks appearing in their crowds because certain tunes had a bit of rock muscle on radio. The recent Grohl biog even points out that when they all heard Alive for the first time they expected Pearl Jam to be those big high school jock types.

Of course with songs like Alive stocking up the mainstream radio it was unavoidable that people would love the power and the rock in it (and there’s no harm in a bit of rock) without paying attention to the songs lyrics but after 12 years? It’s not like during those ten years Pearl Jam put out a cover of Cat Scratch Fever. No, they deliberately went underground in comparison. They made records like No Code and Vitalogy as non-rock as possible. Their political voice may not have been too loud at that point but surely nobody goes to the trouble of buying a Pearl Jam ticket without knowing more than one song from their albums or even giving Riot Act a cursory listen? I guess this guy did, I guess he went expecting them to simply stand still and play the hits.

Anyway it did create magic because that track got new life live as a result of the tension it would breed – some of the tunes best performances followed the night at Nassau – and the power of Know Your Rights following it also makes for a standout performance:

Or check out the whole show at PJ Bootlegs

I’m not sure what Mr Meathead was after, something soulless, something that doesn’t challenge the rules, didn’t make you think, doesn’t make you want to get up and DO something – anything. I’m not sure what that is but it isn’t rock n roll.