Groundwork, a week-long series of benefit concerts intended to help eradicate hunger, culminated in Monday’s all-star show — including Alanis Morissette, Pearl Jam and R.E.M. — at Seattle’s Key Arena.
“It’s too early to say what kind of impact we’ve had,” said Melanie Ciccone, who produced the shows. “But we planted the seed, and woke people up so they recognize the problem.”
Groundwork consisted of two big events that bookended a series of smaller shows held in the Experience Music Project’s Sky Church Auditorium. (The only cancellation was the AfroCelt Sound System, who declined due to “recent unrest in countries with multi-ethnic populations” and the need to “consider the security of all band members.”) Joe Strummer, the Wallflowers and Joe Henry were among these performers, but a highlight was a one-off from Heart.
While Ann and Nancy Wilson have a rich backlog of worthy Heart originals, they chose to mix their own songs with wide-ranging covers — as if they were a new band coming into its own that was paying tribute to its roots. This included Elton John’s “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” (a tribute to New York), and Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun.” There was also a pair of songs associated with Nancy’s husband, director Cameron Crowe: Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” featured in Say Anything and “Fever Dog,” as performed by the fictional Sweetwater in last year’s Almost Famous. The song really isn’t really a cover, as Nancy wrote the song for the movie.
During her Key Arena set, Alanis Morissette whirled around the stage with abandon as the combine bass and drums went over the audience like a steamroller. Kicking off with “Right Through You,” her short set stayed away from the hits. She previewed two pulsing songs from the upcoming Under Rug Swept CD, “A Man” and “Sister Blister.” An electric sitar enhanced “Still” (from the Dogma soundtrack), and she finished with “Thank U,” the only song known to those outside of her fan base. The visuals were also compelling, particularly when she blew the harmonica from under a cascading waterfall of her own hair. Clearly, she has a great time singing about pain.
Pearl Jam has a habit of pulling out odd covers, and they followed Morissette by launching into John Lennon’s “Gimme Some Truth.” Vedder’s short hair prompted audience shouts that he looked awfully conservative, and a hideously ugly blue plaid jacket drove the stake all the way through the heart of grunge fans. But Vedder soon ditched the jacket and plowed through a set that drew heavily from last year’s Binaural. The band also previewed a new song, “I Am Mine,” but the crowd saved its most enthusiastic reaction for “Better Man.”
By the time R.E.M. hit the stage at 11 p.m. (actually an hour earlier than scheduled) much of the crowd had already peaked — choosing to sit and watch rather than dance in the aisles as they had for Pearl Jam. Between the opener, “Losing My Religion,” and the closing song, “It’s The End of the World That We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — with Vedder guesting — Stipe mugged and pranced through a varied career retrospective. Like Morissette, much of the impact was visual; Stipe’s recognizable from a mile away, but he played in front of a giant video screen and sang to his own image. “Do you think you got your money’s worth?” he asked the crowd? An uproarious roar of approval gave him his answer.