Sept. 16, 1996
Eddie Vedder has always gone out of his way to appear to be a populist, and during the kickoff performance of Pearl Jam‘s No Code tour, his electioneering reached new heights. Throughout the night, the frontman had a platform of issues to discuss onstage (Vedder is against unruly security guards, Microsoft, Ticketmaster; Vedder is for marijuana, stage diving, women’s self-defense). He also displayed the sort of control-freak leadership that wins votes, whether he was telling the crowd to “mellow out,” instructing security whom to kick offstage or choosing songs for the band like a conductor. If you had thrown in Dan Rather and some balloons, this show could have been a political convention.
Not counting a surprise club appearance two days before, this was the first Pearl Jam concert in almost a year, and there were some miscues. Most of the problems – technical glitches with guitars and mikes – will no doubt be worked out as the band’s 31-date, 15-nation tour locks into a groove. Yet, ironically, it was Pearl Jam’s ticketing system that provided the biggest snafu. To prevent counterfeiting, Key Arena used bar-code readers to check every ticket that passed through the turnstiles. Which meant that it took hours for all 14,000 Pearl Jam fans to enter the venue.
In addition to Vedder’s social issues, Pearl Jam had a musical agenda to push. The singer didn’t speak to the audience until after the third song, whereupon he said that the band was “gonna settle down.” The comment could have been sarcastic, coming as it did after a decidedly low-key start, which included “Long Road,” from Pearl Jam’s sessions with Neil Young, “Hail, Hail” and “Who You Are,” from their new LP, No Code. During the course of the night, the band played eight of the 13 songs on No Code, and the more ethereal and laid-back new tunes contrasted sharply with testosterone-powered hits such as “Even Flow” and “Go.”
During “Alive,” Vedder pulled from the crowd a kid who proceeded to lie down onstage, arms at his side, looking as if he were in heaven. As the band continued to play, the kid suddenly sprang up and leapt into the mosh pit in a glorious swan dive. It was a perfect Seattle Pearl Jam moment, best summed up by a comment Vedder had made earlier in the show, when, like any politician, he pandered to the locals. “In the immortal words of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and Mark Arm from Mudhoney,” he said, “there’s no place like home.” If the crowd had been polled after the announcement, Pearl Jam would have won the rock & roll elections by a landslide.
This story is from the October 31st, 1996 issue of Rolling Stone.