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[Mike & Stone at VFC]
"the last bastion of sanity in the storm"
Constitution Hall, Washington, DC
Voters for Choice benefit show
review by Cathy LaVenia
photos by Rita Noll
When this show was announced in August, I was elated. I looked forward to it more than the Merriweather show. A Pearl Jam show for Voters for Choice held a special place in my heart because the 1995 benefit was my first PJ show. I knew the venue. I'd be going with my buddies. As a sidenote, I'd like to say the Merriweather show was fantastic (what PJ show isn't?) But the big night was going to be Pearl Jam in an intimate, restored, historic theater in Washington, DC.

"Hi, it feels like the White House in here," Eddie says looking up at the domed ceiling with the fresco painting above the stage. We were already in our seats interested in hearing Hovercraft. Eddie had taken the stage armed with a guitar. Other people started streaming in from the corridors at the sound of his voice.

"We haven't played a place with carpet in a while. This place is the last bastion of sanity in the storm. Tonight is about music and choice. You'll hear words and entertainment not in any order. Hovercraft will play." (audience cheers)

Someone shouts "Eddie for President!" Eddie replies "Not gonna happen. Unless you agree to release the tapes "Eddie was smoking pot out of a bong in his hotel room."

From there, I think he is going to launch into "Throw Your Arms Around Me", which I missed at the Seattle show. But more fitting to the night, he treats us to "I Am a Patriot" - another first for me. When he sings the line, "I am not a Democrat, ain't no Republican" - the audience shouts in agreement.

Julie Burton with Voters for Choice takes the stage and congratulates us for getting tickets to a concert that sold out in nine minutes. She shares with us that the Christian Coalition is in town. She reminds us that the VFC booths outside also have condoms and she jokes "Don't Ask, Don't Tell - Vote!!"

To introduce Pearl Jam, Gloria Steinem comes out. She pledges that she will go to jail rather than tell Kenneth Starr anything that goes on here tonight. She stresses that giving each other respect is a fundamental human right like free speech. She introduces the band by saying that the members live their beliefs. They're smart and good hearted. They use their heads and minds. They've been through tough times, but have not broken, which is rare. They look after their true selves and your true selves with albums like "Ten, "V-S" (Gloria!), "Vitalogy", "No Code", and "Yield". She then says, "I'd like to introduce Jeff Ament, Matt Cameron, "Steve" Gossard, Mike McGrady (!) and Eddie Vedder."

Eddie quietly says, "You know why we're here. We'll talk later." From there they go into a beautiful, building rendition of "Long Road". Following that and keeping with the tone of the evening, we get a great cover of Neil Young's "Act of Love". Eddie has the lyrics written out - I guess he doesn't want to flub this one up. He later passes the pages to my friend Brian as a gift.

They continue to whip us into a frenzy with "Hail, Hail" and "Dissident". The sheer power in the room, the power in that city, the power of their music is just overwhelming.

Mike dons a pair of thick framed black glasses and goes into "Given to Fly". At the end of their song, they're off.

During "Wishlist", we don't have a mirrorball. The crowd does raise their hands at the appropriate line and Ed smiles and says, "Yeah, that's it."

While singing "Not for You", Ed says he wants to dedicate the next set of lines to the Christian Coalition meeting cross town. The band takes it down a notch and he clearly sings "All that's sacred comes from youth. I still remember, why don't you?!" Then the song builds and he delivers the chorus with such a punch.

Another first for me is "All those Yesterdays". Ed just delivers the lines. The night is full of surprises when Jeff starts in with a heavy bass line and I'm wondering what this song it could be. The band go into "Push Me, Pull Me". It's a slightly different arrangement and slower. The song ends suddenly and Ed shrugs and says "Not bad. This one will be better, I promise." From there they go into a very nice "Faithfull".

Someone has passed a sign up front and Ed begins to read it. "Dear Pearl Jam: Word up, dogs? You guys fuckin' kick it. Look us up when you're back in town. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea." The audience is cheering and laughing.

Ed continues in a Clinton voice, "Shoot, it's not big deal." Someone shouts something, but I can't hear it. Ed answers and says, "Watch it, keep it consensual. This isn't about issues." Someone interrupts and shouts "I love Pearl Jam." Ed answers, "So do I." He continues, "This is bi-partisan politics in motion. It's ruining the country, ruining the office of president. They want to play King of the Hill. There are people with lives, families, debts and injuries that need help."

Mike and Ed are on stage and begin Present Tense. My notes say "Best one" and I've circled it. Stone and Matt start playing on the second verse and Jeff comes back onstage.

Mike's solo on "Black" is right on. Ed claps for him and introduces him. He then says, "Creationism is in my left hand," holding his left fist up. Evolution on my right. One is real. He points to Stone who breaks into a big smile and goes into the "Do the Evolution" intro.

For the first encore, a real Yield signs is passed up front. Ed says, "You're going hurst someone with this. I'm gonna keep it up here. The last time we played here with L7 and Young Neil, he gave me a song at a 1/2 price rate. This is what I came up with. He gave me a B+." They go into "I Got Shit". Mike plays to a happy dancer guy who is getting everyone's attention in the theater from the second level balcony.

After Alive, Ed thanks the people who came far to be here. He thanks Gloria Steinem. "From Seattle," he says, "Hovercraft, which is special for me."

He continues saying Tom Campbell and Julie Burton are inspiring. They work in the trenches and have incredible stories. They aren't here to lead any one astray. He adds, "Don't let the funny business down the street make you think that voting is not important. Vote for what you believe." He continues on saying we bomb terrorist countries when they bomb innocent people. Why do family planning clinic bombers only get a slap on the hand. He dedicates "Soldier of Love" to those on the other side and we get the mirrorball. With Matt's beat, he adds a little cha cha cha to the end of the song.

Gloria brings out roses and passes them out to the band. She says it is a historical night. She tells the crowd that it is Hovercraft's first Voters for Choice and Pearl Jam's third. Sadie 7 is Beth Leibling. Eddie Vedder is Eddie Vedder. Two artists married to each other and out for a cause. She says "I wonder if we can get Beth out here." The crowd starts to chant her name. She finally comes out and takes a rose from Gloria. Eddie gives her a kiss and they do a little waltz.

Gloria also thanks Stone and Mike for not getting mad when she messed up their names earlier. She thanks the tech, sound and lighting crew for donating their services when this is their "bread and butter."

She ends it by saying "Democracy comes to those who vote".

Mikes begins the familiar "Yellow Ledbetter". Ed says "Keith, lights up." We listen awestruck to the end of an incredible summer tour. It's a bittersweet moment with my friends from home with me and other friends from the tour in the audience.

Thanks, PJ. Thanks Brian and Ed for camping out for tickets and to Magilla for offering me a pair on the floor.