Pearl Jam Rocks for Montana Senator, Hits Romney's 47% Comment
Pearl Jam Rocks for Montana Senator, Hits Romney's 47% Comment

In Missoula, Band Raises Money for Embattled U.S. Senator Jon Tester

Pearl Jam teamed up with U.S. Senator Jon Tester to play its only U.S. arena gig of 2012 in Missoula, Montana's tiny Adams Center Sunday night (September 30), focusing on politics both local and national by mixing vocal support of the Democrat's re-election bid, not-so-veiled jabs at Mitt Romney and encouragement to vote in general into a 29-song set barbed with politically tinged covers.

"It's not every day you get to play a benefit for a candidate you believe in," singer Eddie Vedder said before dedicating "Given To Fly" to Tester, who was sitting back in section 209 behind the band's fanclub members, and later pointing out that the neck-in-neck Montana race was one of the two, come November, that would decide which party would control the Senate. It was PJ bassist Jeff Ament, a Montana native and childhood friend of Tester's, however, that brought the band to play Missoula.

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"Some people have said that maybe a rock band and politics shouldn't meet," Ament said at a pre-show Tester fundraiser where about 200 fans and supporters mingled with Tester and the members of Pearl Jam, sans Vedder. But, Ament added, "I grew up with Jon and I can vouch for how much he cares for Montana, how much he cares for the country. I couldn't be prouder to be up here with the band."

Tester tells Billboard his main aim in being a part of the Pearl Jam show, which was not a traditional fundraiser but rather featured some premium ticket packages sold via his campaign, was to "get people to vote and have fun in the process." The pro-alternative energy farmer, whose initial Senate bid Pearl Jam supported with a 2005 Missoula benefit, said, "If we can get everybody to vote who is eligible, that's really what's most important. And then everything will turn out right."

During the two and a half hour show, Vedder -- who recently performed at a private fundraiser for President Barack Obama's campaign -- echoed the importance of voting and threw an oblique jab at Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who he didn't mention by name. "The candidate on the other side talks as if 47% of people are living off the country, taking welfare and living on food stamps. The person that said that has never had the thrill or terror of walking on the tightrope without a net. He doesn't understand that that doesn't represent half the country. We can all agree on that. Only maybe 1% can relate to him."

While the show's nods to the upcoming elections also included the inclusion of politically-minded covers by The Clash ("Know Your Rights"), John Fogerty ("Fortunate Son") and Neil Young ("Rockin' In The Free World"), the evening featured plenty of Pearl Jam's own vast catalog. Favorites ("Daughter," "Better Man," "Alive," "Last Kiss") and deeper cuts ("Man of The Hour", "Comatose") were well represented, but unsurprisingly there was an emphasis on Ament-penned PJ tracks ("Jeremy," "Nothingman," "Ghost").

Even with a political focus and Vedder battling a cold, the band brought energy and humor to the approximately 7,000-capacity arena, leading several singsongs, and bringing out openers Mudhoney -- whose own 45-minute set was a snarling blast -- near the end of the night to join in on a raging cover of MC5's "Kick Out The Jams" that crescendoed with Mudhoney's Mark Arm wrestling freshly-mohawked Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready while he soloed without missing a note.

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In a slightly meta twist, while Pearl Jam were on stage in Missoula, the band announced online that it would do a trio of South American dates next spring, including headlining both Lollapalooza Chile and Lollapalooza Brazil. The dates will follow a busy winter as the members pursue side-projects. Ament will be touring the U.S. in November with his new side-band RNDM (which features singer songwriter Joseph Arthur), who have an album, "Acts," due October 30. Vedder's rescheduled U.S. solo tour, for which additional tickets were released last week, begins October 31 in Las Vegas and runs through early December. Matt Cameron, who is also Soundgarden's drummer, will see "King Animal," that band's first new studio album in 16 years, released on November 13. Guitarist Stone Gossard's other band Brad will embark on a European tour in February in support of its 2012 album, "United We Stand."

As for Pearl Jam's timeline for finishing its own next record, which will be its first studio album since 2009's "Backspacer," Ament told Billboard in September that "we're kinda looking at a couple of possible spots [in our schedules]. But the one thing that Ed [Vedder] and I did talk about is that we really need probably a two-month window where you have the two weeks to finish the record and you need that six weeks after to sequence and finish things up."

Ament also confirmed plenty of material is in play. "There's so much stuff. It's Ed's gig to shape those things into songs and work on the lyrics. He's really thoughtful and meticulous about that. So it's going to depend on what his biorhythms are and what he gravitates toward. There's probably 15 songs that are fairly close to finished. There's another 15 that are in other forms. I don't think any of us really know what the record is yet. There's a huge part of us that wants to be completely different than 'Backspacer' yet we're sort of working within the same sort of way of recording that we made that record, with Brendan [O'Brien, longtime Pearl Jam producer]. We have to be ready for that 10 days where for 12 hours a day you're in this mode where everything has to be on point."