A few hundred lucky fans packed into New York’s Avalon on Wednesday night to witness Pearl Jam tape an episode of the VH1 series “Storytellers,” which will premiere July 1 on the music channel. The band last played the venue formerly known as Limelight in 1992.
On Wednesday, frontman Eddie Vedder was in a political mood throughout the 10-song set, noting that although “truth seems to be a vanishing commodity” under President Bush’s leadership, the band was keeping in mind the old saying, “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Filling in background and inspiration for songs old and new, Vedder riffed on the abusive relationship at the heart of “Better Man” (“it’s much more tricky to end them than I would have thought,” he said) and explained how the audience response to “Alive” forever changed the song’s meaning for him.
“In the original story, a teenager is being made aware of a shocking truth that leaves him plenty confused,” he said of the tale, based on his own teenage discovery that the man he believed to be his biological father was actually not. “It was a curse — ‘I’m still alive.'”
But as fans quickly turned the title phrase into a self-empowering anthem, particularly at Pearl Jam concerts, Vedder said, “they lifted the curse. The audience changed the meaning for me.”
Earlier, he pointed out how many Pearl Jam songs find the subject “sitting behind the wheel of a moving vehicle” before joking, “Bruce Springsteen is still the boss of car songs but we’re working our way up to assistant manager.”
Vedder saved his strongest anti-Bush venom for a solo acoustic reworking of late folk singer Phil Ochs’ “Here’s to the State of Mississippi,” with new lyrical references to vice president Dick Cheney, evangelist Jerry Falwell, attorney general Alberto Gonzalez and, of course, President Bush.
During a brief Q&A session with fans, guitarist Stone Gossard ribbed Vedder for not playing the rest of the band his “Better Man” demo until it was time to make the third Pearl Jam album. “Just think of the other songs he has hidden away,” he said.
Vedder acknowledged Pearl Jam may have lost some fans due to its political leanings, but said, “When you take a stand you have to be very committed to ideals. I respect everyone’s opinion. At least we’ve taken part in creating some discussion.”
The show ended with an aggressive run through new single “Life Wasted,” the top debut this week at No. 25 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart. Pearl Jam concludes the first leg of its summer tour tomorrow in East Rutherford, N.J.