At the conclusion of Monday’s Pearl Jam fund-raising concert for the senate campaign of Jon Tester, bassist Jeff Ament donned a Griz basketball jersey, Eddie Vedder tossed his empty bottle of wine into the crowd and guitarist Mike McCready eased out the last few perfect notes of the band’s popular “Yellow Ledbetter”—all while the crowd screamed for more, even after more than two hours of nonstop best-of offerings. Standing to the side of the stage during those last moments was Tester, surrounded by his family, anonymous save for his shiny blonde flattop standing out like a solar panel amongst the backward baseball hats and highlighted pigtails that dominated the vivacious throng. Tester was cheering the show with everyone else, a smile as expansive as his organic farm in Big Sandy spread across his face.
For Pearl Jam fans, Monday’s show was as memorable as any, perhaps moreso than their last local appearance two years ago. Despite Vedder’s early promise to play obscure tracks (they dug up a few, including “Black Red Yellow”), the setlist was overwhelmingly slanted to spirited versions of fan favorites—“Even Flow,” “Daughter,” “Black,” “Alive,” “Better Man,” and so on. Ament and Vedder played a duet alone on stage, Vedder embarrassed Ament with a long speech about his noble character (which eventually ended with a comment on Tester), and Vedder closed the second of three encores by theatrically tearing apart the strings of his guitar. It was a rock ’n’ rolling good time.
For politicos, Monday’s show was harder to quantify. Tester made brief remarks to open the concert, but was little mentioned thereafter. Volunteers for the Tester campaign were everywhere registering voters, signing up volunteers and soliciting information for mailing lists, but fielded more questions about the band than the candidate.
“Honestly? They all want to know where the t-shirts are being sold,” said Jackie Perrin, 19, a volunteer at the main campaign booth inside the arena.
Volunteers also handed out a black-and-white flyer for Tester (tagline: “Good guy. Great leader. Made for Montana.”), which included a short biography (heavy on the farming stuff) and a three-bullet blurb on his “proven leadership,” touting state senate initiatives on prescription drug benefits, wind energy resources and quality education.
Kelsey Ryan, a “hard-core” Republican attending the show with her like-minded brother, cared less about the political aspects of the show—one interesting moment had Vedder riffing about the war in Iraq, Fox News and Cindy Sheehan—than the chance to see her favorite band. “Our dad’s really upset with us,” said Ryan, “but we’re here because we like Pearl Jam.”
Then again, by Tester’s own admission, this concert was less about politics than it was about fun. Call it a qualified success, with the true measure to come in November 2006, when we’ll see if Tester’s smile is still as broad as it was Monday night.