Photo by Jessica Calkins Pearl Jam
Monday-Tuesday, June 2-3
It wasn't exactly com-forting to see the big fat Lexus with the PRL JEM license plate cut in front of us on our drive into the parking lot opening night; no, unless it was Pearl Jemison-Smith, it was gauche, like a Phish sticker on a Hummer or something. Nor did we like having to run a gauntlet of merch stands hawking everything from kettle corn to cars to cell phones to video games. Same for that awful, awful side-stage band that sounded exactly like Bush the band but were as vile as Bush the faux-prez. And then there was the Second Night guy we sat next to who proudly informed us that not only was he a narc, but that his code name was "Vedder," and his partner's was "Cobain"! If Kurt hadn't been cremated, he'd be spinning in his grave.
But things began picking up, and not just because we found $20 at the top of the concrete stairs. We heard the Clash and Public Enemy on the preshow tape, for one thing, which reminded us that Pearl Jam completely deserves placement beside the two, and then both nights they proved why, and they didn't even have to do any of their own tunes: Covers of John Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth," where Eddie changed the "Tricky Dicky" diss to "Georgie Porgie"? Or Little Steven's "I Am a Patriot," where Eddie only knows one party, and its name is freedom, and he "sure as fuck ain't no Republican"? (Clunky arrangement, though.) Or the Clash's "Know Your Rights," because so many alleged "fans" of theirs—the ones who left pissed on Night Two because they didn't do "Jeremy"—don't? Or the transcendent "Baba O'Riley" on Night One, which the laughingly stupid LA Times reviewer (not Hilburn, shockingly) called "Teenage Wasteland"? And most importantly, CCR's "Fortunate Son," which John Fogerty wrote about Duh-bya over 30 years ago and he didn't even know it?
Of course, they did buttloads of their own stuff—lots of new things, which we didn't care for (there's just nothing that sticks out like the older songs). But we're optimistic enough to believe they're in transition, on the road from being a merely great band to becoming iconic, all political and angry and change-demanding. How many other amphitheater-packing bands these days would bitch from the stage about the corruptness of the FCC's pro-media-consolidation policies? Zilch, baby. And that's why Pearl Jam just might be the last important mega rock & roll band still living.
But don't trust us—go to their website, buy the official bootlegs of these shows, and hear for yourself. (Rich Kane)
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Monday, June 2
It seemed like a typical night at Chain Reaction: the kids wore tattoos and knit caps; the bathrooms were a-reekin'; the T-shirts and posters plastering the walls looked the same as they always do. But something was different—real different. Maybe the room was better lit, or maybe the volume was set at a more tender level so I could overhear chatter like this emanating from a cute Latina: "They're creative. They don't use cuss words." "And they're good guys, too," answered her friend. Such small talk could easily describe a number of set designers from Knott's Berry Farm, but these folks were yakking about LA Symphony, a crew of hip-hoppers. Christianhip-hoppers.
Sure enough, almost all of the kids in the audience looked like the Vibe-reading contingent from a church youth group. That must be the reason for the lack of menace at the proceedings, but don't hold that against them: none of the seven MCs or the one DJ busted into a Trinity Broadcasting Network rhyme about damnation or hellfire. It was a good, tight hip-hop show, just like live hip-hop ought to be. It's just that with the Jesus factor thrown in, the guys just didn't seem nasty enough. They could have used a little thug life at the beginning of the gig, certainly: DJ Active8's spare beats and minimalistic mixes were a dull background clang to the raps of MCs like Joey the Jerk and Cookbook, no matter how often the pair twirled around like hip-hop versions of the Temptations.
Fortunately, by the set's halftime, Active8 woke up. He pulled out a bunch of turntablism tricks, like scratching, and spun bizarro, obscuroid beats that made the latter half of their set crucial listening, with such songs as "King Kong," "Heave Ho" and "End Is Now." Those last two are new songs from a forthcoming album, which should bring a sigh of relief to their fans: they were trapped in a nasty dispute with former label Squint Records, which put the kibosh on the band's early brushes with success a few years back. Now that they're free, maybe they'll prove that good hip-hop guys can win after all. (Andrew Asch)