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Pearl Jam takes action on this fall's `Vote' tour

By Steve Morse
Globe Staff / September 19, 2004

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It's an election year and many rock musicians are not sitting on the sidelines. Some of the major names in pop -- from Pearl Jam to Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks, and R.E.M. -- are embarking on the Vote for Change tour this fall.

Just don't call them the "Hollywood elite."

"Bruce is living in New Jersey and R.E.M. is coming from Atlanta and the Dixie Chicks are from Texas and we're from Seattle," says singer Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. "This is about concerned people doing what they can and doing it in a responsible way."

Whether they can help unseat George W. Bush remains to be seen, but Pearl Jam will warm up for the tour (which targets swing states) by playing the FleetCenter on Sept. 28 and 29. These are not official Vote for Change shows since Massachusetts is not considered a swing state. "We just love Boston, and that city has always been very generous to us," says Vedder. Adds Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis: "We've been off for a while, and playing in front of our Boston friends will be a good way to come back."

Look for Pearl Jam to possibly play some new music (though they won't have a new studio album until next year), but don't look for much overt politicking from the stage. "With a large crowd and with a PA system with reverb and someone shouting behind you, the FleetCenter is not the easiest place to have a good sit-down and get into the issues," says Vedder. "We're talking about some complex deals that have to do with percentages and welfare and who's paying for this war: the poor people; and who's fighting this war: the poor people; and who's making the money off it: the rich people. That's the simple equation. I guess maybe we can do this interview and when it comes down to the show, we can just play music."

Vedder is aware that there may be a backlash against some artists associated with the Vote for Change tour.

"I read a piece from a musician I respect, Alice Cooper, who wrote that musicians really need to keep out of political discussions," Vedder says. "For one, they're idiots, he said. For another, when he was a kid and his parents started talking politics, he ran to his room and put on the Rolling Stones and turned it up as loud as he could. And I agree with Alice. I don't think any of us want to be doing this. . . . But my problem is that my stereo does not go loud enough to drown out the sound of bombs dropping in the Middle East."

What the tour participants are saying is that "this is more important than even their careers. They're willing to put it on the line," Vedder says. He adds that most of the tour participants met in New York this summer to hash out plans and ideas. "Bruce [Springsteen] was laughing and saying, `Help is on the way. The cavalry is coming,' " recalls Vedder.

Pearl Jam's Boston shows will no doubt touch on election issues, but they are also a benefit for the so-called West Memphis 3. Pearl Jam believes that these young men charged with the murders of three children in1993 have been unfairly accused. The case was also the subject of a documentary on HBO four years ago.

"It's amazing how much money you need to fight a death penalty case," says Vedder. "These kids had $2,500 in their initial case to defend themselves, and since then they've needed hundreds of thousands of dollars. We've been working really closely with that, and under the radar. It's a sensitive issue, but the reason they were fingered as being misfits in their town was that they listened to loud music and dyed their hair black and wore Metallica T-shirts."

As for their own future, regardless of who wins the election, Pearl Jam hopes to try to play Fenway Park next summer. Vedder and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein are friends, and Pearl Jam wants to be the next in line after Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett to headline Fenway. "I think that would be our ultimate goal," says Vedder. "And if they can handle Jimmy Buffett fans there, then I'm sure they can handle ours."

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