If last week's Vote for Change concert in Asheville proved anything, it's that arena-packing bands certainly don't pull through that bottled Bohemia of a downtown every Wednesday night. Minutes before an advertised 8 p.m. showtime, nearly half the crowd struggled to squeeze in through one of the venue's few narrow doors. Of course, such delays would seem likely due to the tightened security restrictions that seem incumbent for Pearl Jam, whose Eddie Vedder received so much public consternation and condemnation after pummeling a model of George W. Bush at a concert last spring that verifiable threats would seem a likely problem for the long-running Seattle band. Security, though, was a 60-year-old woman jollily asking my roommate if he had a knife in his jacket.
No, the snag seemed to occur when the ticketed entrants met the throng of people streaming from the merchandise table. Hundreds of people lined up, battling for position in the bold, all-too-American effort to drop $23 on Pearl Jam's limited edition Vote for Change shirt, thickly painted with a Texas Ranger star and the word "Patriot" across the chest.
That T-shirt-purchasing zeitgeist seemed largely absent during the actual performance, however. The crowd idly sat through $33.33 of its $50 ticket, barely rustling a cheer for Tim Robbins' Gob Roberts (yes, the Tim Robbins) before practically ignoring the sad-eyed Death Cab for Cutie during its slot.
The crowd was devoted to Pearl Jam, though, carrying vocals for a sick Vedder at several points, playing air guitar to every solo and sloshing half of every four-dollar beer onto the person one seat over. They were loud during the band's 12-song set, catching along when Vedder sang "Hey Ho, Let's Vote!" during "Daughter," and they were ballistic during a marathon take on "Baba O' Riley." Mostly, though, they were stoned, drunk and stupid.
For those of you that argue that George Walker Bush now sits in the Oval Office because both the Democratic Ticket and Party lacked the oomph and zeal they needed for a 2000 victory, the screams of the 8,000 packing the Asheville Civic Center seemed to offer enough collective energy to power any platform. But it's unfortunate that the energy seemed so unfocused and dumb, more content to shake sheepishly to the band's occasional hard punk backbone rather than internalize Vedder's more germane lyrical insights.
I suppose some feel $50 and a prospective vote is enough to win this election; I suppose they also feel that any alternative, no matter how unfocused or ambivalent, is suitable. For my own sake, I hope they're right.