Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Morissette Turn Music Into Ploughshares At Groundwork Concert

Artists gather in Seattle to raise money for United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, which fights world hunger.

SEATTLE — It was the benefit that almost fell off the radar.

At any other point in time, a charity show boasting R.E.M., Pearl Jam and

Alanis Morissette would have drawn nationwide attention. But on the heels

of a weekend that saw Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson and 'NSYNC, not to mention George Strait and Martina McBride, take to stages to

raise money for September 11 attack victims, the Groundwork anti-hunger event

Monday in Seattle was nearly overshadowed on the music landscape.

Nonetheless, about 15,000 fans flocked to Key Arena to witness the

star-studded show. The gig capped a week-long series of concerts across the city that

included sets by Dave Matthews, the Blind Boys of Alabama,

Emmylou Harris, the Wallflowers, Joe Strummer, Heart, and Michael Franti and Spearhead, all of which raised money for the United Nations' Food and

Agriculture Organization.

"We're R.E.M. and this is what we do," singer Michael Stipe said before the

band — stripped for one song to its core of Stipe, bassist/keyboardist

Mike Mills and guitarist Peter Buck — lit into a cagey, acoustic version

of "The One I Love." The brief comments were indicative of the evening's

"chat less, rock more" atmosphere.

Following opening sets by Femi Kuti and Maná, Morissette threw down an

energetic, though brief, performance that touched on her last two studio albums

as well as new material. Among the unreleased tunes was "Sister Blister," a

call for unity among women ("We fight to please the brothers ... to beg the

club of boys to let us in"). Against straight-ahead pounding from the

drums, the guitar churned out a riff just shy of a Bo Diddley beat, and

keyboards pinched out spacey squeals.

Next up, Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who surely endured the longest trek

for the show: 32 hours of flying on short notice to perform a 30-minute set

of Pakistani qawwali music that handily brought the crowd to its feet.

And then the hometown had its turn. Pearl Jam plowed across an almost

hitless set that still had fans chanting "Eddie! Eddie!" throughout. During

a hot rod run through "Do the Evolution," singer Eddie Vedder growled like

the world's skinniest bear. The group opened by reprising the cover of John

Lennon's "Give Me Some Truth" it unveiled over the weekend at San

Francisco's Bridge School benefit shows (see "Matthews, Pearl Jam, R.E.M. Give Peace A Chance At Bridge School"). Sporting a suave haircut and

tasteful, blue plaid sport coat, Vedder looked like he could have been the

date of celebrity emcee Gwyneth Paltrow.

The band reached its emotional apex when Fateh Ali Khan joined the group

for a soulful interpretation of "The Long Road," which Vedder originally

recorded with Fateh Ali Khan's uncle, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, for the "Dead Man Walking" soundtrack. Diehard fans welcomed the second-ever appearance of the

quiet new song "I Am Mine," an apparent yearning for peace. "I only know my

mind," Vedder sang, "I am mine."

R.E.M. closed out the night with a 14-song set, most of which was culled

from their past five years of recording. Like Pearl Jam, R.E.M. largely

eschewed hits in favor of lesser-knowns such as "Let Me In" (from 1994's

Monster) and "So Fast, So Numb" (from 1996's New Adventures in

Hi-Fi) as well as four tunes from this year's Reveal. Stipe

dedicated Automatic for the People's "Find the River" to the

Rev. Howard Finster, who painted the cover for the band's LP Reckoning (1984).

Finster died earlier in the day from heart failure at age 84 (see "R.E.M., Talking Heads Cover Artist Rev. Howard Finster Dies").

The band capped their encore with an adrenalized, if predictable, take on

"It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," which then

blossomed into a rousing version of Patti Smith's "People Have the Power."

With Vedder assisting on vocals, Stipe issued a rallying call to action.

"C'mon!" Stipe demanded. "Are you alive? Is this a moment in time that you

choose to be alive? Who are you?"

As he and Vedder shimmied and the tune wound down, Stipe's invocation

served as a reminder of both the anti-hunger mission at hand and the other

worthy causes that nearly eclipsed it.