Pearl Jam's 'Monkeywrench Radio' Delivers Rock And Politics

Mike Watt, Peter Buck, Mudhoney and Gloria Steinem (!) guests on awesome four-hour radio show.

If any one moment from Pearl Jam's live, four-hour Saturday night broadcast of "Monkeywrench

Radio" could be singled out as a mission statement for the free-form

program, it would have to be a revealing comment offered by host and PJ

singer Eddie Vedder deep into the show's second hour.

Sitting around a studio mic with Mudhoney guitarist Steve Turner, Vedder

brought up a band regarded the world over as the kingpins of Seattle garage

rock. "One night we were up at the house and you played me the Sonics,"

Vedder said. "I was aware of them, but I wasn't aware of how good they were."

The signature aim of "Monkeywrench Radio," along with that of the original

broadcast of "Self-Pollution Radio" in January 1995, is to make rock fans

aware of just how good so much unheard music is. During Saturday's four-hour

broadcast, the bands whose records were featured included Sleater-Kinney,

Stereolab, Pailhead and Ani DiFranco, among others.

Vedder's more broad purpose in assembling the program, which was available

free-of-charge to radio stations throughout the world (and was cybercast by SonicNet and others), was simple

"awareness" -- not only of the overwhelming power of music both live and

recorded, but of the defining issues of the day, such as the 25th

anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in

the United States.

To be sure, it was the promise of impromptu live sets that most fans tuned

in for. While sessions by Mudhoney, Brad (featuring PJ guitarist Stone

Gossard), Tuatara (including R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck) and Zeke poured a

healthy dose of grit and groove into the show, Pearl Jam themselves

provided the most dynamic performances. Playing a total of eight songs

over three mini-sets, the group eschewed the anthems that made them

megastars to instead offer listeners a glimpse into their latest album,

Yield, which lands in stores Tuesday.

Those fans still wavering on whether to buy the album were handed ample

evidence on why they should snatch it up, as Pearl Jam laid into their new

songs with fire. "Do the Evolution" (RealAudio excerpt) featured sharp, hacksaw guitar strikes

from Stone Gossard, while on "Given To Fly," drummer Jack Irons again

demonstrated his powerful role in creating the textures of the band's

best new work. They delivered a solid version of "Pilate" (RealAudio excerpt). Later, on "Wish List," Vedder kept his vocals low in the

chest, almost as if he were nervous about delivering such a personal

confession. Pearl Jam saved their most intense performance for a

torrential run through "Spin the Black Circle" (one of only two

non-Yield tracks played), during which they proved that they could

be as rough and tumble as the Sonics, whom Vedder had played on record just

minutes before.

While the live music sets offer the most anticipated wild cards of Pearl

Jam's radio broadcasts, the special guests who turn out to share the mic

with Vedder prompt nearly as much pre-show anticipation. But even those

who have come to expect the unexpected must have been surprised to hear

Vedder say, "Gloria's here with us by phone from New York," as he

introduced feminist activist and Ms. magazine founder Gloria

Steinem. The singer and the activist discussed the recent bombing of an

abortion clinic in Alabama, as Steinem counseled listeners to "speak out

against violence." "I think rock music stands for freedom, and you can,

too," she said.

As a four-hour broadcast with guest stars a-plenty, "Monkeywrench Radio"

served up too many highlights to enumerate them all, though certain moments

deserve mention, such as Vedder's airing of Ani DiFranco's amazing -- and

yet-to-be-released -- groove poem, "Fuel," and appearances by Nirvana

bassist Krist Novoselic (RealAudio excerpt), in person, and Mike Watt (RealAudio excerpt), by phone.

But if Vedder's remark about the Sonics pointed to the true aim of

"Monkeywrench Radio," his invitation to Sleater-Kinney singer and guitarist

Corin Tucker was clear evidence of his intention to make the most of that

goal. Tucker appeared in the studio shortly after the conversation with

Steinem to play a Sleater-Kinney song called "Big Big Lights" and discuss women's

self-defense (RealAudio excerpt).

There at the same microphone -- broadcasting to potentially millions of

listeners throughout the globe -- were two musicians who inhabit equal

realms of artistic importance even if they reside at opposite ends of the

recognition scale. Surely there are thousands of music fans who have

echoed Vedder's comment -- "I was aware of them, but I wasn't aware of how

good they were" -- about Sleater-Kinney.

Thanks to "Monkeywrench Radio," now they know. [Mon., Feb. 2, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]