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 mike 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 vs. 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 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
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 mike
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
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]