Pearl Jam's concert began drawing to a close on this mild Spring night at Nassau Coliseum. Performing in Uniondale, New York, the band had released their album "Riot Act" five months earlier and they were in the middle of a tour that had already seen them play Japan and Australia. In the US, the administration of George W. Bush continued to ride the political momentum gained after the attacks of 9/11. Just two weeks after the release of "Riot Act," the Homeland Security Act had been signed into law after passing the Congress of the United States with 295 "Yea" votes and the Senate with 90 affirmative votes. Already over a year into the War in Afghanistan, and with the US building a justification to invade Iraq (vis-à-vis President Bush's "yellowcake" claim in January), political tensions between a growing number of war hawks and a minority of dissenters increased day by day.

The night's concert had been energetic. After a rousing performance of "Alive" in which the crowd's roar swelled, the band took a short encore break. What happened next has become a seminal moment in the Pearl Jam canon, becoming notable enough to be captured in the video and on the soundtrack for PJ20, the Cameron Crowe work detailing the 20+ year history of the band.

Out of the relative quietness of the encore break, the edgy, insistent riff and bass line which opens "Bu$hleaguer" pumped out of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament's amplifiers.  Eddie Vedder stood at the mic stand and began singing,

How does he do it? How do they do it? Uncanny and immutable.
This is such a happening tailpipe of a party.
Like sugar, the guests are so refined,


The background noise of the crowd is positive and the song continues,

A confidence man, but why so beleaguered?
He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer
Swinging for the fence, got lucky with a strike
Drilling for fear, makes the job simple
Born on third, thinks he got a triple


When Vedder sings "He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer" cheers are still audible in the audience, but then the band hits the chorus,

Blackout weaves its way through the city
Blackout weaves its way through the city
Blackout weaves its way...

I remember when you sang
That song about today
Now it's tomorrow and
Everything has changed


After that last line boos begin overwhelming cheers, and individual shouts start forcing their way through the noise to the stage,

A think tank of aloof multiplication
A nicotine wish and a Columbus decanter
Retrenchment and hoggishness
The aristocrat choir sings
'What's the ruckus?'


On the next line, Vedder adds "fucking" to the lyrics, and sings with determination,

The haves have not a fucking clue

More boos, and the energy of the crowd turns negative in earnest, but the band plays on, with Vedder singing through the next verse and into the final chorus, repeating the last refrain,

I remember when you sang
That song about today
Now it's tomorrow and
Everything has changed


Mike McCready peels off an extended guitar solo, and as the song winds down Vedder, who performs the song with a George Bush Halloween mask and dinner jacket, is faced with a suddenly very different audience from earlier in the evening.

"I busted out the nice suit for you, yeah?" He quips, referring to the jacket and mask. On the PJ20 soundtrack, the song ends here. But at the concert, this comment began a conversation between stage and audience. Recorded on unofficial bootlegs, Vedder continues,

"You didn't like that one?"

Groups of boos and cheers compete in response. Individual shouts can be heard on the bootlegs, with several audience members yelling, "Play rock 'n roll man!"  and "Fuck you!"

Vedder makes several comments about not understanding, and how maybe Bush is being defended because he is a "regular guy" (said with heavy sarcasm). A large group in the crowd begin chanting "USA USA USA" and Vedder responds, "I'm with you" then claims that Bush didn't allow us (referring to Americans) a voice, and many in the audience begin cheering. He continues, "This is good. This is open, honest debate." There is a little more back-and-forth between the audience and Vedder, and he closes with saying "If you don't say anything you don't know what will happen..."

Then the band explodes into a performance of "Know Your Rights" by the Clash.

**********

Pearl Jam played "Bu$hleaguer" a total of 32 times in concert from 2002 until 2007. These performances continued a tradition of the band speaking out on a variety of issues, from the TicketMaster boycott of the 1990s (which even involved two band members testifying in Congress against monopolistic practices of the organization) to several Seattle area issues (such as their support of YouthCare). In the insert material for the PJ20 soundtrack, Jeff Ament, referring to the performance in Uniondale, is quoted,

It actually really bummed some of the band out. They were just like, 'I never want to play that song again.' I actually fucking dug it. It was art. It's great to be in a band where you're not afraid to do that. We're not afraid to speak our minds and get booed once in a while. It's all right.

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