The youngest fan at Sunday night’s Pearl Jam concert in Missoula had to listen through his mother’s navel.
“We saw them at the Gorge seven years ago when I was pregnant with his brother, Mavric,” said mother-to-be-again Courtney Constantine, five and a half months pregnant. “We had to come.”
“He (Mavric) turned out so great after seeing them in the womb, we had to try again,” added father Eli Constantine. “His ear development has already happened. So he’ll be aware of the sound.”
If so, little Constantine heard a nearly 6,000-voice-strong singalong in the University of Montana’s Adams Center.
Anchored by Big Sandy native son Jeff Ament on bass, the six-man band that’s defined uncompromising rock ’n’ roll for 21 years opened with an acoustic version of “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town” that had the crowd chanting louder than Washington-Grizzly Stadium on a first down.
Lead guitarist Mike McCready ditched his suit jacket just four songs into the opening set as the band skittered across two decades of hits. Then lead singer Eddie Vedder turned the spotlight on the upper eastside bleachers.
“It’s not every day you get to do a benefit for a candidate you believe in,” Vedder told the crowd, pointing to Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and his family. “Actually, we get asked a lot. The difficult part is finding a candidate you can believe in.”
Several members of the band attended a fundraising reception with Tester – who faces a tough re-election challenge from Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg – before the show. But after the formalities were done, the band members went back to an evening of driving music.
Mudhoney opened the show with a professional punk blast at 7:35. The four-man group helped break grunge music into the mainstream, particularly with their hit “Touch Me I’m Sick.” They played minus former Green River members Ament and Stone Gossard, who now work for the headliners.
“We’ve been around almost 25 years and this is the first time we made it to Montana,” Mudhoney lead singer Mark Arm told the crowd. “I don’t know how we let that happen.“
It might have been more the elevation than the distance. Arm confessed “this altitude is killing me,” and he sucked down thee bottles of water between songs. Bass player Guy Maddison fortified himself with occasional pulls on a bottle of beer.
Crowds were lined up hours early to get a chance at the open floor in front of the stage or to buy T-shirts and posters.
“I’ve never had such a tough time getting tickets,” said Kathy Gray of Chico, Calif. A member of Pearl Jam’s fan club, Ten Club, she nevertheless lost the lottery for early release tickets. Then she couldn’t get through online in the main sale. Finally, she talked a Missoula friend into standing in line for a second round of in-person-only tickets.
Many of those were in the bleachers alongside or behind the stage. Band members kept those dedicated fans in mind with regular turns to the back of their floor, even performing a song directly to the back of the fieldhouse.
“We moved away from Missoula a few years ago,” Gray said. “But when they’re playing up here, I had to come.”