The band kicked off a national tour at the Pepsi Center Tuesday night, playing for an audience of about 12,000 in its first Denver appearance in five years.
During the show, Vedder spoke against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Rocky Mountain News reported Thursday that several dozen fans walked out on the show after Vedder impaled a mask of Bush on a microphone stand, then slammed it to the stage.
Vedder had been wearing the mask, as the band performed the song "Bushleaguer," from their new album "Riot Act." The song's lyrics say of Bush: "He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer."
Keith Zimmerman of Denver was one of those who left the building as the band performed the song.
"When he was sharing his political views in a fairly benign manner -- supporting our troops, opposing policy -- that's OK," he told the newspaper. "When he takes what looks like the head of George Bush on a stick, then throws it to the stage and stomps on it, that's just unacceptable."
Earlier in the show, Vedder said: "Just to clarify ... we support the troops. We're just confused on how wanting to bring them back safely all of a sudden becomes non-support."
The Rocky Mountain News story -- headlined "Concert-goers head to exits after anti-Bush display" -- has been picked up by other media around the country, much to the consternation of Pearl Jam. The band is protesting that the media coverage distorted what actually happened.
"It's possible two dozen left during encore but it was not noticeable amongst the 11,976 who were applauding and enjoying the evening's music," said the band in a statement issued by Epic Records. "It just made a better headline to report otherwise."
The incident is being compared in some respects to the controversy that still dogs the Dixie Chicks. The Grammy-winning country trio has been targeted by fan and radio station boycotts over an anti-Bush statement that lead Natalie Maines made at a concert in London last month, even though Maines has apologized for the remark.
Zimmerman said the imagery Vedder employed Tuesday went much further than just political speech.
"It was like he decapitated someone in a primal ritual and stuck their head on a stick," Zimmerman said. "It kinda blows away the Dixie Chicks."
Mark Brown, who reported on the Pearl Jam concert for the Rocky Mountain News, said Vedder has used the Bush mask in previous shows in Australia and Japan. The Denver show was the band's first U.S. date since war broke out in Iraq.
Brown told United Press International that people in the radio business have told him there isn't much of a comparison between the Pearl Jam and Dixie Chicks episodes, largely because the two acts have such different fan bases.
"Certainly, rather than turning on them like Dixie Chicks fans did," said Brown, "Pearl Jam fans are rising to their support."
Asked whether he thought the incident might follow Pearl Jam around on their U.S. tour, Brown said he doubted it.
"As fans have pointed out, and I pointed out earlier this week in interviews with the band, they've always been political," he said. "People should expect that at a concert, and I think most fans did expect that at the concert."
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