ACL 2009 Day Three: Spin the Black Circle
Photos by Mark C. Austin
It only took one song in to Pearl Jam's Sunday night closing set at the Austin City Limits music festival for it to dawn on Rocks Off that for way too long this band has been forsaken by back-handed hipster discount and radio-influenced apathy. No band from the grunge-era is still honing their craft as well, and continues to thoughtfully subvert their own musical journey as much as Pearl Jam.
Opening with "Why Go" from Ten, the band wasn't just firing on all cylinders they were damn near reinventing the bastard before our very eyes. Lead singer Eddie Vedder has aged finely like the wine he swills constantly onstage, turning from the young, lithe and angsty surfer boy he was for the band's debut album into a seasoned lion of a frontman of forty-four years he is now. His voice has gotten huskier and more mature without losing that classic howl you heard on the band's watershed single "Jeremy", a song they thankfully didn't play last night. Instead we heard that trademark bellow on the new "Got Some" from this fall's Backspacer.
Guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard still manage to create new paths for the bands songs to wander down, seemingly finding ways to make them harder and bluesier live. One could hear Jeff Ament's bass reverb all over the grounds, even as the Girl Talk dance-party rages hundreds of yards away, and Matt Cameron continues to be one of the best rock drummers of the past thirty years. He occupies rarefied air with people like Dave Grohl, who have done time for a multitude of alternative rock projects. He previously did time in Skin Yard and Soundgarden.
Every great PJ album was represented in the setlist, as the band ran through material from albums such as the criminally underrated 1996 effort No Code. Then there were songs like "Insignificance" from 2000's wilderness year's era Binaural that made us realize something kind of sad. Even while we all had our backs turned to Vedder and company in defiance after grunge faded away from popularity, they were still making decent rock albums at a time when true rock was being discarded.
Ben Harper came out to join PJ for "Red Mosquito" and Harper burned the song down with his Weissenborn lap guitar, injected it with the same sting that he brought to his own set earlier in the day across the park. This was followed by the apocalyptic "Do The Evolution" from 1998's metallic Yield, and the band's cover of The Who's "The Real Me", which seemed to meld into one glorious mash.
Big festival shows are always a hot bed of insane surprise pairings. A vague introduction by Vedder made us think for a split second that Neil Young or Dave Grohl may emerge, but what Zilker Park got was none other than Perry Farrell. The band and the Jane's Addiction frontman ran through a thunderin' rendition of "The Mountain Song" that reminded us that both Jane's and PJ should be due in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame soon.
When the band began to close with Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World", we got a chill imagining that maybe, just maybe, Young himself would come lumbering out. But what we got to hear was the sound of Pearl Jam fully taking back their American rock and roll birthright some twenty years after their formation on their own. To us they have fully cemented themselves next to the Springsteen's of the world.
"Why Go?" "Corduroy" "Got Some" "Not For You" "Modern Girl" (short Sleater-Kinney Cover) "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town" "Given to Fly" "World Wide Suicide" "Even Flow" "Unthought Known" "Daughter" "WMA" (Partial) "Hail, Hail" "Insignificance" "Present Tense" "State of Love & Trust" "The Fixer" "Go" "Red Mosquito" (w/ Ben Harper) "Do the Evolution" "The Real Me" (The Who Cover) "Alive" "Mountain Song" (Jane's Addiction cover with Perry Farrel) "Rockin' in the Free World"
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