ACL '09: Pearl Jam Regains Its Rightful Place Atop The Rock World

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It had been 15 years--according, at least, to one of Eddie Vedder's asides during the closing set of this weekend's Austin City Limits Music Festival--since Pearl jam had played what he called "The Live Music Capital of the Nation." And, as such, Vedder promised the mud-covered audiences at Zilker Park, Pearl Jam would not disappoint: "I'm not going home, personally, until I'm covered in dirt," he announced, unsurprisingly eliciting a massive roar from the crowd.

And what a crowd it was: With no competing co-headliner squaring off against Pearl Jam on Sunday night, fans squeezed and pushed and jammed their way into the far east end of Zilker Park as the band started its set, creating, by far, the largest--and loudest--audience of the weekend.

And, true enough, the band lived up to its promise, performing two full hours of familiar hits to an adoring sea of attendees, and quickly jumping into a set list of longtime fan favorites.

No more than 15 minutes into the set, the band performed "Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town"--which, somewhat stealing the spotlight from Vedder, saw the crowd singing the bulk of the lyrics. (Vedder, in an affable mood all night long, said he'd forgotten the lyrics... Ah, showmanship.) Not long thereafter, the band launched into "Even Flow," during which guitarist Mike McCready offered a point-by-point display of how to properly conduct a guitar solo worth remembering: Wank out, wank out some more, wank out while playing the guitar behind your head for a solid three minutes, then back to regular wankery before allowing the band back into your fun.

It was all the crowds could have asked for, really, after spending the day trudging through the mud awaiting this performance--or, as those at the front of the crowd had done, simply holding their ground and watching the time go by.

And that was before the band invited special guests Ben Harper (also on the ACL bill) and Perry Farrell (who works with ACL promoter C3 Productions in producing the Lollapalooza Festival) to join in on the party.

In what started as a jazz fusion freakout, Harper capably offered his virtuoso guitar capabilities to the band's "Red Mosquito" performance, adding slide guitar to the mix. Farrell, meanwhile, joined the band in its final encore, introduced by Vedder as one of the best singers in the world, as the band performed Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song" before a captivated crowd.

And to close the night? A second cover in a row, as the band performed Neil Young's "Keep On Rocking In The Free World" to close out the night and send a finally satisfied, finally dry audience on its way.

Indeed: On Sunday night, Pearl Jam proved that, even though it has been out of the spotlight for some time now, it remains every bit as vital a cog in the modern rock realm today as it ever was. In all, it was a truly epic, mind-blowing display from a band deserving of its adoration.

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