After frontman Eddie Vedder sat in with Kings of Leon at the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Friday (Oct. 2), Pearl Jam's powerful 18-song set at KLRU's "Austin City Limits" PBS concert series taping on Saturday (Oct. 3), formed an impressive second piece of a trifecta of Pearl Jam-related performances in Austin, Texas. The band caps off the weekend with a two-hour headlining slot Sunday (Oct. 4) at the ACLMF.
The Seattle rockers, whose new album "Backspacer" just earned the group its first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in 13 years, treated the 270 music lovers packed into the KLRU studio to songs new (most of "Backspacer") and vintage (1991's "Porch"), covers (the Police's "Driven To Tears"), and a special guest (Ben Harper sitting in on lap steel for a searing "Red Mosquito").
The tickets to the small-capacity performance were in such demand that not only was the actual taping standing-room only, the show's organizers commandeered the nearby Hogg Memorial Auditorium for a special live, private simulcast for 800 additional fans.
Eddie Vedder and bassist Jeff Ament kicked off the intimate, conversational show with quiet songs, "establishing the scene," Vedder said, with a nod to local music (Austin songwriter Daniel Johnston's "Walking The Cow"). After a pair of "Backspacer" ballads -- the wistful "Just Breathe" and "The End" -- the full band rocked into the single "The Fixer."
Before long, Vedder and the band were riffing with the crowd as if everyone was mingling at a party rather than at the taping of a legendary TV music series. "This room is like driving an old Buick," Vedder said with obvious affection for the 35-year-old show whose set was designated a rock landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just two days ago.
The crowd, which included a large contingent of Iraq war veterans from the group Wounded Warriors invited personally by the band, participated in between-song banter that added a festive flow to the night. Vedder talked about song origins (how a Johnny Guitar Watson album cover became the song "Johnny Guitar"), goofed on guitarist Mike McCready's spandexy 80s past, and was drawn into signing various vets' prosthetic limbs right before doing the 60-second punk pummel of "Lukin" -- with a string section instructed to play whatever they feel. At other points in the night, he made up a hilarious, incongrious interpretive dance while the group vamped some jokey free jazz, and clued the audience in that guest Ben Harper was not an ACL newbie like they were: Harper first played the TV show at age 20 as a sideman for Taj Mahal.
All conversation aside, however, it was the music that kept the crowd in rapt attention. Guitarist Stone Gossard casually dropped an incindiary solo into "Do The Evolution," Vedder's seasoned baritone was showcased in the set's quieter moments and the audience was more than happy to take over vocals on the first verse and chorus of "Better Man." After ending the second of two encores with Mike McCready's Hendrix-ey guitar-only rendering of "The Star Spangled Banner," the band and Ben Harper closed the evening by taking a bow in unison.
The Pearl Jam episode of "Austin City Limits" will air on PBS stations on Nov. 21. After its headlining set tonight at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Pearl Jam's "Backspacer" North American tour continues through October, wrapping up with a four-night stand at the Philadelphia Spectrum that ends on Halloween. The band begins a tour of Australia and New Zealand on Nov. 14.