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Pearl Jam carries ACL Fest’s first weekend to a rousing close

Peter Blackstock
pblackstock@statesman.com

Among the little things Eddie Vedder did from the stage during Pearl Jam’s closing chapter to weekend one of the Austin City Limits Music Festival:

- Gave a shout-out to Austin police chief Art Acevedo (though not by name), because he said they’d heard he was a fan of the band;

- Reminisced about the group’s first gig in Austin, in 1991 at the Back Room, now Emo’s;

- Mentioned that the band’s soundman, Greg Nelson, recently moved to Austin, and then invited everyone over to his house (though he conveniently didn’t have the address).

Such informal, easygoing banter counterbalanced what was mostly a headlong, fervent performance of a couple dozen songs drawn from nearly a quarter-century’s worth of records. Blazing from the start with “Long Road” and quickly hitting favorites from both way back (“Why Go”) and more recent (the title track to last year’s “Lightning Bolt”), Vedder and his five mates onstage proved why they were the right final note for the festival.

The crowd was one of the weekend’s biggest, heavily packed well past the sound board. Pearl Jam’s set was easily the longest of any act to play this year’s festival: They started a minute past 8 p.m. and kept rocking until the final strains of Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking in the Free World” drifted out at 10:12 p.m.

Pushed forward by fever-pitch guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, stage-roaming bassist Jeff Ament, powerhouse drummer Matt Cameron and the now long-tenured keyboard sideman Boom Gaspar, Vedder pressed more than a dozen songs into the set before bringing the pace down for “Sirens,” a standout from the latest album.

Inevitably that led to “Daughter,” one of the best-known quieter numbers from the band’s early days. Midway through, Vedder wove in a line from the song “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements, who’d played just before Pearl Jam on the Samsung Galaxy stage and inspired a heartfelt testimonial from Vedder: “It means a lot to everybody up here to be on the same stage as the irreplaceable Replacements.”

“Rearview Mirror” closed out the main set with a major adrenaline rush before the band returned for an encore of more than half an hour (almost a second set, really). The high points were acoustic numbers, including “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” (from 1993’s “Vs.”) and a moving cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

From there, it was a five-song sprint to the finish, with longtime fan favorites “Porch” and “Alive” from the band’s debut album “Ten” preceding the predictable yet fitting Neil Young finale. The Austin City Limits Music Festival may have ranged from EDM to Western swing to hip-hop to indie-folk to children’s music and beyond, but in the end, everybody was rockin’ in the free world, all together.