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Shout it out loud: Eddie Vedder (foreground) of Pearl Jam.

PHOTO:Joe Putrock

Kings of Rock

 

By John Brodeur

Pearl Jam

Pepsi Arena, May 12

Once upon a time, Eddie Vedder and company were doing battle with TicketMaster (hey, it was worth a shot) and themselves, claiming to want no part of fame and its trappings. They simply wanted to make music and play it for their fans, they would have had us believe. But it’s awfully hard for a multimillion-selling rock act to fly under the radar; yet, after releasing a pair of rather unremarkable new-millennium albums, it looked like their dastardly plot to de fame themselves might have worked, as if their engine had finally run out of steam.

Someone must have lit a bonfire under their asses, because their new, self-titled album is an aggressive collection of songs that may be their best yet. At the first U.S. date of their current tour, the band played like they were young and hungry, as if it were 1991 all over again. They seem ready, finally, to be a big rock band, and from the looks of Friday night’s show, little can stand in their way.

Kicking off with the one-two punch of “Life Wasted” and “World Wide Suicide,” they sounded leaner (even with three electric guitars!) and more potent than they have in quite some time. Other new tunes (“Army Reserve,” “Marker in the Sand,” “Severed Hand”) were multifaceted, with excellent twists and turns and the occasional knockout bridge, something they’ve not typically excelled at. Give that over to the increased contributions of drummer Matt Cameron, not only one of the most impressive kit players around, but one hell of a singer, too—after a protracted jam on “Even Flow,” guitarist Stone Gossard commented that they’ve never been able to hit the high harmonies (Cameron nailed them all night), adding “I love Matt Cameron.”

They kept things interesting throughout the 27-song, two-and-a-half hour set, mixing crowd-pleasing sing-alongs—“Elderly Woman . . . Small Town,” “Daughter,” show closer “Alive”—with songs they hadn’t played in years. The audience erupted for the decade-old “Red Mosquito”; another No Code track, the understated “Off He Goes,” was the highlight of the evening, and paired with Eddie Vedder’s disenchantment ballad “Gone,” it made for a welcome breather between anthems. They also pulled one deep from each of their first three records: “Why Go” (from Ten), “Rats” (from Vs., dedicated to the “home team”), and “Satan’s Bed” (Vitalogy), all three met with wild enthusiasm from the sold-out arena crowd. These guys have a catalog of more than 130 songs, and you get the feeling they could play any one of them at any time.

It’s encouraging to see a band at this level still willing to take chances, to go off-list and throw a left turn into the set, and to make mistakes—Vedder boffed words several times, but the crowd never failed to get his back; Mike McCready played the same lead-guitar solo about six times, and nobody seemed to care as long as he hit the high note; when Gossard missed a change on “Crazy Mary,” Vedder managed to hang in time for the extra second until it landed in the right place. (That song also featured a two-minute, one-chord Hammond B-3 solo from keyboardist Boom Gaspar. Both ridiculous and righteous.) On this night, it seemed that Pearl Jam could do no wrong, and it’s good to have ’em back.

Man of the Auer

Jon Auer

Valentine’s, May 15

More than 15 years into a wonder-ful career as co-frontman of the Posies and co-conspirator in the resurrection of Big Star, Jon Auer recently—finally—released his first solo album. Five years in the making, his Songs From the Year of Our Demise is as lyrically dark as its title suggests. Yet, for a guy who had just taken a marathon bus ride up from Jersey to play for less than 30 paid on a dreary Monday night, he sure didn’t come across like a guy with a cross to bear.

In his black jacket, dark jeans and Chuck Taylor All-Stars, Auer could have been mistaken for a fan—that is, until he strapped on his Epiphone acoustic and started into “Cemetery Song,” the first of the evening’s many songs of loss and lament and recovery. The tone of the material echoed that of another depressive Northwestern songwriter—Elliott Smith—especially as rendered by Auer’s hushed, sometimes-angelic tenor. But while Smith’s songs often were an extension of his own inner turmoil, Auer used this album to put certain unsavory events (a divorce, among other things) behind him. So, even when introducing songs about alcoholics (or “one alcoholic in particular”) and “people that wouldn’t want [him] writing songs about them,” he was upbeat, even jovial, carrying on from the stage with opener Aaron Smith (who himself turned in a fine set of quirky pop songs, including one about a fish named Jesus) and covering songs by Elvis Costello (“Beyond Belief”), the Replacements (“Swingin’ Party”) and Ween (“Baby Bitch”). On the latter, he played to the darkness of the lyric, altering chords for effect, and taking a room-silencing a cappella passage, something he did several times throughout the night, every time to the same effect.

With the exception of “No Consolation” and “Everyone Moves Away”—a song from 1990’s Dear 23, for which Auer stepped out onto the tile floor, gathering the small group of fans around him campfire-like—he steered clear of his old band’s material, focusing, wisely, on songs from his new record. The funereal title song (“The Year of Our Demise”)—a “real wrist-slasher,” as he called it—is the album’s weakest track, but stripped of the cheap drum machine and atmospherics, it rode on Auer’s voice, his falsetto trills redeeming the song’s maudlin tone. Another new song, “Bottom of the Bottle,” sounded like vintage Posies, its dark lyric (about the aforementioned alcoholic) matched with a bright power-pop melody, Auer wrangling gorgeous vibrato out of his Gibson hollow-body as the few and the proud looked on through the bottoms of their bottles.

—John Brodeur


PHOTO: Kathryn Lurie

Folkin’ Around

Milwaukeean Peter Mulvey performed at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs on Friday (May 12) with pal David Goodrich. Mulvey played a bunch of songs off his brand-new release, The Knuckleball Suite, as well as tunes from the rest of his canon and some covers. His quirky, lyrically fun and straightforward songs off the new disc (“You and Me and the Ten Thousand Things,” “Girl in the Hi-Tops”) were instant crowd-pleasers.






 

 


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