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ACL Music Fest Sunday Reviews

By Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Oct. 2, 2009

ACL Music Fest Sunday Reviews

Pearl Jam

Backspacer (Monkeywrench)

Brevity clocks in as both the soul of wit and of Backspacer. Not wit as in witty, wit as in wizen. Nearly half its 11 tracks never reach three minutes and only two breach four. Pearl Jam's ninth studio release knows its mind and the way, and save for majority lyricist Eddie Vedder's Target-exclusive tendency of too-common, man, journal keeping, the Seattle fivepiece braces punk humility. Opener "Gonna See My Friend" drops brawn, not brains, axe men Stone Gossard and Mike McCready hammering out their electric machines of wood and metal as drummer Matt Cameron kicks in SST. No sooner vaporized, its next sequencer, "Got Some," bristles a chorus looking even further back for youthful indiscretion: Sixties Stones. Cement mix in Dischord production and Backspacer races the LP equivalent of a warehouse gig. The biggies – Springsteen, AC/DC, Mastodon – revere producer Brendan O'Brien for how quickly he assembles no-frills, but albums were designed for frills, and while they've never adorned Pearl Jam, some sonic spray paint on monochromatic slabs goes a long way. Rocker/keeper "Johnny Guitar" will gun PJ set lists from here to eternity, but it's Vedder's "Just Breathe" near the halfway mark that suddenly reflects the disc's tarot card graphics in full living color with acoustic, gracefully stringed clarity, the frontman's renewed gift. In fact, "Just Breathe" downshifts Backspacer into a richer fuel consumption, chiefly the Who-ish "Amongst the Waves." "Supersonic" pops its title, recalling the group's early career cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," but then "Speed of Sound" slows into a three-song Vedder minisuite of sorts, from which the hard cinematic cut at the close of "The End," hands down Backspacer's best, matches the revelation of the singer's 2007 solo-bow-cum soundtrack, Into the Wild. And thus, the Lizard King walked on down the hall. (LiveStrong stage, 8pm.)

***.5

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