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Pearl Jam rocks with power and purpose

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

Remember alternative rock? Intricate arrangements of grungy guitar chords, fuzzily worded but zealously delivered meditations on big problems, acres of corduroy? Such earnest and roiling pleasures have been all but subsumed in the stylish post-punk din, but Pearl Jam is here to remind us just how heady it can be.

Tiring, too. The band's set for a near-capacity Garden audience Wednesday night was front-loaded, energy-wise. That's a nice way of saying Pearl Jam seemed to grow weary by the time mid-set rolled around. Frontman Eddie Vedder had consumed much of his bottle of wine, thanks to copious toastings. He swigged and sang for the fans (``Red Mosquito"), the college graduates (``Unemployable"), and Howard Zinn (``Down"), and conceived a clever combination slug in honor of birthday boy Bob Dylan and the ubiquitous grads (``Forever Young").

They found the spark later, then lost it, and found it again, big time. But pacing isn't everything, especially with a band renowned for confounding expectations. Pearl Jam began pensively and illogically with ``Release," a veritable dirge, and closed 2 1/2 hours later with Neil Young's ``Rockin' in the Free World." That both were made into anthems is testament to the devotional fervor of the group's ecstatic followers.

How ecstatic are Pearl Jam's followers? Suffice it to say every song was the night's crowd pleaser -- from ``Animal" and ``Love Boat Captain" to ``Jeremy" and ``Better Man." Even the new songs inspired fits, as well they should: Politically charged tracks such as ``Life Wasted," ``Comatose," and ``World Wide Suicide" are among Pearl Jam's most powerful work.

Still more compelling than Pearl Jam's brawny tuneage, though, is the band's chemistry. Vedder, guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, bassist Jeff Ament, and drummer Matt Cameron are in a constant state of interaction. After 15 years they seem to intuitively sense when it's time to pad across the stage and go toe to toe with someone, locking eyes and synching axes in the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a jump-start.

An epic version of ``Even Flow" brought Vedder to his knees, literally and figuratively, eventually requiring him to exit for a smoke break. That's when McCready stepped in with an exceptionally long guitar solo and Ament (the secret weapon in this band) spread slabs of soul upon the stiff-riffed arena rocker, inspiring Vedder to return to the stage with a few dance moves.

Call it old-school, or the new classic rock, or a band resurfacing -- purposefully -- after a decade of artistic and commercial retreat. Pearl Jam is all of the above, and a pleasure to behold.

My Morning Jacket treated early arrivals to a loose-limbed set of hard, haunted rock that was anchored to the planet by frontman Jim James's desert wind of a voice. The songs, too, are giant, howling things of beauty -- even the pop-minded tunes from last year's ``Z."

Joan Anderman can be reached at

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