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Slowly but surely over the last decade, my indifference to these ready-made rock stars has been replaced by a grudging admiration. The band’s heroic but ill-fated struggle against Ticketmaster was a rare display of activism with real consequences for its perpetrators, and various members have been involved with all sorts of predictably good causes over the years–none of which would mean beans if they also hadn’t quietly transformed themselves into one of the planet’s best and most consistent rock bands. The group’s recent studio album, Binaural (Epic), lacks the sheer rock firepower of Vs. and doesn’t take the risks that No Code did, but it’s perhaps the most emotionally nuanced record the band has made. Vedder, who’s been known to pal around with Pete Townshend, is more obviously influenced by the Who than ever, dipping into the supermelodramatic “Love Reign O’er Me” on “Breakerfall,” but in general his singing has never sounded more soulful or deliberate. The band (now featuring former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron) balances the strong vocal hooks with meaty riffing, and the album strikes a happy medium between grand-gesture rock songs like “Grievance” and lighter jaunts like “Soon Forget.” For a group whose appeal is broad enough to fill stadiums, there’s no one better right now. Supergrass opens. Sunday, 7:30 PM, Alpine Valley Music Theatre, Highway D and Highway 120, East Troy, Wisconsin; 414-642-4400 or 312-559-1212. Monday, 7:30 PM, Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim, Rosemont; 847-635-6601 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Glen E. Friedman.