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Pearl Jam Takes The Road Less Traveled

Pearl Jam cancel half of U.S. dates; will tour with Neil Young in Europe

Neil Young and Eddie Vedder

Neil Young and Eddie Vedder performing together during the MTV Video Music Awards.

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

The odds seemed stacked against them from the start, but Pearl Jam managed to avoid dealing directly with Ticketmaster and scheduled 15 shows in venues that weren’t contracted with the company. By the time the band stepped onstage June 16 for the first show of the tour, in Casper, Wyo., it looked as if they had triumphed in their yearlong battle with the ticket giant.

The victory was short-lived. Eight days later, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, a weary, flu-stricken Eddie Vedder leaned into the mike and mumbled, “I think that might be it for me for a while,” before leaving the stage just seven songs into the band’s set. Neil Young, who was scheduled to perform an encore with the group, replaced Vedder and finished the show with two hours of material that included six songs from Mirror Ball, the album he recorded with Pearl Jam.

The next day the band canceled its remaining 10 American dates, leaving pundits wondering whether Vedder was suffering from something more serious than the flu. Some were reminded of the circumstances that led to Kurt Cobain‘s suicide and questioned whether Vedder’s illness was drug related. A spokeswoman for Epic Records, the band’s label, calls such speculation “completely ridiculous,” adding that Vedder had a virulent strain of the stomach flu that several members of the road crew had contracted earlier in the tour.

A mere 48 hours after Pearl Jam announced the cancellations and offered fans refunds, the band rescheduled two shows for July 8 and 9 at Ticketmaster venues in Milwaukee as part of the Milwaukee Summerfest, and one gig July 11 in Chicago, sold through ETM, a small California-based ticket distributor. A band representative says the Milwaukee dates were rescheduled from last year when Pearl Jam nixed their tour because they felt Ticketmaster’s service fees were too high. Promoters in San Diego and Phoenix hope their dates will be rescheduled as well, but Pearl Jam’s representative says the band isn’t likely to play any more canceled shows until at least the beginning of September, when it returns from a two-week European tour with Neil Young.

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Neither Pearl Jam nor their management could be reached for comment, but in a written statement, the band cited “business problems and controversies” as reasons for the cancellation of this year’s tour.

“There was a lot of pressure putting together this tour,” says a spokesman for the group. “It got to the point where it wasn’t about music, it was about the business of music, and I think that was a real distraction. Pearl Jam just can’t take this fight on. It’s very hard for them to be the David against a very powerful Goliath.”

The Goliath, of course, is Ticketmaster, which has exclusive contracts with most major venues in the United States. As a result, Pearl Jam had to use many second-rate spots that lacked the size, acoustics, security and comfort of larger, more traditional arenas. The majority of the venues booked for the band’s 15-date tour had capacities of 15,000 or less Pearl Jam representatives stressed that the tour’s untimely demise had nothing to do with ETM, which sold tickets for the tour quickly and efficiently at a lower service charge than Ticketmaster’s. “If scheduling a tour at alternative venues had gone as smoothly as selling tickets through ETM, we would not have been in a position to cancel,” said band manager Kelly Curtis in a prepared statement.

In 1994, Pearl Jam filed a complaint with the Justice Department, accusing Ticketmaster of engaging in monopolistic, anti-competitive actions. The band is still awaiting a decision, but Ticketmaster spokesman Larry Solters says the fact that Pearl Jam even scheduled a tour negates their claim that Ticketmaster holds a monopoly over the industry.

“Despite their claims, the band proved it was capable of touring,” Solters says. “The tickets were sold, the fans were in the seats, and Pearl Jam ultimately decided they did not want to perform. That’s regrettable news to the fans who have loyally waited to see them.”

Many of these fans are refusing to sulk in silence, judging by the vitriolic bulletin-board messages circulating on America Online. “You have a hell of a lot of nerve canceling your show 18 hours before show time,” wrote one disgruntled fan. “If life sucks so much, Ed, why don’t [sic] just quit and give us all a fucking break, you gas-pumping Kurt Cobain ass-kissing plad-wearing [sic] fake!!”

“I am totally bummed out,” read another message. “Waited four hours through two crappy opening groups to see Neil Young. What a waste of money!”

Logistically, Ticketmaster may indeed have prevented Pearl Jam from playing decent sites, but some sources also accuse Ticketmaster of exerting pressure on other bands, managers and venues that have supported Pearl Jan’s efforts to find an alternative ticketing system. “There was a methodical campaign that has been developed by Ticketmaster to not only discredit us but also to directly impede the progress of the shows,” says Ray Garman, president of Fillmore Mercantile Inc., the private merchant bank that lent funds to ETM for Pearl Jam ticketing expenses. Garman was instructed by his attorneys not to give specific examples.

Solters says such claims are absurd. He stresses that Ticketmaster has no interest in foiling Pearl Jam and adds that his company even cooperated with the band by allowing it to use the Ticketmaster-contracted San Diego Sports Arena at no charge after its June 26 and 27 gigs had to be rescheduled. The shows were originally booked at a local racetrack, which was later deemed unsafe by local officials.
“I’m tired of Ticketmaster being the scapegoat here, and I think a lot of other people are getting pretty tired as well,” says Solters. Pearl Jam spokespeople also claim Ticketmaster had no involvement, since the deal to play the Sports Arena was struck solely with the venue.

Ironically, it was the events surrounding the San Diego dates that caused the controversy to snowball. Frustrated by the venue cancellations, Curtis told reporters that Pearl Jam would do whatever was necessary to play shows in the future, even if that meant working with Ticketmaster again. He later recanted his statement, and on June 16, Vedder called San Diego radio station XTRA-FM from the road to reaffirm the band’s commitment to ETM. “There is no deal between us and Ticketmaster,” he said. “If I can’t play another show without it being Ticketmaster, I think we could deal with that. We’ll make records.”

This story is from the August 10th, 1995 issue of Rolling Stone.


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