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The Black Circle Has Stopped Spinning
In 1995, Pearl Jam toured in support of their third full length, Vitalogy. Though the album wasn't the traditional send up to the band's unparalleled Ten, it was to be an otherwise ordinary tour of the best that grunge rock had to offer, save for one looming message: Ticketmaster is the devil.
Thirteen years later, that well-intentioned boycott is deader than a mummy as lead singer Eddie Vedder and Ticketmaster prepare for an upcoming Wiltern show where a single ticket price could dent your wallet to the tune of $90.
If pop is dead, so is any hope of circumventing the world-wide ticket broker.
Citing Ticketmaster's obscene service charges that had been added to ticket prices in Chicago, Pearl Jam dedicated the Vitalogy tour to spreading the gospel truth about the fiendish ticket broker that proffered on the backs of service charges and facility fees that have been known to equal the amount of the original ticket price.
They fought a losing battle for the better part of three years, ultimately yielding to fan's complaints that finding tickets to Pearl Jam shows and going to out of the way venues was too much work. It was a basic battle between the forces of practicality and idealism, which is never a fair fight.
It wasn't fair then and it is not fair now to say Pearl Jam gave up. They fought more than anyone else did and was forced to cede to their fan's wishes and Ticketmaster was the only game in town. Without the Internet and viral marketing opportunities, it wasn't as easy to showcase your message nationwide in 1995 as it is today.
Meanwhile, Ticketmaster got richer. On Feb. 8, the ticket broker announced a robust increase in revenue. From the fourth quarter 2006 to the fourth quarter of 2007, sales increased 27% from $279.1 million to $354.7 million based on "record worldwide ticket volume."
Evidence of Vedder's idealistic demise arrived in the form of an email announcing the show. In my inbox Thursday, KROQ told me about Thursday's 10 a.m. pre-sale (password: "hardsun") for a show he is playing on April 12 and 13 with New Zealand
Australian crooner Liam Finn at The Wiltern. Each ticket costs $68.50. With a facility and handling charge, that price could shoot to nearly $90. For a concert. For Eddie Vedder. For a man who once wore flannel that looked like it was from the Salvation Army and dedicated an entire tour to fighting the ticket behemoth.
The boycott isn't just dead, its mangled body has been stabbed almost 100 times with a shiv in its falsetto heart. Vedder hasn't just lost the battle. The concert has given a whole new meaning to the term sell-out.
But I don't begrudge him. I don't have to pay $68.50+arm+leg. In fact, if you are able to afford $40 an hour for a concert, I am severely jealous. While I liked, not loved, the movie Into the Wild, the soundtrack was one of last year's best. No small feat in a crowded field of greatness that included music from Juno and Once.
Pearl Jam still holds a special place in my poetic memory (not to mention the band's appearance in Singles). Ten was a seminal work, but Vs. was poetry and every album since has showcased their transition from angry grunge rock to full tilt folk with at least one brilliant opus on each full length.
That said, I will not shed a tear when Vedder and others charging astronomical prices for concerts complain that people steal their music.
Some artists and labels might contend that the reason they have to charge so much is because people steal their songs. Bullshit. The Wiltern's capacity is roughly 2,300. If both shows sell out, all interested parties will split $315,500 (not counting fees, which could push that total past $400,000). If Vedder sells out all seven shows on his mini West Coast tour, well over $1.5 million dollars will be raked in by all involved. If you illegally downloaded the Into the Wild soundtrack, your soul should be at ease.
Of course, Vedder has dedicated himself to more important causes than people who can afford to pay high prices but are annoyed by the financial inconvenience. Still, it is interesting to note how far Vedder has strayed from his No on Tickemaster days. No more evidence than the $86.50 Wiltern show is needed to see that the Black Circle has stopped spinning.