Ticketmaster Uber Alles

It’s strange how the turmoil surrounding Pearl Jam over the past few weeks–an aborted show in San Francisco, an on-again, off-again tour–has resulted in attacks on the band itself. Most particularly, a recent Newsweek story ridiculed Pearl Jam for allegedly blaming everyone but itself for its troubles. (This attack is made worse by the fact that the magazine has yet to publish a substantive story on the fight against Ticketmaster.) And now Richard Roeper in the Sun-Times blasts Eddie Vedder for not being more contented with his lot in life. One even hears notes of exasperation from fans.

I wish there were a bit more consideration for the Herculean chore the band cut out for itself–inventing its own concert touring industry, just for starters. And I’m amazed at the misperceptions regarding the lifestyle of someone like Vedder. It’s fair to say that being a rock star is probably the easiest job in the world; Vedder’s trying to do about the hardest thing for someone in his situation, which is to not be one. He might occasionally look ridiculous, but ignoring the reasons behind Pearl Jam’s actions is extremely ungenerous. Decrying the tenor of the times is a millennia-old exercise, but these days any issue that threatens to be more complex than, say, Batman Forever does nothing but generate hostility.

Pearl Jam’s problems are just the inevitable rocks in a hard road. Much more significant was the announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice last Monday that it was dropping its investigation of Ticketmaster, which Pearl Jam and many other music-industry voices have accused of monopolistic practices and overcharging. Contrary to most published reports, the band did not prompt the investigation: the department began it independently and then asked the group for its input. This made the process look promising. While Ticketmaster’s opponents took heart in rumors that younger justice department staffers wanted to sue the company–and Ticketmaster chair Fred Rosen expressed similar forebodings recently–older hands apparently prevailed.

“I think it just adds to consumer cynicism when it comes to government,” says Peter Schniedermeier, one of the owners of ETM, the alternative ticketing system Pearl Jam used for its truncated tour. While the Justice Department pointed to new competitors in the industry, the fact remains that exclusive agreements between Ticketmaster and most of the country’s major rock halls make a non-Ticketmaster tour of large venues just about impossible–as Pearl Jam has just convincingly demonstrated.

In the meantime another minor competitor to Ticketmaster has surfaced. A company called Ameritix announced last month that it had a deal with the Wherehouse retail record-store chain to put ATM-like machines that dispense tickets in up to 136 stores in southern California. Cautious Amertix prez Donald Golan, the Chicago native who started the company with partner Harvey Tabb, is guarded about future plans for expansion, saying he’s not making any promises the company can’t keep. Yet he concedes, “It’s a potentially national thing.”

ATMs for tickets sound convenient, but I wonder how the machines will function in the moments fans care about the most–the minutes after a big show goes on sale, when speed and efficiency are key. I would hate to be in line behind slowpokes experimenting with the system. It also seems like ATMs would be a godsend to scalpers, who could easily hit a machine with a handful of different credit cards and buy away. Golan notes that the system easily can limit the number of tickets purchased per credit card, but it can’t stop one person from using different credit cards–that will be up to the store proprietors.

Where the Boys Are

Rock ‘n’ roll’s deplorable lack of sexually explicit odes to homoerotic love is thankfully rectified with a new record called Pile Up, from Pansy Division. The band is an unadorned punk threesome led by Jon Ginoli, a Peoria native who recorded three albums with a group called Outnumbered during his years in Champaign. In those days his sexuality was a secret: “I couldn’t come out then, both for the sake of the other people in the band, who weren’t gay, and because I couldn’t imagine that anyone else would want to hear it, back then.” Now he’s a happy and very out queer in San Francisco who essays a raucous and bratty stripped-down pop made up of equal parts homopunk paeans to acts that remain illegal in many states and campy covers of sex blasts from the likes of Prince (“Jack U Off”) and Liz Phair (“Flower”). The band is in town this weekend for a pair of shows: an all-ages affair at the Fireside Bowl, Thursday, July 13, and an 18-and-over late show at Metro Friday. Given the detailed lyrics of Ginoli’s songs and the band’s exposure in the past year–touring with Green Day, being interviewed on MTV–not too many people still don’t know which way Ginoli swings. One of the few, as it turned out, was the band’s accountant, who happens to be Ginoli’s father. “He just found out what was going on,” Ginoli says. “It was very recently, actually. He was a bit shocked.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc Gellar.