Pearl Jam, whose touring plans were derailed last summer by a battle with Ticketmaster over service fees, will return to the stage next month for the first of what is expected to be a series of concerts sidestepping the ticket giant. The Seattle rock group will headline shows Jan. 14 and 15 at the 3,500-seat Constitution Hall to benefit Voters for Choice, the D.C.-based political action committee that for 15 years has worked to elect candidates who support abortion rights.
Tickets to the shows, which are expected to raise $100,000, will be sold without a surcharge through a mail order lottery system designed in part to accommodate the band's anti-Ticketmaster stance. Sources say the band is exploring a similar mail order approach for selling tickets to its planned U.S. summer tour at venues not affiliated with Ticketmaster.
"Pearl Jam doesn't just sing about issues they care about. These guys walk it like they talk it," said Gloria Steinem, co-founder and president of Voters for Choice.
Steinem, who supports the band's crusade for lower service fees, took advantage of a clause in the exclusive contract between Constitution Hall and Ticketmaster (a Washington-Baltimore Ticketmaster licensee) that allows promoters of charity events to sell their own tickets. (The clause is believed to exist in all contracts between Ticketmaster and its affiliated venues.)
Ticketmaster officials declined to comment, but a source close to the firm said the band's plan for next summer's tour "validates the idea that Pearl Jam has always had, and will always have, the ability to tour whenever they want."
Pearl Jam's feud with the Los Angeles-based firm erupted in May when the band filed a civil complaint with the Justice Department alleging that Ticketmaster has a national monopoly over ticket distribution. The complaint -- which also accused Ticketmaster of using its influence to thwart Pearl Jam's planned low-priced 1994 summer tour -- triggered an ongoing federal investigation into anti-competitive practices in the ticket distribution industry.
Ticketmaster uses a portion of the service fees it collects to maintain exclusive contracts with the owners of the largest concert venues and promotion firms. Those contracts were reviewed in 1991 when the Justice Department's antitrust division allowed the company to buy certain assets from its only major competitor. Ticketmaster denies Pearl Jam's allegations.
Ticket distribution and itinerary details for the band's eight-week summer trek are not expected to be announced until March and could change pending developments in the Justice Department investigation. Band members declined to comment for this story.
Pearl Jam has performed only once in the United States since the investigation began, playing an acoustic set in October at Neil Young's Bridge School benefit in Mountain View, Calif. For that fund-raiser, tickets were sold through BASS, a San Francisco Bay Area firm affiliated with Ticketmaster.
Officials from the Justice Department -- which in May ordered Ticketmaster to surrender records pertinent to the probe -- continue to conduct extensive interviews in several states with promoters, venue operators and talent managers. Last week, the government spoke to representatives for the bands Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Phish and Indigo Girls, sources said. Representatives for some of rock's biggest acts -- including R.E.M., Sting and Aerosmith -- have already been interviewed.
It was not easy for Steinem's organization to find a venue to present its benefit, which will also feature performances by Young, L7 and other groups. (Details, including ticket prices, are expected to be announced next week.)
Tom Campbell, head of Avocado Productions, the nonprofit Los Angeles organization coordinating the benefit, said he approached nearly a dozen venues in the Washington area before getting a green light from Constitution Hall. According to Campbell, venue operators either disagreed with the show's abortion rights theme or cited scheduling conflicts.
CAPTION: Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam, which plays here next month.