Following 14 months of one of the most bitter disputes in the live entertainment business, Pearl Jam this week threw in the towel in its crusade to stage a concert tour without Ticketmaster.

This startling turnaround would seem to close the book on a controversy that has inflamed rock fans and dogged both the most popular U.S. rock group and the country's largest ticketing company for more than a year.

Or does it?

Far from settling the matter, Pearl Jam contends that its failure to mount a successful tour could present the strongest argument yet to support the band's argument that Ticketmaster has a lock on the $1 billion concert industry and merits attention from federal antitrust investigators.

"I regret to say that it is impossible for a major rock group to put on a national tour under the current circumstances without Ticketmaster," Pearl Jam manager Kelly Curtis said in an interview from Seattle today. "They've got a monopoly. We did everything we could over the past 14 months to get around them and put this tour together, but we failed. It's up to the Justice Department now."

Ticketmaster has frequently cited Pearl Jam's alternative tour as proof that competition is alive and well in the concert industry. After the dispute went public, the company also offered the band a reduced service fee.

"We are pleased that Pearl Jam is doing something to benefit its fans. . . . We are happy to work with anyone that wants to use our services," a Ticketmaster spokesman said in a telephone interview from the firm's Los Angeles headquarters, where the mood today was described as "jubilant."

Pearl Jam's latest moves triggered a flurry of calls by Justice Department investigators, who have been examining antitrust allegations since Pearl Jam filed a memorandum accusing Ticketmaster of pressuring promoters to boycott the band's planned 1994 low-cost summer concert tour. The ticket giant denies the allegation.

Sources said federal investigators sought details about the latest shake-up, possibly anticipating questions regarding the status of the case at Attorney General Janet Reno's weekly news briefing today. The Justice Department declined to comment. This year, Pearl Jam sought to organize a summer tour without using Ticketmaster at all. Scheduled to kick off its tour Friday in Casper, Wyo., the group has encountered difficulties finding adequate venues not affiliated with Ticketmaster. Pearl Jam's capitulation to Ticketmaster stemmed from the cancellation Monday night of two California concerts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds just two weeks before the band was scheduled to perform. The group decided to cancel when the San Diego County Sheriff's Department abruptly recommended doing so, expressing fears that thousands of fans without tickets might try to crash the gates. The setback was the last straw on the costly alternative tour venture for the band, Curtis said.

Late today, the rock band announced that the Del Mar concerts would be revived on the same dates at the San Diego Sports Arena, apparently with the cooperation of Ticketmaster, which will be paid a fee to waive its exclusive contract and will donate that money to charity.

Curtis said that Pearl Jam plans to play out every scheduled date on the first leg of the tour. The band has not entered into negotiations with Ticketmaster regarding future dates but has indicated it may perform at Ticketmaster-affiliated venues across the nation before the end of the summer.

A Ticketmaster spokesman said today the security and logistical woes that the band had blamed for its touring problems have nothing to do with Ticketmaster. Some concert industry sources privately portrayed Pearl Jam's cancellation of the Del Mar dates as the latest in a line of publicity ploys orchestrated by the band to call attention to its dispute with Ticketmaster -- a suggestion vehemently denied by the band.

"It's been like David against Goliath since the first day we decided to take them on," Curtis said, "but unfortunately, this time out, the giant won.

"In the end, you just have to face the fact that Ticketmaster calls the shots and give in to it. Pearl Jam is living proof that Ticketmaster can't be beat. If the government doesn't want to see the problem or take action at this point, I don't know what else a rock band can do to change it." The results of the Justice Department investigation, which are expected to be announced soon, could challenge the legality of exclusive contracts between Ticketmaster and the nation's largest promoters and facilities. Antitrust analysts were divided over what impact the latest development would have on the government probe.

"This is an antitrust enforcer's dream," said one Washington-based antitrust attorney. "Normally the government has to rely on economic theories to build a case that entry barriers into a market are high. But in this one, they're not operating in some vague theoretical vacuum; they have a concrete example to cite."

Antitrust attorney Don T. Klawiter disagreed.

"It's impossible to predict what the Justice Department is going to do, but it is unlikely that this one development would alter the outcome of a year-long investigation," said Klawiter, who works for the Washington-based law firm of Morgan, Lewis and Bockius. "If I had to predict, I would venture a guess that the government will not file suit in this matter." Los Angeles Times staff writer Ross Kerber contributed to this report. CAPTION: Pearl Jam found itself shut out of major music venues after challenging Ticketmaster's service charges.