“We got to be crushed by a huge corporate giant right up close”: Eddie Vedder on the time Pearl Jam took on Ticketmaster

Eddie Vedder in 1993
(Image credit: Getty Images)

By 1995, Pearl Jam had established themselves as a band determined to do things on their own terms. Their third album Vitalogy was not your typical record from a multi-million-selling band looking to preserve their unit-shifting status, as it diverged into experimental soundscapes, twisted accordion ditties and psychedelic, eastern-tinged grooves alongside the rock anthems and poignant ballads. On the tour to support it, they were equally as resolute about not adhering to the traditional rules. It was a period that saw Eddie Vedder & co. take on Ticketmaster and refuse to perform at any venues controlled by the ticketing giant in protest at service charges the company were adding to ticket prices. It was a boycott that almost broke them, as Vedder recalled to Classic Rock’s Niall Doherty in 2011.

“The way I feel about it is we got to see up close how things work in this country, we got to be crushed by a huge corporate giant right up close,” Vedder said. “It didn’t kill us, but it was quite an experience.”

The group had already cancelled a summer tour in 1994 because of the Ticketmaster boycott but had decided to try again a year later, either by organising their own venues or finding sites that weren’t involved with Ticketmaster. Looking back, Vedder said it was a nightmare. “It was getting in the way of making music and playing live shows," he recounted. "When we tried to do the tour all on our own, we spent more time on where to put the portaloos than when it came to setlist. You couldn’t think straight for j-link fences and barricades and safety issues and how many roads in, how many roads out, parking. That became part of setting up live shows, and then those were what the reviews were about! It was ‘if they’d done it with Ticketmaster, there wouldn’t be this hassle’, there was more counterfeit tickets… we had to bring the focus back to music and playing.”

It wasn’t until 1998, after three years of restricted touring, that Pearl Jam caved in and began to use Ticketmaster venues again so that they could return to full-scale tours. “In some ways, it robbed us of some of our idealism cos we thought and believed – and probably still do – that we were fighting the good fight,” Vedder recalled. “With longevity, you realise it’s these spikes. If you can last long enough, if you can live long enough, these things that seem so important, there’s just waves going up and down like a friggin’ heartbeat on a metre, but in the middle there’s just the middle, so if you can choose your battles you don’t have to go up and down and have it threaten the life of the group.”

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.