"We just found out our new album is No. 1," Eddie Vedder told the packed crowd during the Pearl Jam show at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. "We had some No. 1 albums a while ago. We didn't give a shit then." He paused for a moment, gave a crooked laugh, took a sip of red wine, and said, "We don't give a shit now. But some of us are dads. So now, we can say to our kids, 'Hey, just remember, your dad is No. 1.'"
It's been 13 years since Pearl Jam had a No. 1 album. Their new effort, "Backspacer," which has already spawned radio hit "The Fixer," was released under the new, no-label, direct-to-retail model. The band, led by manager Kelly Curtis and former Sony Music President/COO Michele Anthony (Sony is the band's old label), did a deal with Target and indie retailers (so as not to alienate fans) for retail, iTunes for digital, and Verizon more mobile marketing.
Yes, it can be argued, and often is, that it's easy or at least easier for big name bands to do direct deals after having had the massive support of a major label for almost two decades. This is usually the gripe naysayers use against Radiohead's new model success. I agree. Many of these bands made their names thanks to the backs and money of labels. But labels were different two decades ago. They actually did artist development and let bands make their own creative choices. Pearl Jam is probably one of the few bands of this generation who didn't sell out, who didn't say 'how high,' when the label said 'jump.' Who took the unpopular stance against Ticketmaster and other corporate entities. I saw them play at the Greek Theatre in Hollywood about 10 years ago, and Vedder refused to get on stage until the venue took down car promotion banners above the stage. He said his fans came to see Pearl Jam, not buy a car.
What is also different about Pearl Jam is their undying devotion to their fans through the band's Ten Club. No, they haven't had a No. 1 album in 13 years, but their fans have never left them and have continued to buy albums and concert tickets. Even if Pearl Jam hadn't done a direct deal with Target, etc., the Gibson Amphitheatre still would have been sold out. The crowd in that room sang along to all of the hits and all of the new songs, even though "Backspacer" was only officially released Sept 20. And Vedder is still the most unassuming, charismatic, rocker I've seen. He screwed up a bunch of the new songs, since they've only started playing them live recently, and he readily admitted to the audience his "fuck-ups."
The band, with Vedder, bass player Jeff Ament, rhythm guitar Stone Gossard, and lead guitarist Mike McCready, has never sounded better.
Bruce Springsteen and U2 are not selling out their shows - in fact, you can even get tickets to their shows online for under face value. There was not a seat empty at the Pearl Jam show and not a single person in the amphitheater who wasn't cheering.
Congratulations. You guys deserve your success.