the history of live music and bootlegging - in 2 bands - PART 2
So, we come to Pearl Jam.
If you have not read part 1, please start here.
Bootlegging stats steady and mostly under the radar for the next 30 years. Several 'jam' bands, following the Dead's lead, now allow taping. Dave Matthews band, Blues Traveler, Todd Snider, Phish, and Pearl Jam. Ok, they aren't all 'jam' bands.
Perhaps you will remember, Pearl Jam was the biggest band in America in the early 90’s. The second album set a record for most units sold (nearly a million first week. Would not be beat until Garth Brooks, who cheated his ass off to take the record). Eddie Vedder wouldn’t/couldn't go out in public without a mask. He was on the cover of Time AND Newsweek. Pearl Jam, you see, were BIG. Pearl Jam were also pretty unique in that they thrived in the live environment. The model of bands touring was a simple one. The record company sent you on a promotion tour around the United States so fans could see you. Then, you would buy their cassette/record. That record cost $95 cents to make, and they charged $12 for it. So, you see how they can afford to send a band around the country. Touring was designed as a loss leader promotion for the record.
Pearl Jam’s interest was in playing live. Like the Dead before them, studio albums were an after thought. So, their shows got bootlegged. Enterprising music fans snuck in recording equipment and secretly recorded concerts. Then, sold them at a HUGE mark up. This has always been happening, and it always will. Well, the band didn’t like this, for a few reasons. One is that the bootlegs were ripping fans off. Fans were paying $30 for a shitty recording of a recording of a recording of a live show. On top of that, it was a business issue. The band, whose music it was, was seeing none of that cash. So, the band took some brilliant initiatives.
They released official versions of every bootleg they saw on the market. They didn’t invent this, Frank Zappa did. Then, they put stickers on each live release that said “not to be confused with identical more expensive import". They didn’t invent this, IanMacKeye did. Tom Petty also tried it, and his record company tried to sue him out of existence.
|I can't get this damn picture to rotate correct. This is from my own collection|
Pearl Jam saw the demand these few official bootleg created. They did something that took the spirit of the Grateful Dead into the new century. They offered to sell ALL their shows. Everyone thought they were nuts. On one day, they put an entire tour on sale. On that day, they had 20 records all on the top 100. That is beyond historic.
Then, they took it further. Through the fan club, you could buy the show you were going to. The show that has not happened yet. You pay the band $10 online. Then, immediately after the show, the band emailed you an MP3 of that show. It was fast. Meaning, it was in your email when you got home from the show.
Pretty great, right? Well, they went further still. They made it so that you could buy CDs of the show you were at AT that show, that night. Well, this was the plan. About 15 minutes after the end of the show, through the miracles of cd pressers and real time engineering and magically pixie fairies… you drove home listening to that show. However, I don’t know that that phase got to the execution point. To do so would be incredibly expensive. That is a lot of infrastructure.
I see Pearl Jam picking up so much of what the Dead did and running with it. Pearl Jam plays longs shows, 3 to 4 hours every night. They also vary the set list of every show, just like the Dead. So, you can follow Pearl Jam on tour... and get a different show each night.
My favorite part of this story is how it has truly come full circle. Last week, I was at Dead show in Red Rocks (they are still touring with Bobby and Phil). On the way out, I saw a line of folks standing at a booth. Seemed weird for the end of the night. I knew the Dead were almost certainly not coming up for autographs. I asked a guy in line and he explained they were waiting for tonight’s show to press. The Dead took Pearl Jam’s idea and ran with it. How great is that?
I just love this. It is how the entire history of bootlegging can be summed up by two bands. The Dead started it, Owsley pioneered the technology. Pearl Jam ran with it, and the Dead are following suit.
That was long, thanks for staying with me. There is obviously much more to the history of live recording. However, a primer on the Dead and Pearl Jam pretty much covers about 80% of it. Plus, to be transparent, those are my absolutely favorite bands. So, this isn’t as much journalism as it is just me being a fan boy. I am actually a member of the Pearl Jam fan club, and have been for almost 20 years. Who the hell still does that? What am I, 12?