Daily Breeze, Oct. 27, 2000
STUCK OUT OF A JAM
Denied Pearl Jam tickets, our dauntless reviewer brings his own seat
BY COREY LEVITAN
PHOTO BY BRUCE HAZELTON/DAILY BREEZE
Here's how we rock critics go about reviewing a show. We phone a band's record company. A publicist will have seats set aside, because they usually don't consider it a bad thing for their act to be exposed to hundreds of thousands of readers.
Epic Records forgot the rules last week, at least when it came to our request to review Pearl Jam at the Greek Theatre.
"Sorry, but all the national magazines want tickets for that show because Pearl Jam rarely performs in L.A.," the band's publicist said when he finally picked up his phone a day before the show. He claimed not to have received the repeated requests we left on his voicemail in previous weeks.
Translation: "I have a priority list and placed you underneath everyone else. But feel free to call again when it's not a major concert and you don't really need to cover it. Then I'll have tickets for you."
The reason the fan-friendly members of Pearl Jam say they rarely perform in L.A. is because their shows here are packed with industry idiots. I understand their disdain. One of those idiots would now be occupying my seat.
The problem isn't that I expected to get in for free. I would have gladly paid if my request was declined with enough advance notice. But a day before the show, $33 tickets were going for $300.
What was a reviewer to do, ignore the biggest rock show in L.A. this fall? I bit my lip and prepared for a bilking I probably couldn't expense back to my paper. I called Barry's Tickets, a scalper whose radio ads announce, "We laugh at the words sold out."
"I'm all out," Barry said. He wasn't laughing.
"You should just go and review the show from outside," a friend suggested. It was one of those stupid ideas you grin at but don't do, like wearing a gorilla suit to the zoo and pretending to have escaped.
Then a light bulb flashed overhead. Why not? If they can refuse a reporter for a major daily newspaper, then a lot of deserving fans would probably be shut out, too. And I should be with my people -- the rejects of life.
I grabbed a beach chair, sunglasses and my favorite party hat. I was going to have fun with this. I scouted a spot near the entrance to the venue, just outside some portable metal gating. I told security guards in yellow "Staff Pro" jackets that it was my job to review this show, whether or not I could get in.
They laughed. This was going to be cake.
The fans around me were experiencing significantly more frustration, however. Show time was approaching and they still didn't have tickets.
"People aren't even selling them, dude!" freaked Robert Urzua, 25, from Santa Monica, who had driven to the Greek with his four buddies straight from Las Vegas, where they saw Pearl Jam perform its 10th anniversary show at the MGM Grand on Sunday.
"I'm their biggest fan!" Urzua added, between pleas to passersby for extra tickets.
The best offer made to Frank Duran, 37, of Los Feliz, was far out of his budget. "Section A, Row Q," he reported. "But the guy wanted $150." Later on, even that price wasn't available.
At 9 p.m. Pearl Jam took the stage. The song was "Sometimes" from its 1996 album "No Code." The music sounded fuzzy, there was too much echo, and I couldn't decipher any of singer Eddie Vedder's words.
It was just like being inside the concert! The only thing missing was the jerk standing up in front of me, dancing from left to right across my line of sight.
"Look at that guy!" giggled a gaggle of young 20something ladies, pointing at me as they strode in late. I toasted them with my plastic margarita glass full of nothing but Crystal Geyser. (Wouldn't want to break the law.)
"You're gonna piss Pearl Jam's record company off," one of my media colleagues warned me while standing in line with his two free tickets, waiting to be frisked. (That's OK, I have my own priority list and I've placed Epic Records underneath everyone else.)
Pearl Jam followed up with "Corduroy" from 1994's "Vitalogy" album. The passion poured by Vedder into his performance radiated throughout the entranceway. Yet it proved unable to get a rise out of my new security friends, who talked among themselves and didn't even clap when the song was finished. How rude.
"The waiting drove me mad!" Vedder sang. And no truer words could apply to a line of about 75 people queued up by the box office, hoping against hope that the Greek would eventually put more seats up for sale in the middle of the concert.
It never did. And the real parade-rainer was the fact that many of these fans parked in the venue's stacked lot, which meant they couldn't go home until the concert ended.
But I was beginning to develop my own set of problems. While the guards in the light yellow Staff Pro windbreakers were good, I discovered that the guards in the dark blue Staff Pro windbreakers were correspondingly evil. The light/dark color coding works like in the cowboy movies.
"You have to move from here now!" an angry blue jacket said, pointing up toward the parking lot, way out of reviewing range. I offered him some of my water margarita and invited him to sit and chill with me. He wanted nothing of it.
"You cannot sit here!" he insisted. "You have to move now!"
Did Rosa Parks move when they told her to go to the back of the bus? Did Martin Luther King Jr. move when he saw his parade route blocked by riot police?
The yellow jackets lived up to their windbreaker color and cowered, pretending they had never bonded with me earlier. Anyone who aggravates a blue jacket is apparently on his own.
House seats are another ticket reserve that rock critics can usually tap into. But the Greek's publicist said there were none available for Pearl Jam, either for free or to purchase.
I used to have a terrific relationship with the Greek. At a party once, I introduced the theater's old publicist to the man she would marry. But in this revolving door of an industry, you can call your best friend one day and a stranger will answer the same number the next.
I've never met the new publicist, but she seems nice. It's not her fault that her job is to lie to me. There are always house seats available. But they're held for last-minute VIPs. If I was Leo DeCaprio and wanted to bring my posse, entire quadrants of the orchestra section would suddenly come available.
But I was not a VIP. I was not an IP. I think it's fair to say that in this situation, I was not even a P.
From my beach chair I did not spot any celebrities entering, yet that didn't mean they weren't there. Their limos drive them in through the back entrance, where the tour buses park, so they don't have to hobnob with the not-even-Ps.
As Pearl Jam wound tightly through "Given To Fly" from 1998's "Yield," the blue jackets began circling just as tightly around me. Then one summoned the police. The charge would apparently be reviewing without a permit. I could be suspended from giving my opinion on rock concerts for at least a year.
I always said I would love to spend the night in jail for my journalistic principles, like Mary Richards in the "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." But as I looked up to see the approaching cops with their grimacing faces and dangling handcuffs, the reality of that lofty professional goal suddenly lost its appeal.
Readers, I sincerely apologize. I cowered like a yellow jacket and scrammed. I betrayed Martin and Rosa and, more importantly, I disappointed you by not staying long enough to report what the encore was.
Like Pearl Jam, who tried the little-guy-versus-big-guy thing against Ticketmaster, I ultimately failed.
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