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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

It's Age Over Edge on Tour Schedule

January 18, 1998|Steve Hochman

All the blankets, ponchos, cushions, coolers and picnic baskets you toted to the stadiums for the U2 and Rolling Stones tours last year--you can put them in storage for 1998.

There are no stadium-level concert treks on the horizon this year, except a 20-date swing mostly through Texas and the southeast by country star George Strait. But the arenas and amphitheaters are going to be very busy, with a Pearl Jam tour exciting promoters the most.

Word is that the Seattle band will mount a U.S. tour with legs in June and August, and may put its battle with Ticketmaster behind it in order to play in conventional concert sites for the first time in years. A representative of the group's management says that no decisions will be made about venues and the Ticketmaster issue until all options can be considered, but the group's agents are reportedly negotiating dates at the Forum and Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. These would be the group's first L.A. area concerts since 1993.

"I think that's smart," says Jane Cohen, editor in chief of the concert trade magazine Performance, of a possible Pearl Jam-Ticketmaster detente. "I think it was a turnoff to the fans."

One reason the promoters are so hot for Pearl Jam is that the band brings a young, rock edge into play in a year when most of the big-name headliners being discussed so far are either mainstream pop acts (Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Janet Jackson) or classic-rock veterans (Elton John, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant, Rod Stewart).

"You have the elder statesmen again," Cohen says. "What's wrong with this picture? The whole issue is where has artist development gone? Where are the Elton Johns and Page/Plants and Rod Stewarts of tomorrow?"

So unless Madonna decides to embark on her first full U.S. tour since 1990--a real possibility--and until plans are set for the various summer festival tours, Pearl Jam easily provides the biggest spark.

Here is how some of the issues and acts shape up for the coming concert year:

* The Boomer Factor. The steadiest audience in recent years has been the baby boomers, who have turned out for such acts as the Rolling Stones and the reunited Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. Arena tours from Clapton (starting in the spring), John (summer, following an in-progress winter swing that includes two Forum shows next month) and Page/Plant (summer) are seen as sure bets.

But several promoters point to the ticket sales of the Stones, which dropped off from the band's previous level. Are the boomers less willing to put in the time, expense and effort it takes to see acts they've seen recently? That could be a problem for someone like Stewart, unless he has a new pop hit to re-energize his audience.

* The Divas. Dion's streak of huge album sales and her connections with modern romance through her song from "Titanic" give her a chance to jump from the amphitheater level to arenas, though there are doubts about whether her brand of pop will play well in that setting. Carey, too, is largely unproven in arenas, where she is expected to perform starting possibly in early spring. Jackson, though, does have a track record for exciting, big-production arena events and will mount another such tour, likely to be here in the summer.

* The Breakthroughs. Acts mentioned most frequently as having potential to move up to big-time concert level include Matchbox 20, Radiohead (which got a boost from a best album Grammy nomination) and the Verve. Several promoters suggest that a tour pairing Matchbox 20 with another up-and-coming act such as Third Eye Blind could headline the large amphitheaters. And whether she wins or not, the exposure Paula Cole is getting from her several key Grammy nominations seems certain to elevate her status.

*

FESTIVE OCCASIONS: Despite shakiness in its ranks last summer, the festival field is growing by at least one this year. A new tour called Family Values, with an emphasis on youthful hard-rock, is in development for summer, and plans to be in arenas rather than in the outdoor sheds and fields most common for the fests.

The tour is being put together by Jeff Kwantinetz, who manages the band Korn, and New Jersey-based concert promoter John Scher, with negotiations underway with several headline-status acts already to join Korn (which was on Lollapalooza last year), Limp Biskit and new act Orgy.

"It was the festivals that lost sight of what they were doing that suffered last year," Kwantinetz says. "Ozzfest did well because it was what it was supposed to be: a hard-rock show. Lilith was also effective with its focus and Warped stayed true to what it was.

"For ours, we know that kids love going to arena shows, and it's not just a matter of talent, but of production. We don't want kids going home and saying, 'Yeah, it was good.' We want them going home and calling 10 of their friends and say, 'It was incredible. I saw God.' "

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