Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2000 | 9:53 a.m.
NEW YORK -- Pearl Jam fans began having their loyalty tested on Tuesday. The rock band isn't just releasing a new album -- it's putting out 25 of them.
In an unprecedented attempt to beat bootleggers at their own game, the Seattle-based band on Tuesday selling live two-CD sets recorded at more than two dozen concerts during a European tour earlier this summer.
"We just thought it was pretty cool," guitar player Mike McCready said. "If fans have to buy bootlegs, it can cost them $50. We wanted to do something that was cheaper."
Each album carries a suggested retail price of $16.98.
No one can remember one act flooding the marketplace with so much music at the same time. Even Pearl Jam admits it's not for everyone.
Most musical acts don't vary their set lists much from city to city, making such a project redundant. But like Phish or Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam prides itself on being unpredictable in concert. Each show contains about two dozen songs; Pearl Jam played more than 80 different songs during the European tour.
Their record company, Sony, had to be convinced to go along, band manager Kelly Curtis said. Pearl Jam records all of its shows anyway, so the biggest expense was already taken care of, he said.
Virtually every Pearl Jam concert is made available on disc by bootleggers, he said. Curtis knows, because the band has collected most of them.
The musicians rather wickedly considered releasing a compilation of the best live recordings from those discs. After all, what were the bootleggers going to do -- sue Pearl Jam for stealing their unauthorized recordings of the band's music?
But Curtis said Pearl Jam took its own approach when they realized there wasn't enough well-recorded material there for a full album.
"We're not trying to talk people who usually don't buy this stuff into buying it," he said. "It's more for the people who buy it already. We really didn't have any idea of how many people that is. We still don't."
For a few weeks the discs have been available through the band's website, selling at $10.98 each for fan club members and $12.98 for others. More than 50,000 discs have been sold that way, he said.
Curtis has run into some trouble among record retailers annoyed with having to stock 25 discs at the same time. Some retail chains are ignoring the release, and others are carrying only a handful of them, guessing at what may be the most popular, he said.
Pearl Jam released no music from the June 30 concert in Roskilde, Denmark, where nine fans were trampled to death and three seriously injured.
"No one even talked about it because they thought it would be a stupid idea," Curtis said.
For fans who aren't able to buy all 25, does McCready have any recommendations of shows he remembers going particularly well? He mentions disc No. 16, from Poland, disc No. 10 from Paris, and either of the two shows from London (Nos. 4 and 5).
"There are some really fantastic shows and some OK ones," the guitarist said. "But there aren't any real bad ones."
McCready himself doesn't worry much about the bootleggers. His music collection contains about 100 bootlegs of favorite bands such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
"I think people that buy the bootlegs buy the records anyway," he said. "I was that way. It's just another thing about the band, so I don't really care if they're making money."