Seventeen-year-old Guillermo Letona walked anxiously around the
Tower Records in Rockville, Md., on Monday night. Though it was quite dark
outside, inside the store was abuzz with fluorescent light, as Letona
bounced from the sales counter to the new releases section and back.
Letona, a diehard Pearl Jam fan, was eagerly waiting for the first-day sale
of the band's new Yield album to begin at midnight -- and it
couldn't happen a moment too soon.
"This is the second biggest thing in my life next to school right now,"
said Letona, a Rockville resident and one of a dozen fans who showed up to
be the first on their block to buy Yield.
Rockville store manager Selessia Kimbrough predicted that the album will
sell well, but said her outlet is taking a wait-and-see approach to
Yield. So far, the store has ordered 210 copies, an average number
for a band of Pearl Jam's stature, Kimbrough said, although far fewer than
the 700 that Rockville store ordered for Prodigy's The Fat Of The Land
album last year. Thirteen copies of Yield sold in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
"I think it will sell better than their last one," Kimbrough said,
referring to Pearl Jam's 1996 release, No Code, which moved over 1
million copies in the U.S. "It's their first release in a long time." (No Code was released in the fall of 1996.)
Tower's outlet on Chicago's Clark Street reported a much larger turnout
for its midnight sale. "We sold 78 copies," said manager Joe
Kvidera, "which is pretty remarkable without advertising. I hope
it will be a big release. They're getting the word out about it, so maybe
it will expand beyond just the Pearl Jam fanatics."
Several of the fans who turned out for the midnight sale in Rockville had
already previewed Yield on the Internet, where for the past two
months much of the album has been available as MP3 and RealAudio files
against the wishes of Epic Records and the Recording Industry Association
"If anything, [the Internet leaks] are a positive," said Kevin Gandel, 22,
of College Park, Md. "It gets the music out there and creates a buzz. But
I don't think that the record company anticipated that once it got out to a
radio station that that was it -- then it was worldwide through the Net."
Ernie Padilla, 21, of Wheaton, Md., agreed. "I can't wait to get the
album," Padilla said before the sale started. "I've been hearing about
this album for a year, and I heard blurbs that it's a 'hard rocking' album.
Now I've heard about half of it through the Internet. I think it's a
positive thing. For the most part the MP3s were just 30-second snippets,
and they piqued my curiosity."
Much of the music industry is humming with speculation about where a guitar
band such as Pearl Jam fits in among new electronic acts such as Prodigy, and
whether Yield will return Pearl Jam to the multimillion-selling
ranks they occupied with their first three albums.
Padilla said such benchmarks don't matter to him. "In the early '90s,
Pearl Jam got a lot of flack for being 'America's favorite band.' It's
kind-of cool that the audience is dwindling down. There's not, like, a
zillion other people who like Pearl Jam anymore."
Perhaps these days Pearl Jam's core fan base is defined less by people who
treasure the band's nine-times platinum debut album, Ten, and more by
people like Jamie Melser, who said she was "very excited" after walking
away from the sales counter with Yield in hand.
"I saw a commercial [for the album] on TV, and I was like, 'Yeah!,' " said
the 20-year-old Melser, of Rockville. "I like all their albums. They're
different every time. It's always a new ride." [Tues., Feb. 3, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]