Once upon a time Smashing Pumpkins were one of my favourite bands. I first got into them when they released the 4-track Lull EP (featuring Rhinoceros, Blue, Slunk and Bye June) which was released in the UK before Gish came out. I saw them when they were touring the EP at The Riverside in Newcastle, a 550 (from memory) capacity venue that was my favourite haunt when I was an undergraduate. I remember the gig fairly well as it was one technical disaster after the other with gear continually breaking down, in particular D’Arcy’s bass amp and the sound was bad for the whole hour or so they played. So much went wrong that they came back not long after, and not long after Gish had been released in the UK, and played again to make up for all the problems of the first show. I love Gish, it’s one of my favourite albums from the early 1990s, even now. I saw the band again when they toured Siamese Dream, but when they’d moved onto the much bigger capacity (1,500 – 1,800 I think) Mayfair. And after that it was only at Reading and Glastonbury festivals, playing on the big stages to the big crowds.
I did keep up with the band though. I bought Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness not long after I’d moved to Birmingham to start my PhD; it was a mixed bunch but being a triple album it was always going to be the case. It would have made a really good single album but there was just way too much filler on it for it to be a triple album. When Adore came out in 1998 it was the most expensive album I’d ever bought on vinyl and a purchase I regretted buying. I didn’t bother getting Machina/The Machines of God when it came out. Some time after it came out I had a stay in hospital (gall stones) and my housemate brought in a load of mini-discs (you might remember them…), including Machina, so that I had something to listen to whilst I was stuck there. Despite the fact I was largely bed-ridden and had nothing else to do to pass the time, I still didn’t even make it to the end of Machina. It was just terrible. I haven’t even heard Zeitgeist or anything they have released since.
I saw them again at V Festival. It started well but soon descended into a Billy Corgan wankfest. You can get away with it when you’re playing your own shows, but less so when it’s a festival and you’re playing to a less partisan crowd. It was a crowd could have done without a 10+ minute version of United States taking up a sizeable portion of their alloted time, with the typical, never-ending Corgan squalling feedback, noise-for-noise’s sake guitar part. They used to do something similar with Siamese Dream‘s Silverfuck back in the day, but at least it felt like it was within the structure of the song, not just a pointless outro to fill time.
Tonight is the first time I’ve seen them play a small indoor show since 1993. Corgan et al haven’t made it an easier or enjoyable experience, with the photographers consigned to a tiny patch of floor space behind the mixing desk. It’s so far back I feel if I could stretch a bit further I could touch the back wall of The Tivoli. Being far away is one thing, being at virtually the same level as the audience is another. Even on tip toes I can’t get a shot that doesn’t include the crowd at the bottom and it’s impossible to get an unobstructed full length shot of him. I dust of my 2x converter for the first time in years and although it helps in once respect, the quality of the converter isn’t very high and it makes the photos very shot. It’s a weird concept when you impose strict conditions on photographers and you end up with poor photos. Don’t people want to get the best photos possible of themselves?
They rattle of Ava Adore and Today in the first three songs. Cherub Rock, Zero, Stand Inside Your Love and Bullet With Butterfly Wings get aired later on in the evening. Musically I guess it’s ok but just not as exciting as it used to be. It’s just not the same as it was 20 years ago. Needing to edit the photos for a next morning deadline, I don’t stay until anywhere near the end, leaving after an hour or so. Unless I really have to, I never leave gigs early and it’s hard to believe I’m doing it at a band that I used to really love (and still do for their first couple of albums). What’s more depressing is that I’m not really bothered by leaving early.
The photo pass was nice though.