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This is part 3 of a 4 part piece I am writing, inspired by a pair of Smashing Pumpkins concerts and a DVD documentary. As you may or may not know, I am a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, I always appreciate their work. I feel the need to preface this piece by saying that as it will give you an insight into the context of my commentary.
It's been something of a Smashing Pumpkins month for me. In addition to back to back concert events, I also picked up a copy of the band's most recent DVD release: If All Goes Wrong.
When I first ordered this DVD, I actually thought it was just a concert DVD chronicling the Pumpkins residency tours at the Orange Peel, and the legendary Fillmore during 2007. As it turns out, there is indeed a bit of concert footage, but it's really a documentary of the residency, which turned out to be pretty fascinating both in terms of the Smashing Pumpkins, and in terms of an artist's relationship with their fans.
Let's start with the concert footage from Disk 2. Here's the track list.
The Rose March
Peace and Love
Blue Skies Bring Tears
Death From Above
The Crying Tree of Mercury
Heavy Metal Machine
Bonus Rehearsals of:
Peace and Love
From the simplicity and authenticity of the acoustic tracks, through the massive psychedelic jams on songs like "Blue Skies Bring Tears", "Heavy Metal Machine" and "Gossamer" there are plenty of great concert moments throughout. I was especially blown away by "Gossamer" (of course) as well as "Blue Skies Bring Tears" and "Starla", two songs which have since been rising the ranks in my pantheon of Pumpkins tracks. All the tracks are beautifully shot and recorded, even though it's only excerpts from various residency shows and not a entire concert start to finish.
Normally I would be a little put out by the fact that this isn't even close to an entire show, but it makes more sense when you think about what this DVD really is. It isn't really a concert DVD at all, but a chronicle of the residency events and the creativity they produced.
But weren't these residency events really just concerts? Well, yes and no...
To be honest, when I first heard about the Pumpkins planning these events at the Fillmore and the Orange Peel, I thought they were just that, a set of concerts and didn't think much more about it. I don't think the media really thought about it much either (or at least didn't discuss it in their coverage) because I didn't get a grasp as to what they were really doing during this time until I saw this DVD. Luckily it's much better represented and explained during the documentary that takes up nearly all of Disk 1.
The residency seems to have been designed more like a creativity development experience... almost like a trial by fire for the band, where they would not only be played shows, but worked to write new material on the spot, develop some of the old songs along the way and evolve as artists. What was produced are many of the songs presented on this set. Some of the old songs have changed slightly, others have evolved into something completely new that better represents the new band and how they're interpreting them. Songs like "99 Floors", "Mama" and "No Surrender" were written almost from scratch during the process and then often played the next day.
For the fans, the residency concerts seems like really quite unique and performance art-esque, sort of a window into the band's creative process, seeing songs come from nowhere, and watching others develop night to night. I think the documentary captures this quite well, giving a very personal and intimate view of the band that recalls projects like the Beatles infamous Let it Be. I especially enjoyed the many interviews where Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin (or the rest of the band) would discuss their motives behind getting the Pumpkins back together, or discussing specific songs, new and old. These interviews, as well as just the random moments captured throughout, offer a compelling look behind the scenes that you don't often get to see, and I found it fascinating.
There's also a fair amount of material involving interaction between the bands and their fans... both good and bad, which is also very interesting to see, and a big part of why this piece is titled what it is. Although there's definitely a large core of fans that will be with the Pumpkins for life, you certainly get the feeling throughout this documentary that there is a rift forming in the band's fan base. This rift is very apparent when contrasting the Orange Peel shows to the Filmore shows on the DVD, and I definitely felt it between night one and night two of the concert I attended. I think the interviews offer some amazing insight into this and how it effects the band... especially the interviews with Pete Townshend.
I'll be honest again, when I saw that there was an interview with Pete Townshend on this DVD set, my first response was "Ok, what does Townsend have to do with the Pumpkins?"... I probably wasn't the only one. That said, I found his interview and commentary to be some of the most interesting as he provides amazing insight into the artist/fan relationship and the idea of rock and roll as art, both performance and otherwise.
In fact, the documentary as a whole is a great look at the band/fan relationship and rock and roll as art, as in a way, the residency events were a bit of a performance art event... that whole creative process thing again. In that light, I think it's a very successful DVD that does a great job documenting the residency, its effect on the band, and just capturing the band at that specific moment. I think the most successful part is the ideas it raises about the relationship between an artist's creativity and evolution, their relationship with their fans and the fan base divide that has happened with this band in particular.
I've been thinking about those ideas ever since I first watched this documentary, so that's what I'm going to discuss, in relation to the Smashing Pumpkins, in the final part of this piece... tomorrow.
In the mean time, If you're looking for a straight concert DVD, I think you're going to have to look elsewhere. Although all the concert footage is amazingly engrossing, the inevitable question of: "Where's all the classic songs?" will arise and I think some people will be a little disappointed if they're expecting just straight live footage.
Overall, it seems like this DVD footage is a good representation of the new direction the band it taking with their music... a more artistic, more psychedelic, and "Art for Art's sake" direction that I find really exciting. I think that anyone who's fascinated by the behind the scenes look at a band... and is interested in the new music the Pumpkins are making... will really enjoy this DVD set and should check it out ASAP.
You can find this DVD directly from Amazon here: Smashing Pumpkins - If All Goes Wrong
If you're really interested in these residency shows, check out www.archive.org as they have a lot of live Pumpkins bootlegs, including some great ones from both the Orange Peel and the Fillmore.
Go back to Part 2 here: The Dividing of the Pumpkins Fans, Part 2: A Concert Review
UPDATE: You can find part 4 of this piece here: The Dividing of the Pumpkins Fans, Part 4: Thoughts On the Role of the Artist, and the Artist/Fan Relationship