The Legacy and Possible Rebirth of the Smashing Pumpkins: Part 1 The Live Shows

For me, the Smashing Pumpkins are one of those bands, like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin, that even at their worst I found interesting and compelling enough to listen to. I'm a big fan of their first three albums of course, but can also appreciate the their new directions on Adore and even MACHINA I and II. Since the announcement that they would be "reforming" for a new album and subsequent new tour I have been preparing myself for new Pumpkins music and have stated multiple times that I was looking forward to hearing new material from one of my all time favorite bands.

That new album was released on July 10th 2007, and I have been listening to it along with all of my other Pumpkins material from the major alums to the obscure b-sides, demos and covers trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about this release; how I think it will be perceived by the fans, new and old; and what it means in terms of the rebirth of the Smashing Pumpkins in a society that last saw them nearly 7 years prior.

I decided to really cover this I would start this discussion with a tribute to help us recall the Smashing Pumpkins of yore, and what better way that to look at their amazing live performances, and so here is part 1 of 3: The Live Shows.

Although known for stellar albums and songwriting, I always felt that the Smashing Pumpkins were also a band that shined on stage where their unique blend of hard progressive rock, strong melodies and brute force could hit like a hammer straight to the eardrums. Recent reports and clips of the reformed Smashing Pumpkins' concerts seem to indicate that the band still puts on just as much of a larger than life show as they ever did, even without James Iha and D'Arcy, but I think everyone would agree that the original lineup (with this and most bands) will always remain the best on stage.

I searched through Youtube and found a few clips of the original Smashing Pumpkins playing live that really struck me as capturing that special something that made this band one of the best in concert of all time for sheer power and intensity. I also found a few from towards the very end that still capture some of the magic this band had live even as they were disintegrating. Plus there isn't really any way better to see how a band has grown than watch their concert footage from throughout the years and with a band like the Pumpkins that changed drastically over their career, it's interesting to watch their progression from show to show.

This first clip is from way back in 1992 from the ultimate Pumpkins venue, right here in Chicago, the Metro, and is one of my favorite Pumpkins songs: "Tristessa" from Gish. The video is kinda rough, but part of what makes it great is watching the people in the crowd go absolutely crazy... that's what a rock show like this is all about.

What's also great about this video for both us longtime Pumpkins fans and people new to the band is that it really shows how the band started, rough, raw and very very loud with tons of energy to push great songs. It also captures Billy Corgan in his "dress phase" and with hair, for those of you who might not remember when Billy actually had hair, and lots of it. Just a great representation of a upcoming band that would take the world by storm in the next few years to become one of, if not the biggest band of their generation.

And then magically we see the band a little later in their career playing one of their biggest hits of all time "Today" to just a slightly larger audience.

Although it's the same 4 members on stage, their demeanor has changed from raw violent energy to straight up high powered arena rock. The massive guitar attacks and screeching solos are still there and they have the same energy and intensity, but with new found confidence that really shows a band that has started to grow into their rock star roles... plus no dress thankfully...

Shortly later, with less hair again, we see the Pumpkins in all their hard rock glory with "Jellybelly" and their stage presence just seemed to keep increasing with the size of their audience.

Not only is this one of my all time favorite songs by the band, this really shows the band at their height, with all the original members, some great musicianship and an intensity that will probably never be matched.

From later still, I found a great version of a song I thought might never have been performed truly live without some sort of click track or drum machine: "Ava Adore".

What I love about this clip is that although when recorded this song really sounded a bit more industrial than rock, here it sounds so raw that it becomes more psychedelic, even bluesy, in it's dark seductive groove. The Pumpkins often played different versions of their songs live and although this is relatively close to the recorded one, the feel is so much more spontaneous than it's polished digital counterpart that I really prefer this to the album version by far. Sadly, because this was during the "Adore" era, it was performed without Jimmy Chamberlin. The drum work is still good, but not quite as much a standout.

Lastly, as tribute to what many thought was the final period on the Smashing Pumpkins book... with Jimmy was back, but unfortunately D'Arcy was gone... I felt that I should include the killer performance of "Ode to No One" from the band's final epic performance back at the Chicago Metro, coming full circle before calling it quits for 7 years.

This is probably one of the most intense live performance of any song in the history of rock and roll. It's normally a hard rock explosion and here the band just puts it into the hyper heavy range... just a great version that is probably about as hard as they ever got and is definitely one of those fitting moments to sum up the intensity and sheer force they had on stage.

Although these clips are of course in no way a complete lineage of the bands pre breakup career, they do seem to offer a nice progression from small progressive upstarts, to newfound arena rock, to full on embrace of their larger than life status and then finally to their end, with great performances all along the way. Plus they all show a band that was in my opinion highly underrated as musicians that really had gelled as a unit to form one of great stage bands.

Overall, just a small tribute to the Smashing Pumpkins and great reminders of how great this band was live during their heyday.

If these are your first experiences with the Smashing Pumpkins, or just the band live, then you either have to check out their albums, some of the rest of the live footage found on Youtube or the few live DVDs that were issued as there are some great moments that show the band not only as great, innovative songwriters, but also as one of the best live acts of all time.

Read Part 2 here: The Legacy and Possible Rebirth of the Smashing Pumpkins: Part 2 The Songs


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