Smashing Pumpkins – Manchester Apollo
Friday 11th November 2011
Pretty much how I feel after a night “watching”Â the Smashing Pumpkins at the Apollo.
I say “watching”Â because that’s what it felt like ”â spectating on something. When I go to gigs I want to feel involved, I want a band to move me emotionally, I want to dance, sing, mosh, rock, all those things, and forget the daily drudge of life. But it seems Mr Corgan just wants me to watch him. So I watch. And I’m not impressed.
I was heavily into the Pumpkins in the early 90’s. I saw them at the International II on Plymouth Grove (don’t look for it kids, it’s not there any more) in 1992, and then again in 1994. In 92 they were amazing; flush from the success of their debut Gish, they put on a show of such creative force and energy it took our breath away. We danced, moshed and sang. They released Siamese Dream in 1993, and I caught them at the Academy in 94; not as good this time I felt, we put it down to them playing early in the evening as the gig was broadcast live on Radio 1. Still a great gig, although they were upstaged for me by a young band from near Wigan called Verve (wonder what happened to them?).
After this they released Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (jesus, just typing the name of that album makes me cringe; what *were* they thinking??) and I kind of lost touch with them; the album was self indulgent, and although it had some belting tunes on it, it felt kinda”Â¦”Â¦well”Â¦”Â¦prog.
Still, I’d heard they’d reformed and were touring, so for old times sake I thought I’d pop along. I’d caught Kyuss and Primus in Manchester earlier this year, and Jane’s Addiction have a new album out, Tories are back in Government so I’m basically reliving my youth here. First shock was ticket prices; ÃÂ£35 face value?? With booking fees and swamp tax etc I basically paid over ÃÂ£40. Next shock ”â only Corgan is in the band. Seems the other members and him don’t get on anymore. Come the end of the night I could see why.
It wasn’t that they played a lot of songs that I’m unfamiliar with; I saw Primus play in July and they did similar. However, Primus’ tracks were genuinely interesting to listen to, sounding fresh, creative and emotive. The only emotion I got from Corgan was BOREDOM. I have never, ever been to a gig before and been bored ”â but I was at this gig. At one point I even got on my phone and started checking twitter to see what was going on in the world. Why am I doing that at a gig which I’ve paid ÃÂ£40 to get into? Pumpkins played for over 2 hours, but only played around 20 songs; you can do the maths if you like, but I make that over 6 mins per song on average. That’s too long for rock and roll, I’m sorry but it just is. No, hang on, I’m not sorry at all, IT JUST IS. Some songs were quite short, so that gives you some idea of how long and interminable some of the numbers were.
By my reckoning they played about 50% of songs which haven’t been released yet. It takes some chutzpah to invite your audience to part with ÃÂ£40 to watch half a set of songs which they’ve never heard before; in my view, your songs had better be good. In my view, they weren’t. They were dull, incredibly long and involved some really self indulgent noodling from Corgan. The two openers were new songs ”â “Quasar”Â and “Panopticon”Â; Quasar was vaguely interesting, but had a strange timing signature which, coupled with a muddy start from the sound engineer, meant that it was difficult to pick up what the drummer was doing, and resulted in you trying to concentrate on the structure of the song rather than enjoying the music itself.
The sound in general after the first song or so was excellent, heavy bass, thunderous drums, soaring guitars; the band itself, although clearly all hired hands, were technically superb. The set itself started to hit a little bit of a stride with Geek USA, but the best song of the night ”â “Window Paine”Â from Gish ”â was thrown away 6 songs into the set. “Soma”Â and “Siva”Â managed to keep the set ticking over, but it was with some dread that I watched the crew bring out a synthesiser for Corgan to press the odd key on during a couple of really interminable numbers; the result was a sound which sounded oddly eighties, but without any of the charm (now that’s saying something). I made my way to the toilet during this phase, to be met with a huge queue; when I finally made it in there, a voice from one of the stalls called out “has he finished with that fucking keyboard yet?”Â.
There were attempts to wrestle the night back into focus; “Cherub Rock”Â made a welcome appearance late on, and then it seemed that they would push into I Am One towards the end, but no ”â they played an instrumental bit of it for around a minute and that was it. The main set finished with “For Martha”Â, which according to various reports on the internet is either about Corgan’s divorce or his mother; if it’s the former, then I hope his ex-wife took him for all he had, and if it’s the latter, then possibly his mother just put on a forced smile and said “that’s nice dear”Â when he played it to her. The encore succeeded at least in getting the crowd enjoying themselves again, finishing with “Zero”Â and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”Â. The encore started with Corgan speaking to the crowd for the first time in the whole evening, going on about the Stone Roses at one point, and thanking the crowd for “listening to our music”Â and promising that they’ll tour again after the new album is released “so you’ll know these songs next time we call”Â. Jeez, thanks Billy, but I think I’ll give it a miss.
On the way out, myself and a friend were just looking at each other and going, “why was that so bad? Was it us?”Â when we heard another bloke behind us loudly shouting “THAT WAS THE WORST GIG I’VE EVER BEEN TO!”Â to anyone in earshot.
So no, not just us. A real shame; a band I dearly loved, who’ve written some great music in the past, reduced to an extension of one man’s ego for his own gratification. Still, he’s got my ÃÂ£40 hasn’t he.