The Smashing Pumpkins | still from video
Welcome To Planet Sad: Watch The Smashing Pumpkins’ set from Lollapalooza ’94 in Philly
Chicago four-piece The Smashing Pumpkins have always been a complicated band to love. On the one hand, they made Siamese Dream — indisputably one of the best rock albums of the last 30 years — and their first decade of output in general is consistently strong, from Gish through Machina.
On the other hand, frontperson Billy Corgan’s primary public persona has long been that of a self-righteous crank who not only revels in his own despair but looks down on all those around him, even his audience. Especially his audience. (This was the case long, long before his more recent conspiracy theorist turn, about which the less said, the better.)
We see both of those things on display in this video of The Smashing Pumpkins headlining Lollapalooza 1994 at FDR Park in Philadelphia.
On the one hand, the set is stacked with Siamese Dream bangers, and it sounds bright and booming and glorious. “Geek U.S.A.” opens the night in a frenzy as the mosh-happy crowd flails around in reckless abandon. (Watching this from-the-thick-of-the-pit footage in the era of Corona gives me massive anxiety, and not just for the bruises these folks are undeniably going home with.)
“Rocket” is stratospheric care of James Iha’s wailing lead guitar, “Disarm” is accentuated by a cellist tucked away in the wings — a cellist in an outdoor festival set, bold move — and all the pieces come together in a massive performance of “Hummer,” which Corgan literally throws is back into, bounding around the stage in a frenzy between Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, and a very chill D’arcy Wretzky on bass. For whatever his shortcomings on another level (which we’ll get into below), his gripping charisma as a performer is undeniable, and when Corgan and the crowd scream “Life’s a bummer” at the song’s crescendo, I felt that — both on the surface level, and the Pumpkins’ innate ability to flip depression into uplift and joy.
And then, there’s the flipside, the moments of Corgan — in his moderately charming floppy-hair, paisley button-down era, before he went all bic-dome silver-pants Zero-shirt sci-fi anti-hero — just willfully being kind of a dick.
There’s the innocuous stuff, like throwing a single 12-ounce bottle of water to the teeming crowd and telling people to “share it” (uh, thanks dude?), and making dripping-with-so-much-sarcasm-it-sounds-sincere remarks about meeting his bandmates when they all served in the military (which isn’t true).
And then there’s a sick, expansive performance of “I Am One” from Gish, which the band regularly stretched out live with a thumping drum solo from Chamberlin as Corgan improvised lyrics based around a “gimmie nothing” lyric. This begins at the 20-minute mark of the video below — and at 21:30, you hear him riffing on words that would two years later show up in his song “Zero,” which is very cool — but then at 23:23, the gloves come off.
Everything’s coming up zeroes. There are no more zeroes, there’s just a bunch of crowd-surfing empty motherfuckers. See, our little culture is very indicative of life. Somebody thinks they’re cool, so they get up on top of your head so you can throw their ass around, just like life. But you know what? You don’t gotta take that shit. Dump those motherfuckers on their head.
Now, crowd surfing is a 90s relic that has aged particularly poorly in 2020. Speaking as a recovering wannabe mosh pit bro, I can attest that being held aloft and passed from one side of a gig to another is a very fun experience when consensual, but the thing is, it’s almost never consensual, and for however many folks are participating or cheering you on, there are certainly just as many who only wanted a good spot to watch their favorite band and now they’re getting kicked in the head.
So I get where Corgan is coming from. He’s playing this super cerebral, sensitive-yet-aggressive song, is looking out at the crowd, and seeing a bunch of people beating each other up, not respecting each other’s personal space. So he wants to call it out — I’m with it. But countering aggression with more aggression and actively telling people to hurt those that are inconsiderately floating around on outstretched hands? Not so sure about that bit, nor the pot-shots he goes on to take from there, slagging generation X as a whole and members of the crowd in particular (“my god doesn’t wear his baseball caps backwards”) before launching back into the main riff.
And the next song is “Soma,” and it sounds beautiful. What the hell, Smashing Pumpkins? Watch the full video below, and stay through to the encore for Iha singing a bit of Lisa Loeb’s “Stay,” talking about cheesesteaks (groan), and the band shutting down the show with noise rock epics “Silverfuck” and “Starla.”Setlist
I Am One