SMASHING PUMPKINS - Roseland, New York City - November 23, 1993
SPIN February 1994
"How're y'all doing tonight?" inquired Smashing Pumpkins' frontman Billy Corgan obligatorily, early in their performance. The capacity crowd at the Roseland Ballroom roared back that they were doing just great, but Corgan seemed unmoved. "I'm fine, thanks," he continued- as if it were cocktail conversation and not rock'n'roll- before whipping the opening melody of "Today" into a whirlwind.
For the duration of the show, the Pumpkins negotiated that ever-shifting border that divides the ironic art-rock of tiny clubs from the grandiose performances of stadium shows. Despite their (debatable) indie-rock roots, Smashing Pumpkins are a band whose live sound needs space. Driven by the spinning distortion of guitarists Corgan and James Iha and girded by the thick hum of bassist D'Arcy and the expansive slam of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, their songs opened up live, becoming huge. From the dense collage of Siamese Dream and Gish came vast waves of sound, swirling around anthemic hooks, pounding beats, and salient lyric themes. In pursuit of the music, Corgan's vocals- more stark and hungry than the metallic croon captured on record- rushed to fill the vacuum arching over the convulsing crowd. But as the band stretched out its material- diddling around in the ambient space of "Geek U.S.A.," stripping "Disarm" to its core for a sing-along of introspection- the band also contracted it, speeding up and coming down harder on more languid cuts like "Cherub Rock," and "Siva."
Happily, the Pumpkins chose not to extrapolate their big-time sound to rock-star stage 'tude. Chalk it up to cynicism, modernism, anti-establishmentarianism, whatever- they seemed ill at ease with the naked adulation thrown their way. While D'Arcy and Iha carved out a coolly indifferent space around their instruments- emerging only to directly address the shoe-throwing "fucks" who pelted them from the floor- it was Corgan who truly embodied the antihero/rock star dialectic: Alternately rigid and flailing, his body snapping out and back with the syncopation of his guitar, Corgan seemed to not quite know what to make of the throng before him, which cheered and hooted as he waxed painfully confessional. In the end, he stood on stage alone, head down, guitar on the ground before him, enveloped in the distorted debris of "Silverfuck." As a rock star, he thanked his audience and absorbed their applause. As an antihero, he put his foot to the strings, severed the sound, and walked off.
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