Super Angst Sunday
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle/Times Union Weekend Section
By Jeff Spevak, staff music critic.

(Sent to us by James)

Super Angst Sunday - on the night of the Super Bowl, the Smashing Pumpkins play their own troubled field.

How can they stand it? Drug addiction. Overexposure. 'Infinite Sadness.' Its a wonder The Smashing Pumpkins dont fall apart.

"Making Teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel" - Bart Simpson.

That Bart Simpson's a sharp kid.

The Smashing Pumpkins ride into town on a wave of teen aimlessness churned up by the moshing of their fans. The kids are wearing ZERO T-shirts just like The Great Pumpkin, Billy Corgan. Yes, The Pumpkins have packaged low self esteem and the kids are buying iy :"despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage," they sing along with 'Bullet with Butterfly Wings'. Billy Corgan feels your pain, kids. The Pumpkins' world has been one of turmoil, one that goes beyond Corgan's tortured-artist persona and creative battles with the band.

This poster band for alternative music has felt the finger of rock's newest fad curse, heroin, pass along its jugular. Before the specter moved on, heroin last year claimed the life of the keyboardist who had been touring with tbe band. Pumpkin drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who had been in the death room at the same time, sharing his drugs, had been offered one too many chances. The Pumpkins moved on without him. Business as usual. We can't get close enough to these Pumpkins, they wont grand an interview for this show. So lets ask the opening band for Sunday's sold-out Rochester War Memorial concert, the Fountains of Wayne, about the real Smashing Pumpkins. Lets read songwriter Adam Schlesinger his damning quote from Pulse! magazine: These bands that sound really angry have to figure out some explanation for it. I think most of the time its just an excuse for not being able to write a song. They realize tehy can get over on attitude and loud guitars. Right on, brother Schlesinger, tell me more...

"Wait!!!" Schlesinger practically shouts into the phone, from Omaha, neb. "That was actually Chris who said that!" Schlesinger is speaking of Chris Collingwood, his songwriting partner in Fountains of Wayne."The guy who wrote the story got mixed up. Chris likes to spew about lots of bands he hates. We were doing an interviw with The New York Observer, and Chris spend the entire time making fun of Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog.

OK, so what is Schlesinger's perception of The Smashing Pumpkins, a band that insists that their "The" should be capitalized?

"Billy Corgan, most of the stuff hes writing now is totally pop songs" says Schlesinger. "From my perspective, they're the least cynical people I know. Theyre very earnest and it shows in how theyve perservered with whats happened to them this year"

Hmmm. The Smashing Pumpkins as happy campers? Leaving angst rock behind for perkier pop? That is a scoop. But can Schlesinger be believe? Is this merely a loose cannon of a partner before Corgan picks up his news paper, explosed into an artistic rage and boots the Fountains of Wayne from the tour, back whence they came?

(That would be New York City. The band's name comes from a New Jersey fountain store owned by a guy names Wayne.) For the record, opening bands can be important, even if you dont know it at the time. About five years ago, the Red Hot Chili Peppers came to the Auditorium Center, bringing along two opening bands that were complete unknowns. One had a lead singer who jumped off one of the speakers and twisted his ankle. That was Eddie Vedder and the band was Pearl Jam. The members of the other opening band spent the night arguing amog themselves between songs. That was The Smashing Pumpkins.

Today, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins are without argument the two most important alternative groups in the country. In fact, The Pumpkins would appear to have nosed past Pearl Jam in the runggings. Earlier this month, the band recieved seven Gramy Nominations, including album of the year for Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. This 1995 two-disc CD was a daring move: MTV was said to have reduced the average teens' attention span to the time it takes Jenny McCarthy to pick up a beach ball. Yet Mellon Collie became the top-selling double CD of all time.

Haven't these kids heard of the Beatles' "White Album"? Maybe not,but theyuve heard of The Simpsons. The Pumpkins made a guest appearance on the "Homerpalooza" episode, and that's when Bart naiuls 'em with his concise evlauation of what this alternative music thing is all about: "Making teen-agers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel." "I think theyve been very smart with their careers," says Schlesiner. For the last couple of weeks, Fountains of Wayne has had a firsthand look at The Smashing Pumpkins' rock juggernaut griding its way across the country. "Theyve played the game very well," he says.

Fountains of Waybne was handpicked by The Smashing Pumpkins for this show. Pumpkins guitarist James Iha once said in an interview, "The Fountains of Wayne are great exponents to the perfect pop song, when times were simpler and music was good."

Wow, thats some compliment. Of course, Schlesinger, Iha and The Pumpkins bassist D'Arcy are buisiness partners in a Chicago record label called Scratchy, so its kind of like getting a letter of recommendation from your brother in law. But Fountains of Waybe does write great songs. "I just wrote two yesterday," jokes Schlesinger.

Those great songs on the groups self-titles debut album include Radiation Vibe, Sick Day, and Please Don't Rock Me Tonight, a sarcastic poke at arena-rock bands like, oh, The Smashing Pumpkins.

"You can definately tell from watching their show that theyve got it down to a science." says Schlesinger. "They have this huge Christmas tree of effects, while were confines to the opening-band lighting set of 'ON.' "its kind of interesting, because we perform Please Don't Rock Me Tonight every night now in front og 15,000 people," says Schlesinger."We've got all of the cliches down - 'Come on, people on the left, the people on the right are making you look bad.' And concepts like it doesn't matter how badly you play, if you end the song on a big note, you'll get a big cheer." Like shooting fish in a barrel. *

Here's The Pumpkin's crop:

Gish (Caroline): Released in 1991 - the bands fourth year, this cometent debut is highlited by the opening cut, I Am One. But Siva and Rhinoceros most closely hit on The Pumpkins' rapidly developing sound, which is still a bit prone to this philosophy: When in doubt, try a Black Sabbath riff. Siamese Dream (Virgin): This melodic, grunge-rock album is an immediate breakthrough record for The Pumpkins when it appears in mid-1993. The Pumpkins become the darlings of that year's Lollapalooza tour. and the single Disarm, with is sodomy reference, wins the band notoriety when it is banned by BBC TV's Top of the Pops show. Cherub Rock and Today are other strong tracks. Pisces Iscariot (Virgin): B-sides, rarities, and radio performances released in 1994. Yawn. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (Virgin): Not a fruit-eating, unhappy dog, but an album of diverse music, blending acoustic songs and hard rockers. The 1995 release this month recieved a Grammy nomination for album of the year. 1979 and Tonight, Tonight are MTV hits, but the albums real thrills come as Billy Corgan explores writing for lap- and pedal-steel guitar and strings by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Aeroplane Flies High (Virgin): Released last fall, this five-CD set of EPs collects the five single releases from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and 28 B-sides. At $39.99, its for unhappy rich kids only. Soundtracks: Largely electronic instrumental music by The Pumpkins is on the soundtrack of the Mel Gibson action flick, Random. And the soundtrack to the new but as yet unreleased David Lynch film Lost Highway will include a new song.

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