DVD: Smashing Pumpkins - If All Goes Wrong
Label: Coming Home Media
Released: November 11, 2008
In June of 2007, the reunited Smashing Pumpkins (or Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlain and some new members) decided to forgo a US tour and instead do two residencies, one in Asheville, NC and the other at the vaunted Fillmore in San Francisco. This was, as Jimmy Chamberlain said in the documentary portion of If All Goes Wrong, "art for art's sake," finding the band putting the present ahead of their celebrated past.
The live portion of the DVD is captured from the Fillmore shows. A full third of the songs are previously unreleased and includes none of their big hits from their commercial prime. The performance is a successful meeting between studio perfection and live connection. It is clean, yet intense and emotional. Most importantly, it is not capitalizing (and cashing in) on the past. This is what they're doing right now, not an attempt to pick up where they left off.
The documentary gives an unusually deep look into what went into these shows. Corgan is at times as pretentious as expected, but more often, he's down to earth and even amusing, so this is a look into a side of him that his music hadn't really revealed before. There is a certain disparate nature to these shows that becomes more apparent in the documentary. On one hand, there is a sense of serendipity, embodied by a Corgan associate's comment that "Billy is about chance" when discussing the selection of the Asheville location. The shows were clearly not intended to be a money-making venture (at least not directly) and they do find the band taking chances. On the other hand, the cost of the production, rather than its artistic value, is at times used as justification for Corgan's high expectations. Just as it successfully walks the line between sound quality and live emotion, it also seems to find success navigating the waters between its artistic and business faces.
Oddly enough, this set is better fitted to someone who enjoys artistic exploration regardless of their feelings about Smashing Pumpkins than it is to "fans." Those who remember enjoying their slacker anthems back in the mid-90s will be as sorely disappointed with this DVD as I suspect Corgan and company would be with such nostalgia. The material here may not be their very best work (nor their worst), but it definitely shows that Smashing Pumpkins are not willing to rest on their laurels and be satisfied cashing in on something they did at a different time. As Chamberlain says, "What's comfortable about art? It's not supposed to be comfortable." Perhaps those words best sum up this set. It ended up being something I respected more than I enjoyed.