Smashing Pumpkins: If All Goes Wrong (DVD)
By: Matt Boltz
While Smashing Pumpkins have released a couple of DVDs in the past, including Vieuphoria (a collection of live performances and behind-the-scenes footage from approximately 1992-1994) and their Greatest Hits Video Collection, neither of those two DVDs is nearly as ambitious and insightful of an undertaking as If All Goes Wrong, the Chicago based alternative rockers' November 2008 two-DVD set from Coming Home Studios. If All Goes Wrong features a very honest (sometimes almost painfully so) documentary featuring the Pumpkins and many of their friends and associates, as well as an interview with The Who's Pete Townshend, on one disc, and a collection of 15 live songs and five rehearsals from the band's 2007 residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco, CA on the other disc.
The first disc in the set is a documentary also titled If All Goes Wrong. The documentary begins with an intimate look at the Pumpkins' stay in Asheville, NC, for a residency at the Orange Peel in June 2007, with much of the beginning portion of the documentary featuring the Pumpkins' singer/lead guitarist/songwriter/primary spokesperson/general leader Billy Corgan in a hotel room wearing a nightgown. If All Goes Wrong focuses on the current Smashing Pumpkins, not the "old" Smashing Pumpkins who rose to international fame in the 1990s. Corgan opens up about the band reuniting to make new music and remain a viable band rather than just doing greatest hits tours; however, many fans, much to the chagrin of Corgan and his band mates, seem to want to hear the radio hits of yesteryear while the Pumpkins were promoting an album of new music (Zeitgeist, released in July 2007). Although Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin don't talk much about the first incarnation of the Pumpkins (whose lineup included guitarist James Iha and bassist D'arcy Wretzky), Corgan does offer some insight into why the band seldom plays fan favorites Soma and Mayonaise from their 1993 breakout album Siamese Dream. Corgan co-wrote the songs with Iha, and those are the two songs fans most identify with Iha, though Corgan also contributed a great deal to the songs; this implies that there is still some animosity surrounding the breaking up of the band in 2000, which Corgan has previously attributed in large part to Iha, and perhaps Corgan and Chamberlin are just not at a point in time in which they want to relive or otherwise deal with those feelings.
The documentary continues with a brief look at the band's show in Washington, D.C., on Zeitgeist's release date, and a longer, more in-depth look at the band's Fillmore Residency during July and August 2007. Viewers are introduced to new band members Jeff Schroeder (guitar), Lisa Harriton (keyboards), and Ginger Reyes (bass), and get to hear the new Pumpkins' thoughts on their auditions and what it's like to work with Corgan and Chamberlin. The Fillmore Residency section of the documentary also touches on one of the primary issues facing the Pumpkins, which is the band's attempt to reconcile their goal of making and promoting new music with many fans' desire to hear the band's hits from Gish, Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Corgan makes it clear that the band has reunited to continue making new music and not just play a reunion tour of old hits with a couple new songs mixed in. Perhaps some of the conflict comes from the fact that the Pumpkins' music has evolved much as it did in the final few years of the band's first incarnation, with new songs often not sounding much like old songs, and Corgan shying away from "hits heavy" set lists. The documentary offers an inside look at the band's frustration with trying to play new and rare music on a nightly basis while dealing with sometimes negative show reviews and unhappy "old" fans. As he has done throughout much of the Pumpkins' career, Corgan, as the band's leader, does things his way and makes and performs the music he wants to, not acquiescing to labels, critics, or fans, even when many fans leave before the set is finished, as shown in the documentary when the Pumpkins play a 30-minute-plus experimental song (Gossamer) as an encore, with the accompanying backstage video showing that the band may have known it wouldn't be received well before deciding to play it anyway. While some of the hits were played during the residencies and subsequent tour, they were included as merely a part of the band's 20-year catalog of songs, not as special encores or focal points of the shows. While new fans or those not too familiar with the Pumpkins modus operandi over the years might think the conflict and Corgan's reaction to it are a little strange, longtime fans of the band will recognize that this is probably normal in Pumpkin Land, and a lack of chaos would be the truly strange thing.
In addition to the new music vs. old fans conflict, another conflict is shown in the form of an inside look at a mini-meltdown at the end of a Fillmore show plagued with technical problems. The normally mild-mannered Schroeder is visibly frustrated, throwing a guitar at the end of the set. Backstage, while saying that sometimes technical problems happen through no fault of the band, Corgan (who was shown upset himself about a messed up amp setting) is amazed at Schroeder's outburst and admits that he has probably pushed the band too far. One of the many Pumpkins insiders who contribute commentary throughout the documentary compares it to a military boot camp, with Corgan assembling the band and beginning rehearsals very quickly, and the new members not necessarily feeling like a part of the band (as opposed to hired guns) until they've been broken down and built back up. Schroeder addresses some of his frustration with Corgan, at which point it is said that Schroeder can now view Corgan as a band mate rather than a boss. Regardless of how one chooses to analyze this, it offers an interesting perspective on the band, especially considering the numerous reports of Corgan's controlling nature in the first Pumpkins incarnation.
One of the most unique aspects of the documentary is the inside look offered at one of the band's primary goals of the Orange Peel and Fillmore residencies -- to write and perform new songs over the course of the residency. The documentary shows several examples of this, including footage of the songs being written, rehearsed, and performed, with the dates listed for when a song was written and when it was first performed sometimes being just a day or two apart. It allows a rare, though brief, glimpse into the early stages of a few songs at a point much earlier in the process than that at which songs are usually shared with fans. Some of the songs shown in their early stages over the course of the documentary are included in live or rehearsal form on the second disc in the If All Goes Wrong set.
The second DVD is a collection of 15 live songs and five rehearsals taken from the band's Fillmore residency - the songs on this disc are not a complete set list from a given show, and many songs played throughout the course of the residency didn't make it onto the DVD. This live collection features new songs and older rarities, including some of the new songs written during the course of the Orange Peel and Fillmore residencies. While radio hits are noticeably absent from the DVD's track list, the included tracks are fairly representative of the non-mainstream songs played at the band's 2007 club shows and help illustrate the conflict between the band and some of the fans regarding the songs played at many of the shows.
One of the main things I took away from the documentary is the very prevalent, yet unresolved, conflict between the band and some of its fans. The Pumpkins' newer music isn't in heavy radio rotation, and it's unclear how many new fans the band is gaining; while the band has many longtime fans, many of those fans may not stick with the band through each new music release. Corgan probably doesn't need the money he'd get by straying from his musical vision to write radio songs, and while he sometimes seems to have an attitude that he doesn't care if the fans like it or not, it can also be inferred from the documentary that he does pay attention to reviews of the shows and how the fans are reacting to the live music. To his credit, he does not waver from doing things the way he envisions them, and while he seems annoyed at times that many fans just want to relive the "old" Pumpkins instead of moving forward with new music that is often quite different from the early Pumpkins songs, and that those fans just don't understand what the band is doing now, he doesn't seem about to change course for the sake of radio hits, happier audiences, or money. The If All Goes Wrong documentary certainly provides an interesting look into the Smashing Pumpkins circa mid-2007, and for anyone who has not kept up with the band's music since they reunited, the accompanying live DVD offers a glimpse into some of the new music (including music written and first performed over the course of the residencies) and rarities played at the shows in that time period.