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- Wembley Arena, London »
- Smashing Pumpkins »
During a chilly Saturday evening in January, 1996, I flicked on Top of the Pops 2 to laugh at their witty anecdotes and trivia. Steve Wright or whoever narrated it at the time suddenly announced a new song from an American alternative band called Smashing Pumpkins. The song was 1979. Since then, I've steadily become an addict - with more of their releases than is healthy. In fact, it's safe to say they're my favourite band of all time.
Still, I hadn't seen them live... and when they announced they were to split, it suddenly became my mission. I had to see them live at least once. And last night I did at Wembley Arena. Can I hear an amen?
Now, the general idea of a review is for it to be critical, highlighting the highs and lows, the pros and cons, etc. Well, OK, here's the lows: I wasn't close enough to the band, the acoustics in Wembley Arena are disgusting, they didn't play Soma or Medellia of the Grey Skies. But enough of that, here's what they did play (at least what I remember, and the order's probably wrong - muchas gracias cerveza):
Glass and the Ghost Children
Stand Inside Your Love
Blue Skies Bring Tears
The Everlasting Gaze
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Once In A Lifetime [by Talking Heads]
Rock On [by David Essex]
Heavy Metal Machine
Cash Car Star
If There Is A God
I of the Mourning
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
While a lot of bands do their utmost to preserve the recorded sound of songs when they take them live, last night saw songs getting new time signatures, twinkling piano accompaniment (thanks to Mike Garson) and in some cases different tunes. Sounds bad? Trust me, it wasn't. Well, except maybe...
Stand Inside Your Love. Anyone who found the Machina album disappointing obviously never listened to this gorgeous, orgasmic love song. Live, Billy donned an acoustic and the song was much slower. With the aforementioned piano twiddles and James' guitar noodles it remained a pretty song but seemed to lose a little of the impact. Unlike...
Their cover of Once In A Lifetime by Talking Heads. The amps were turned to 11, the guitar you cannot touch was wired to all sorts of distortion and the song ROCKED. The very foundations of Wembley Arena shuddered as Jimmy thumped his drums as hard as possible just to be heard over the three-way assault of Billy, James and Melissa.
Another rocked up song was The Everlasting Gaze, also taken from Machina. Already laden with a chunky guitar riff and raspy, shouty vocals, the song was faster and meaner live. And they did a lot of rocking.
Although slightly lacking in numbers, the older material was well presented. Tonight, Tonight and Disarm had everyone singing along loudly (and badly in my case) and along with Today, they were met with near hysteria from the crowd (including myself, I really should stop this whooping lark).
Highlights for me had to be Speed Kills (from the Internet-only Machina II) which somehow managed to retain the right tempo, Bullet With Butterfly Wings with more raspy-growly vocals, Disarm (just because it's Disarm) and I of the Mourning. The band were as tight as a camel's buttocks in a sandstorm, they played a lot of my favourite songs (even if they were a little too heavy on the newer material) and Jimmy got off the drums briefly to play acoustic on 1979 - the song that set off my idolatry.
It makes you wonder why they're splitting.
Support was provided by Catherine Wheel. Although they seemed to play well, the terrible acoustics and the fact I've never heard any of their material in a less volatile situation meant I used the time to stock up on the devil's bounty - beer.
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