21st Annual Almost Acoustic Christmas Artist Spotlight: The Smashing Pumpkins
If all you want for Christmas is [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Smashing Pumpkins[/lastfm] frontman [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Billy Corgan[/lastfm]’s perfectly-shaped bald head and his distinctively dark, serrated voice, then bow down and thank the Big Jolly Fat Man because Smashing Pumpkins are playing night one at the 21st Annual KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas!
When the musical boundary-destroying, grunge-defying band The Smashing Pumpkins formed in 1988 in Chicago, Illinois, original band members [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Billy Corgan[/lastfm] (vocals, guitar) ,[lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]James Iha[/lastfm] (guitar, backing vocals), [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]D’arcy Wretzky[/lastfm] (bass guitar, backing vocals), and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jimmy Chamberlin[/lastfm] (drums, percussion) came together with an eclectic smattering of musical influences. While the band is heavily rooted in goth, metal, psychedelia, and prog rock, Corgan and Chamberlin both had highly-evident classic jazz backgrounds. Many of their musical contemporaries were laying down the brash, simplistic chords of ’70s-style punk rock; the Pumpkins paved their own musical path by creating an elaborately dense, melancholic, and almost-theatrically nightmarish sound.
From its incarnation, The Smashing Pumpkins have boasted extremely talented musicians while still maintaining Billy Corgan’s singular vision. The band’s first show in the summer of 1988 was only Corgan and a drum machine; when it came time to record their 1991 debut album Gish, Corgan would often play all the instruments except for the drums. Despite Corgan’s depressive, controlling nature, Iha and Wretzky’s romantic disintegration, and Chamberlin’s addictions, the band toured to support Gish with 1990s hit makers and KROQ favorites like [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Guns N’ Roses[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jane’s Addiction[/lastfm], and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Red Hot Chili Peppers[/lastfm].
By the time Smashing Pumpkins had reached indie-level success with Gish, 1993’s Siamese Dream earned them both mainstream cred and passive-aggresive attacks by other musicians as being “careerists.” Despite negative criticism by other musicians and music industry professionals, Siamese Dream proved to be a flawless work of angsty-art, reflecting the personal dissension amongst the band members while still maintaining what would become the Pumpkins’ signature stylish and sprawling sound. Some seminal alt-rock singles from Siamese Dream include “Today,” “Disarm,” and “Cherub Rock.” The fantastical, beautiful sound of The Smashing Pumpkins’ dark, nocturnal sophomore album may have elicited nightmares from their haters, but for success for The Smashing Pumpkins was no fool’s paradise; the public spoke and Siamese Dream debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200 chart and has sold over four million copies.
While their devoted fans waited for The Smashing Pumpkins’ third album, the band headlined Lollapalooza and released their prolific, entrancing B-sides album (issued with long-form home video, Vieuphoria), Pisces Escariot, in October 1994.
The response to Siamese Dream was so earth-shattering that Smashing Pumpkins did all they could to top the success of their second album; this was accomplished two-fold with 1995’s gorgeously-complex, nebulously-indulgent, double-disc, Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. Mellon Collie debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 in October 1995 and was certified platinum nine times. Corgan described Mellon Collie as [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Pink Floyd[/lastfm]’s “The Wall for Generation X.” The album spans over two hours and includes 28 gorgeously constructed tracks, but “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Zero,” “Tonight, Tonight,” and “Thirty-Three” were some of the most popular radio hits. Ever ambitious, the band also released B-sides which were compiled in The Aeroplane Flies High box set.
During this time, tragedy struck the band when touring keyboardist [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Jonathan Melvoin[/lastfm], died from a heroin overdose; Jimmy Chamberlin also overdosed but survived. Devastated by the events, but maintaining their infamous professionalism, the rest of the Pumpkins fired Chamberlin from the band and took a two month hiatus.They eventually announced that Filter member, Matt Walker, would be their touring drummer and chose to continue their tour, which Corgan later deemed as one of the worst decisions the band had ever made. Regardless of this poor decision, it was during the Mellon Collie tour that Billy Corgan cemented himself as a rock icon with his popular Zero shirt and bald head.
Perhaps it was losing jazz-trained Chamberlain from their line-up, the misfortune of events surround Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, or simply a desire for change, but when 1998’s Adore was released, it proved the validity James Iha’s sentiment from two years prior that “The future is in electronic music. It really seems boring just to play rock music.” Using studio drummers and drum machines, the record had a much more minimalist, dark, goth-electronic feel than any of their previous albums. While Adore only sold about 830,000 copies in the United States by the end of its release year, the new album was looked on favorably by critics and international audiences. Their new sound was not only ground-breaking, it was futuristic; years later, many bands would go on to emulate the same sound that made Adore less-than-popular on the charts.
Chamberlin reunited with The Smashing Pumpkins for 2000 album MACHINA: The Machines of God, but before the band could go on tour as it’s almost original configuration, D’arcy Wretzky announced her departure from the band and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Hole[/lastfm]’s [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Melissa Auf der Maur[/lastfm] took her place. However, in May 2000, Corgan announced on KROQ that the band would break up after their tour and their “final” album Machina II/The Friends & Enemies of Modern Music was released. Everything had come full circle; their final show was at Chicago’s The Metro where they had played their first show 12 years previously.
During the time after the break-up, the compilation album Rotten Apples was released; the Corgan/Chamberlin collaboration, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Zwan[/lastfm], was formed; Corgan wrote a book of poetry and James Iha joined [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Tool[/lastfm] offshoot, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]A Perfect Circle[/lastfm]. Everything seemed to be going positively after The Smashing Pumpkins, but Corgan could not get over his heartbreak at not being a “Pumpkin” anymore; in a 2005 attempt to reunite the band through advertisements, Corgan lamented: “For a year now, I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams.”
In 2006, Jimmy Chamberlin confirmed that he would reunite for a Smashing Pumpkins tour. Playing their first reunited show in May of 2007, the new incarnation of Smashing Pumpkins included guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Pooley, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton. Corgan finally got this wish and Smashing Pumpkins released 2007’s Zeitgeist to much fanfare and a number two placement on Billboard’s 200.
In 2009, Chamberlin mysteriously left the band stating that it was “a positive move forward for me. I can no longer commit all of my energy into something that I don’t fully possess. I won’t pretend I’m into something I’m not. I won’t do it to myself, you the fan, or my former partner.” Later that year, Corgan created a new band called Spirits in the Sky which included 19-year-old drummer Mike Byrne and Jane’s Addiction’s [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Dave Navarro[/lastfm]. Much of the Spirits in the Sky touring material was included on Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, a concept album based on the Tarot and the second Smashing Pumpkins album to be released for free via the internet. All the songs that have emerged, embrace the psychedelia part of the original Smashing Pumpkins sound.
The current Smashing Pumpkins line-up includes Mike Byrne (drums), Nicole Fiorentino (bass guitar) and Jeff Schroeder (guitar) and Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, Vol. 2: The Solstice Bare is set to be released November 23rd. Just in time for Almost Acoustic Christmas!
Don’t miss your chance to see The Smashing Pumpkins at KROQ’s 21st Annual Almost Acoustic Christmas, Saturday, December 11th at the Gibson Amphitheater! Exclusive KROQ Street Team on-sale for Night 1 starts Thursday 11/18 at noon. You must be a KROQ Street Team member to get the Ticketmaster password. Sign up for your free membership here.
Click here for all the details on the show!