Smashing Pumpkins Induced Fan Psychosis?

I’ll admit it. When it comes to live music I’m an optimist through and through, even if it comes back to bite me in the, or my own, end. I don’t go to a show expecting to see something terrible or to tear anyone or a band down. I’ll also tell you that the Smashing Pumpkins were always an important band to me growing up in the 90’s. And even though the latest effort with the “new” line-up has caused some serious doubts, I still give the band the benefit of the doubt. I guess it’s because of my baseball background. I used to be a relief pitcher and when you have a few bad outings it can really get to you, mentally. But if your coach believes in you, his support can really help you get over the hump of bad luck confidence doldrums by putting you back on the mound again, showing that he still believes your ability.

That’s kind of how I’m approaching this Pumpkins show tomorrow I still believe in the ability of Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain in the late innings of their career because they’ve thrown some serious heat when I needed them to.

When I learned that the Smashing Pumpkins were embarking on a 20th anniversary tour to celebrating 20 years of sadness, I was curious. And curiosity, as a music journalist, can be a gift or a curse.

But in the wake of this week’s strange and troubling reviews of the five night Chicago residency, my excitement early in the week has quickly turned to impending dread and nervousness. As I type this post, I hope I’m not heading into an emotional train wreck tomorrow night.

Stepping back a few weeks, this was what sounded interesting to me as noted in the band press release in September.

“The Pumpkins are coming prepared with completely unique nightly set lists for each evening, with no songs being repeated over the course of the two night run. Night #1 (Nov. 21) is being called “Black Sunshine,” while night #2 (Nov. 22) will be dubbed “White Crosses.”

But as you will see by the reviews and video below, Billy Corgan and company are actually charging fans to watch an embarrassing creative meltdown for two plus hours. Have I forked over my hard earned cash to see and review an emotional fifty car pileup on the Kennedy Expressway? I guess either way I’ll get my money’s worth, right? Or am I setting myself up for infinite disappointment. That’s the beautiful gamble of live music, ladies and gentlemen.

But is it really a game chance? Or do we as live music fans play more of the active voyeur than we like to admit? Watching these clips I asked myself, why was I so amazed and intrigued? My answer lies in the same reason why traffic in Chicago sucks: gapers blocks. Why do we have to slow down and watch a car accident or a YouTube video of Billy Corgan melting down?

I’ll tell you why.

Because, in most situations, our brains like to escape into others people’s pain to find comfort, and the desire to do so seems to intensify during a live show when the emotions are also riding in high gear. And in my case, looking to tomorrow’s show, I’ve invested eighty bucks for god knows what, so I know I’m freakin’ out because my brain is trying to process fear, uncertainty on multiple levels. The fear of possibly wasting money, the fear of having to watch meltdown and find some way to write about it, and all this on top of the unusual positive anxiety and excitement that goes with seeing a live show.

All this for live music? Is there an addiction code in the DSM for this kind of thing? Can live music induce psychosis when combined by unchecked unrealistic expectations of what I think a show might or might not be like?

Ask me after tomorrow.

Until then, here’s a quick wrap up of all the reviews so far. They’re all saying pretty much the same thing, so don’t watch for too long, okay?

Greg Kot

Dero

Pitchfork

Stereogum

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