Back in June 2005 when his solo album TheFutureEmbrace debuted, Billy Corgan took out full-page ads in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times to announce he had “made plans to renew and revive the [‘90s alternative rock band] Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams.”
Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was the only former member to join Corgan. In May 2007, Smashing Pumpkins began to perform in Europe with touring members guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes, and Lisa Harriton on keyboards. Two multi-night residencies for that summer were announced: nine shows at the Orange Peel in Ashville, North Carolina and eleven at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California. If All Goes Wrong captures Smashing Pumpkins on stage and off during the residencies. During this time, they also released the album Zeitgeist on July 7, 2007.
The first disc in the set is the documentary. It is very interesting because it lays bare the struggles of Corgan as an artist trying to find his place as the advantages and disadvantages of previous successes skew people’s expectations. With an off-screen interviewer, Corgan discusses the absence of former Pumpkins James Iha and D’Arcy Wretzky, an issue that had to be dealt with and he gives what appear to be his honest reactions.
In Asheville, Corgan composes new music alone that is played later in the evening by the whole band. Audience members provide their reactions. Corgan interacts with fans on the street and walks that fine line between appreciating their appreciation of his previous work, yet struggling with their not allowing him to be anything else. Some artists, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, just say screw it, I am going to follow my own path and you can come if you like. The Who’s Pete Townshend, interviewed for this project, offers a great perspective on this dilemma of fans locking certain music or an artist to a particular moment in time, like a fly in amber.
In San Francisco, Corgan continues to create new music; however, the band picks up on a different vibe from the city. It might be because San Franciscans live in a city that gets so many artists passing through that they have different expectations than the folks who made their way to Asheville, causing them to not be as forgiving or open. No doubt, the poor review a newspaper critic gave one show adds to their feeling of dread. This vibe manifests itself in the band one night when Schroeder’s equipment doesn’t work and out of frustration he slams his guitar to the stage and walked off.
Combined with performance clips, If All Goes Wrong is a very good look at an artist trying to forge a new path while trying to satisfy both himself and the audience. This could easily have been a fluff piece that just showed Corgan in a positive light, but he allowed for a complete picture to be shown. One day in a park, Corgan talks about wanting to move forward and not backward, but then that begs the question that was not asked but should have been, “why use the name Smashing Pumpkins?”
This disc contains two bonus features: “Voices Of The Ghost Children” is the “fan on the street” interviews, and there is more interview material with Pete Townshend.
Disc 2 presents about two hours of the Fillmore residency taken from different nights, including seven new songs, some of which are not available anywhere else. The set opens with Corgan alone with an acoustic guitar for “The Rose March.” For “Peace+Love” a harmonica and Harriton on keyboards is added to the arrangement. The rest of the band comes out for “99 Floors.” Corgan starts and then the rest of the band slowly makes their way into the song, laying a nice groove underneath him.
“Blues Skies Bring Tears” has more of the rock sound Pumpkins fans are familiar with. “Superchrist” is the band as a very powerful, driving force of rock. In the documentary Corgan talked about getting people to pay attention with this song, and it works. Their 30-minute epic “Gossamer” begins the encore, and while I can see how some might lose interest due to having short-attention spans, I found it to be an interesting and enjoyable piece. They have allegedly retired it from their sets.
None of the Pumpkins hits make the setlist, but those with a deeper knowledge of the band’s catalog may recognize “Starla” from the 1994 B-sides album Pisces Iscariot, “Untitled” from 2001’s greatest-hits compilation Rotten Apples, and “Winterlong” from 2001’s B-sides album Judas Ø. During “Heavy Metal Machine,” the band offers a nod to San Francisco’s past by playing part of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” This disc is a great way to see if you like the band’s current ensemble and direction without paying high concert prices and dealing with traffic.
The bonus feature is over 30 minutes of rehearsals from 7/27/07 with the band on the Fillmore floor facing each other in a circle. Two songs of the five, “Mama” and “Promise Me,” don’t appear in the Residency concert.