It’s been a bit of a rocky road for Billy Corgan since he reformed (in both spirit and musical nature) the Smashing Pumpkins in 2006. After the Zeitgeist album drew mixed reviews, the band embarked on a terrific tour throughout 2007, only to leave some fans confused and disappointed with the covers-heavy 2008 tour that was labeled as a “20th Anniversary” tour even though the group was disbanded from 2001-2005.
After the departure of gifted and founding Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in early 2009, Corgan tried out and hired the young and multi-talented Mike Byrne (drums/keys) and former Veruca Salt bassist Nicole Fiorentino. They and guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Schroeder have been together recording and playing live with Corgan over the last four years.
Since the 2010 and 2011 tours, Pumpkins fans have been warmly receiving this version of the band, and to Corgan’s satisfaction, dug the new stuff almost as much as the old classics. With that kind of momentum, armed with much (deserved) industry praise for the then-new Oceania album, SP decided to play the album from start to finish during the 2012 tour (and mix in old classics/fan favorites to round out each show). The September 24 release of the new SP Oceania: Live In NYC [Blu-ray] (Universal Music Enterprises) captures the band’s full December 10, 2012 performance at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, a show originally scheduled for Halloween night but which was delayed due to Hurricane Sandy.
SP’s 2012 tour had the most elaborate and spectacular stage show that any longtime fan of the band can ever remember, even going back to their heyday in the mid-1990s. This is due in large part because Corgan, a devout Pink Floyd fan, saw Roger Waters’ tour of The Wall sometime in the last few years, and reached out to his stage designer Sean Evans to do something similar for his band’s live show. With constantly changing visual images and themes coming out of a moon-sized ball as a back drop, and the usual mixture of strobe and mood-setting lights accompanying the band’s mix of loud, quiet and quiet-to-loud hits, fan favorites and all 13 Oceania cuts, it was over two hours of dynamic rock music every night that made you remember why you loved them in the first place. This new release captures the live 2012 Smashing Pumpkins experience greatly and in illustrious fashion.
After Corgan took to his Mellotron to play a cryptic melody or two to start the show, the full band started the set with spot-on renditions of the loud and heavy (Drop-D-tuned) Oceania openers “Quasar” and “Panopticon.” The highlight at this early stage was when Schroeder absolutely shredded a killer solo (Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption” style) at the tail end of “Quasar.” Needless to say, the Brooklyn crowd roared in approval.
Other highlights include the lonely, isolation-themed “Violet Rays” and “My Love Is Winter,” which has come a long way since I first saw the band play it live several years ago. The trippy elements really got emphasized on this performance, likely due to Corgan’s excellent use of delay effects on his guitar. Another highlight is “Wildflower,” but not because I liked the song – it’s not one of my favorites but is a pretty soothing one worthy of its name.
The reason this performance of “Wildflower” should be noted in any review of the DVD/Blu-ray is because of who performed it and what it says about the band. For starters, all Corgan did was sing for the first half – his guitar solo came later. It was impressive to see him hit a high vocal range strong and let his voice soar, while Byrne played the band leader’s Mellotron, Schroeder played his own Mellotron, and while Fiorentino took off the bass to play on an M-Audio keyboard. What a visual. In the old Pumpkins, this scene of Corgan letting his bandmates carry the weight of a tune never happened. It must’ve been a true relief to Corgan when he realized how extraordinarily talented this band truly is to the point where such a performance like this could occur on a nightly basis. In fact, he realized this when Schroeder insisted at the outset of the 2012 tour that between the four members, the band was fully capable of performing all the electronic elements of the Oceania tracks (keys/Mellotron) instead of hiring any other touring musicians. He was right.
With the Pumpkins, cover songs are either hit-or-miss. There was only one in this set and it was epic. Even with no acoustic guitars, the band did a powerful rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that started with quiet electric axes but finished with some sensational dual jamming by Corgan and Schroeder. Corgan also did some cool bluesy soloing (with Schroeder providing delay pedal-powered trippy chords to accompany him) during the breakdown of fan favorite “X.Y.U.” The rest of the performance of that tune, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” and new song “The Dream Machine” were a headbanger’s delight. Speaking of “Zero,” it was an extended version that let Schroeder do more kickass shredding on his Gibson guitar one more time before the band wrapped it and the night up to thunderous applause.
“Hummer” being included in the setlist was a bit of a surprise to me (as was “The Dream Machine”), but a welcomed one. Corgan wanted it probably because it’s a guitar-centered psychedelic rock gem from Siamese Dream, one where he gets to improvise a bit around its somewhat “We Will Rock You”-influenced instrumental section in the closing minutes. And that improv is what always make the song such a treat to hear live.
Corgan’s (then-45-year-old) voice got a little weary on “Tonight, Tonight,” “Cherub Rock” and “Ava Adore” but that doesn’t detract from the band’s overall tight performances of these and other essential SP cuts. (Asking for perfect vocals on all 24 songs performed is unrealistic anyhow.)
The only real letdown of this release is the limited bonus features, which consists of a photo gallery (3D and 2D of the show) and interviews with the stage designers (including Evans). At under 10 minutes, it’s all too short. Perhaps some soundcheck or backstage footage of the band would’ve been a good addition, but the lack of such a thing is still a minor flaw.
In all, Oceania: Live in NYC is an essential Smashing Pumpkins offering, especially if you loved the Oceania album itself and whether or not you caught the group on tour last year. If nothing else, it will be revelatory to you the viewer in that it shows that the Smashing Pumpkins are playing as well as they ever have. You’ll see that Nicole Fiorentino is more than an attractive female bass player in skintight clothes, that the young Mike Byrne, with his Neil Peart-ish flourishes, is an incredible drummer just like his predecessor, and that Corgan’s six-string partner Jeff Schroeder is the best guitarist he’s ever been in a band with full-time. You’ll also see that his versatility in guitar sounds and exciting lead solos makes him the surprise star of this show and release.
Where the If All Goes Wrong live DVD/documentary from 2008 was geared toward die-hard fans, this release will also appeal to the Gen X-era fanbase as much as it should newer fans because of the well-chosen oldies included in the setlist. That is, unless you are living in the past and ignorantly dismiss any lineup that doesn’t include the original four Pumpkins. In that case, you probably aren’t even reading this review.
As far as technical specifications go, this Blu-ray disc has a display aspect ratio of 16:9 (original aspect ratio of 1.78:1) and audio selections of Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and 2.0. The 2.0 option sounds a bit louder than the 5.1, but both sound fantastic and you can’t go wrong with either one, And, if you have a 3D Blu-ray player, the option to view the concert in 3D will be a darn cool extra treat.
I watched it all in 2D on a new widescreen Samsung HD TV in my home and was stunned by the absolute gorgeously bright red, yellow and blue colors beaming from the stage lights and into my living room. The images of band members and their instruments were so sharp that at one point well into the show, you could clearly see the big, dark sweat-stained spot on drummer Mike Byrne’s shirt on his back.
The concert disc can be found at your favorite record stores nationwide, but costs just under $20 for the Blu-ray edition on Amazon.com and is a few bucks less as a (standard) DVD. For those wanting both the video and audio version together, the deluxe 2CD/1DVD version on Amazon.com is also available, and a digital-only option just recently went up on iTunes.