Raw. Energetic. Unapologetic. Sometimes even vulgar. This is the Smashing Pumpkins live. Before reaching mega-stardom and getting a more mainstream persona with 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
, these four kids from Chicago rocked out in tight paisley shirts and ripped jeans wherever they could. Whether they played good or bad, it didn't matter, because you were guaranteed a wacky performance, usually with frontman egomaniac Billy Corgan flying off the handle. Of course, by 1993's Siamese Dream
they had a strong fan base and playing pretty large shows. Earphoria
documents the years of concerts around their 1991 debut Gish
to Siamese Dream, in a unique, varied, even questionable way. Earphoria
was originally released in 1994, to accompany the VHS Vieuphoria
(more info on this video later), as a promo copy (basically, a handful of them were made). Finally in 2002 it was re-released for hardcore Smashing Pumpkins fans to eat up and to help ease the pain of the alt. rockers 2000 break-up (I still haven't recovered fully...) It was a common misconception that it was supposed to be a live greatest hits record, so it was a surprise that only 3 of the songs here are on Rotten Apples: Greatest Hits
. It's more of a live oddities record, but the biggest oddities here aren't live...
begins with Sinfony
, a mini, well, symphony composed of solely of effects-layered guitars. I can only assume they are guitars, Billy Corgan is notorious for ambitiously making his guitar sounding as grand and sonic as possible, no matter the cost. Well let's face it, with a minute long opener that isn't even a live track, we can already see Earphoria
isn't an everyday live album. But the record delivers well-known songs like Today
and Geek USA
in almost the same way as they're heard on their original album. They're pepped up a bit; Geek USA is delivered much faster and rawer in front of a German audience. The guitar solo is a bit sloppy, but still a blast to listen to. I'll admit I cannot resist the original recording. It's much better than this version; basically everything on Siamese Dream was produced to perfection (I guess that gave away my Siamese Dream fanboy status). Today is a better recording, and so different enough from the original to not be seen a redundant. Soma is the best one, raw but is recorded well enough that every note is heard perfectly.
If you were expecting more live versions of the three mentioned above, you might as well stop reading now and go play Halo 2... yeah. The Pumpkins go Unplugged with Mayonaise
and Cherub Rock
. Mayonaise is a simple acoustic version here, highlighting Billy's beautiful lyrics. Cherub Rock is from the never-released Smashing Pumpkins: MTV Unplugged, a jazzy version, showing off drummer Jimmy Chamberlain's exceptional skills as a jazz drummer (what he was originally.) Both songs are a great reason to pick this up. Then Earphoria
delves into the exact opposite, Disarm
, originally a soft (but still powerful) acoustic song with a cello. It's transmogrified into a heavy hitting, hard rock tune, probably one of the rawest songs to grace Earphoria
. The remorseful cello is swapped for a dissonant, distorted guitar. Disarm, like most of the harder songs here; feature a rougher, growling voice of Billy Corgan. Corgan's whiny, snarling voice delivers such Earphoria
catch-phrase moments like the "Ahhhrawr" from Cherub Rock or the "YOU KNOW IT'S MOTHERF*CKING ALRIGHT!" from Geek USA (said at almost every live rendition of the song, hehe).
The Smashing Pumpkins reach their rawest in the depressing soliloquy Silverf*ck
, an obscure song from 1992's Lull EP
Slunk and the Gish psychedelic classic I Am One
. Slunk is dished out on Japanese TV, when the Pumpkins were still conquering the College charts. Insane amounts of feedback are heard before the band kicks into a horrible sounding riff. It's all muddied up and you can barely tell they're playing actual chords, seems to fit as Billy changes the lyrics from "Sister above" to "You talk sh*t like a chummmmmmmp" in the Pumpkins most Punk-Rockin' song. I Am One seems to be a normal version, but the Barcelona locals who came to the show are quite surprised as the bass break that is 10 seconds in the studio version of Gish is extended to 4 minutes as Billy rants with his selfish, rebellious lyrics: "All I ever wanted was everything, and all I got was sh*t" "What you want is what you get and that's NOTHING". Amusing at first but gets tedious to listen to Billy bitch for 4 minutes after a couple of listens. Silverf*ck is definitely one of the best tracks on Earphoria
, a 13 minute version of the volatile Siamese Dream epic. Driven by a memorable rigid riff at first, the song soon becomes a quiet, creepy declaration of madness! This version, at its quietest, Billy begins to sing Over the Rainbow
, the little tune from The Wizard of Oz. The main riff bursts back in after some silence into full blast, at twice the tempo. Then the Pumpkins burst into a totally new riff, starting to jam. Near the end you can hear the feedback piling up, rhythm guitarist James Iha using his toy gun for some kooky sound effects, and Billy's guitar going out of tune as the strings begin to snap, as well as his desire to end the song. The result? One happy audience, as Billy trashes his guitar and injures his head. How do I know that? Well Vieuphoria
is pretty much the same as Earphoria, but with picture (duh). Other than not hearing the odd instrumental tracks in their entirety, it is better to get it, much more fun to enjoy these live performances. Plus the DVD includes some extra live songs, and strange skits done by the band.
French Movie Theme
is probably the strangest Smashing Pumpkins song in their +200 song catalogue. Billy sings a mellow string of "yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah" slowly and melodically with a piano, hinting that French movies like to use artsy songs. Short, but fun to listen to, buuuut not really worth buying Earphoria
to listen to a weird, 2 minute long song. Pulseczar
is the best of these oddities, swirled in ridiculous amounts of flange, fuzz, and who-knows-what, despite that it's very soothing as Billy sings behind the music. Bugg Superstar
is a really weird song, with lame techno music that would've been loved in 1986, with James Iha singing "Buuuhhhhh uuuhhh ugghh Buhhhggg Superstar!" Yeah, what can I say? Earphoria
ends with the ironically titled Why am I so Tired?
, dragging out an oozing jam for 15 minutes! All these songs are good at first, but wear out quickly. And that's why Earphoria
is no ordinary live album!
If you're a big Pumpkin fan, then by all means stop playing Halo 2 and go buy this. You won't be let down. However any regular Joe might not like Corgan's raw vocals, or the wacky jams. The production on Smashing Pumpkins studio albums is incredible; it's kind of hard to like these live songs as much. The instrumentals/semi-instrumentals may not appeal to even you Pumpkin fans. Either way, I do recommend getting Vieuphoria instead, much more rewarding (err, even though I told you to stop playing Halo 2 and buy Earphoria).