June 19, 2024

Smashing Pumpkins at the O2, London, June 2024

We’re all packed in like battery chickens, arse on seat, legs in a v-shape, knees hooked up, almost touching our chin. In this position we can only really rock out by bouncing our knees up and down and attempting some seated head banging. Some people just kind of shake their arms a bit. But its all hopelessly constrained. Despite of my rage I cannot get out of my allotted seat and do anything.

Well the lady in front of me does, several times, she gets up and does this sort of hippyish arm and wrist curving dancing. Oi, you’re not allowed to do that, you’re blocking the view you bloody narcissist.

Someone’s excited foot tapping gets a bit too visceral behind me and the movements travel up my spine. I start fantasising about turning around and chinning whoever it is – but there’s not enough space behind me to do that – it’s too dark and noisy – and I don’t feel well anyway – and it would be much more civil of me to say something. I hope whoever it is, isn’t a one hundred kilo sadist.

I can hardly see the band from such a long way back. People sat at such heights elect to sometimes watch a video that they are recording of the gig, which gives them an even worse view.But it is proof that they were there – not within proper distance of being able to see the people who they believe they have paid money to see.

The people on the stage could be anyone. I went to see virtual reality Abba a few months ago – at least with virtual reality Abba I could see that the people  on stage bore a likeness to  the band I had paid to come and see represented.

It sounds like Billy Corgan though. At least for some of the set he appears to be dressed in a black religious leader’s robe – with a shaved head – or am I just imagining that’s what I saw? You just make these things up when you’re seated so far back.

James, the original guitarist, cut a tall elegant figure dressed in white to the right.

I’ve never been packed into such a big audience like this. I always feel queazy about such mass uncritical emotional devotion. Its evangelical. When that woman got up and started dancing with her curvy hands and arms waving, it reminded me of evangelical Christians who get up and sway their bum a bit and raise their hands in praise of the Lord. Though I think that a genuine evangelical experience would be better than this because I think its better to leave focused on the notion of a benevolent God that loves you and everyone else. Rather than leaving it focused on some individualised ranting, raving, lust and love.

Yes this is a mass exercise in narcissism – a kind of contradiction in terms in some ways – we are ten thousand islands each one cooped up into our battery chicken box, projecting our own narcissistic feelings and desires and memories into someone ranting about their feelings and emotions.

So, but, the Smashing Pumpkins do have a pretty impressive set list and a lot of variation in that – and its just smashing one track out after the other. I am genuinely impressed that the band members can remember all the notes and words, and songs. Have I never been to a gig before? Everything’s mixed up – seemingly – the band have taken their different albums, shuffled up all the songs, and dealt a hand. There’s all the early college rock stuff from the nineties, plenty of stuff from the double album Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness and then loads of of other stuff. They throw in quite a lot of pop stuff – its not conventional pop music by any means – its got all the hard Pumpkins sounds in there – but they’ve given it all a pop sentimentality – sounds brilliant really. There’s some stuff in there that I didn’t recognise – I’m not the biggest fan – but I thought I wouldn’t mind hearing that again.

There are clear favourites right? But in a set that lasts for nearly two hours, it seems that some small proportion of the thousands of people gathered take their queue from lesser known songs or some of what seem like new pop songs, to stream up and down the stairs, for a toilet stop or get a quick burger – giving the impression that whilst the band and the audiences are physically collocated in the arena their reasons for being there are quite unrelated.

Why do people do this sitting down at arena gigs thing? I’ve got lower back pain, sore knees (sitting there is like driving for two hours) and this feeling of frustration in my torso. It does seem like some quasi-spiritual experience for narcissists. I can imagine people specialising in arena gigs.

Its the people on the floor, the one’s stood up, who are having a proper gig. Are those tickets more expensive? And it’s only those at the front, the ones moshing, who can actually see the band, who are experiencing the band for real – I argue! What are the rest of us doing? I’ve no real idea.

I don’t what the Smashing Pumpkins really mean. I don’t take enough interest in them to find out. But they do have nice melodies and that – and rock out really well. But what does any of this mean when its channelled through the corporate whore house that is the O2 – and all the corporate shopping centre stuff that you file past to get into the venue. Extortionate prices for drinks and food in the interval. The masses open their wallets. They don’t care, could not give one single. What does all of this mean in sum? In total?

Billy Corgan was very generous to the audience. He kept thanking them for turning up and supporting.

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