This is right next to the Foetus one in the same issue – it has to be said, 1996 was one of the best years ever for live shows. If I was effusively enthusiastic about the Foetus one, this was the type of concert to completely take you out of your skull. Rarely, I was stone cold sober, but the performance itself made us quite forget our lack of beer …
14 May 1996, Wembley Arena
Filter playing live somewhere
I have dreams of concerts like this. The line-up was hardly to be sniffed at, but to be honest, we were only really there to see Filter. Yeah, I like the Pumpkins, but they’re just a better-than-average Alternative Rock Band, right …?
“Felcher?” asks Filter’s Richard Patrick, gazing bemused at the slideshow backdrop that has been craftily switched by the mischievous lighting crew. The red banner is hastily swapped back to “Filter”. Richard laughs, and introduces the next song. Filter’s Richard and Brian are undaunted by the size of Wembley Arena – this is probably due to their spell as members of Nine Inch Nails – and look right at home in the rapidly-filling venue. Blasting through the killer tracks off their spellbinding debut LP (Short Bus), they blind us with It’s Over, Dose, Under, and all the usual suspects, plus the ever-present Hey Man, Nice Shot (sorry guys – it’s most definitely your Creep).
Richard prowls the stage with his characteristic feline charisma, and whilst his singing voice shows the telling signs of end-of-tour strain, he can scream with the best of them. The band have to dodge a succession of practical jokes – first a member of the crew wanders across the stage reading a newspaper. Then the man re-enters with a broom and starts sweeping the stage. In typical Filter fashion, they glance at him, shake their heads disbelievingly and ignore him. Brian Liesegang gyrates with the guitar slung low, stripped semi-naked and playing with his soul. Damn, I love it when he does that. They throw all the rock star poses and do all the rock star stuff, chatting to the audience and grinning like Cheshire cats.
For the uninitiated, this may look like yet another alternative rock band doing the Soundgarden trip. Until the One Splendid Moment that separates the special from the merely enjoyable. Tonight the moment is a radical reworking of album highlight Stuck In Here. Whilst the original version is a soothing acoustic-style track reminiscent of Pavement or Nirvana’s Polly, Filter have transformed it into an anthemic and crushing joy. Pounding tribal drum-beats focus the sound as Rich sings the verses, and the chorus is replaced by a thunderous wall of ascending guitar noise. Watching this, it’s impossible to believe that it won’t be Filter headlining here in a couple of years.
Unbelievably, the best is yet to come. Entering to the strains of Mellon Collie, the Smashing Pumpkins exude confidence and enthusiasm. They ought to: their latest album clocks in at over two hours and isn’t a second too long. They play old songs, new songs and even covers – at one point, Billy Corgan treats us to an acoustic rendition of The Cure’s Between Days. James Iha tells jokes about Eric Cantona (they fall a bit flat – nobody can believe that the Pumpkins are telling jokes), and Billy and D’arcy look like the cats that got the cream.
The whole crowd sings along to Zero and Today as Billy entreats the crowd (understandably a little cautious after the Dublin tragedy a few days before) to dance, as Bullet With Butterfly Wings is played. There is a stunning backdrop of film footage and slides, and Tonight Tonight has never sounded better.
The biggest treats happen as the main set ends. Firstly, the boys from Filter who aren’t Richard or Brian come on to add extra acoustic guitars and percussion to a sparkling 1979 (a true vintage, by anyone’s standards). The band leave, only to be begged back on for a succession of encores. There is an acoustic Disarm, a stunning selection of old and new tracks too long to recall, and – best of all – a new untitled track that spirals into Velvet Underground territory.
The highlight of all highlights begins as the Pumpkins play another untitled track with incredible tribal percussion that threatens to cause the roof to cave in. The deep rumbling basslines resonate around the room, booming up through the floorboards. The sound is clear and pristine tonight, perfect conditions for a little experimentalism. Jimmy Chamberlain shows his true ingenuity as a drummer by holding the steady, complicated rhythms together as Billy and James churn out guitar lines in a vaguely Eastern-sounding fashion. The sound swells and holds for a full eight minutes before dying down to the percussion-based theme, and then something extraordinary happens.
Through the dry ice and awed cheers of the crowd, Richard Patrick enters from stage right and strolls confidently into the centre of the stage. He picks up the microphone and begins to sing more tunefully and sweetly than he ever has before. Then he screams with more rage and power than he has ever screamed before. Then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he is gone.
The Smashing Pumpkins finish their two-and-a-quarter hour set with a humour-filled, emotional rendition of Farewell and Goodnight, before they all take turns to sing. “They’re kicking us off the stage now”, complains Billy, who could quite happily have stayed all night. I’m almost glad they didn’t – my lungs hurt from screaming and my hands are tired from the constant applause. I look at my best friend in the world. She is grinning, awestruck and overwhelmed.
It doesn’t get better than this.
From the following night’s performance