Context is everything for Smashing Pumpkins circa 2013, and this is incredibly apparent on the group’s live album/DVD, Oceania: Live in NYC.
This one captures the current lineup (Billy Corgan is the only original member) performing in Brooklyn on the last night of its US tour for 2012’s not-bad Oceania album. The band made the ballsy move to open its shows by playing the new album in full (with spellbinding visuals, by the way) before dipping back into the classics from its ’90s discography.
It’s during the performance of the album where the band’s enthusiasm and purpose makes the most sense, whereas the “greatest hits” portion of the set almost seems put on.
Oceania’s songs, stripped of their recorded sheen, flourish with greater heft in the live setting (even if some of the songs themselves can be lackluster at times). The title track is even more expansive and psychedelic, “Wildflower” is still a lovely closer (aided by a softer vocal delivery from Corgan), and even “The Chimera” and “Inkless” could almost pass as long-lost holdouts from Mellon Collie or Siamese Dream.
After an overly long and not totally necessary “Space Oddity” cover, the band goes into the crowd-pleasers, including a poignant “Tonight, Tonight,” a vicious “X.Y.U.” and an exuberant “Cherub Rock.” Corgan can’t quite wail like he used to, but he gets pretty close. Despite the fact that the band is top-notch – steady guitarist Jeff Schroeder and 23-year-old drummer Mike Byrne are nearly flawless players – there are still moments that are a little less than exciting – like a somewhat languid run through “Ava Adore” – and the sometimes gratuitous guitar solos throughout can get a little tiresome.
The new band deserves some credit: the music’s still loud, the tempos haven’t slowed, and the playing is top-notch, and by boasting new music ahead of the old, it even helps dispel accusations of this being purely a blatant nostalgia act.
That said, I’d still be hard pressed to recommend this to anyone other than a hardcore fan (or fan of the new material, for that matter), but for those open to it, Oceania Live can be a compelling listen.