Sound: Back in 2002 Jerry Seinfeld released the film Comedian, a documentary that chronicled the ultra-famous TV star's efforts to perfect his standup act. It wasn't always pretty, and many critics praised Seinfeld for allowing audiences to see that even he, the all-powerful Seinfeld, didn't just walk onstage with a flawless act. Why I am talking about comedy during a music review? Because the latest Smashing Pumpkins' 2-disk DVD release If All Goes Wrong is done in the same vein, following Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, and newcomers Ginger Reyes, Jeff Schroeder, and Lisa Harriton as they perform a string of dates in Asheville, NC, and San Francisco, CA - playing a good deal of all-new material. The documentary portion on disk 1 looks at the trials and tribulations that occur along the way, and like Seinfeld, Corgan is shown in more of a humanized light than most of us have seen him before.
The Smashing Pumpkins are evolving into something that is very different from their heyday in the 1990s, and not every fan might be ready to go along for that ride. It's made very clear in the documentary, however, that Corgan and the band were well aware of this fact when it was filmed back in 2007. Even The Who's Pete Townshend provides commentary in the documentary (and in bonus footage) about the ever-changing relationship between a band and it's fans. Regardless of where you stand at the end of it all, it is still very cool to see the singer/guitarist's mind at work. Some of the strongest in the documentary are when Corgan (all decked out in his pajamas) is in the first stages of writing new material, and only moments later we're shown how the tracks go over when they're performed for the first time only a day later.
What spawns from all of these intimate, bedroom sessions is usually a stripped-down, almost folk music-like result. In fact, Corgan uses a harmonica a la Bob Dylan in a few of the songs. When the Pumpkins take their act to the little town of Asheville, North Carolina, the diehard fans are unsure, but accepting. That's not so much the case at all the dates in San Francisco's Fillmore. Bashed by the critics for being indulgent (thanks to the 30-minute-long electric jam Gossamer and the 3-hour set of new material), the Pumpkins' performance is still captivating for being so foreign. Songs like Superchrist give the set an amazing jolt in the midst of the laid-back numbers, but some fans will still likely be on the fence about the band's new approach. // 8
Content: With over 4 hours of material on 2 disks, If All Goes Wrong gives a fantastic up-close-and-personal look at Corgan. While the other members are interviewed and given some air time, it's obvious this is about the creative mind of Corgan. Unlike some DVDs out there where the filmmakers go out of their way to present the artists in a positive light, there is no sugar coating in this one. More times than not you'll likely find Corgan is a bit bossy or overly self-assured - but also honest. In one instance he pisses off new guitarist Jeff Schroeder onstage, and in another moment he discusses why he won't play Soma (apparently it's too heavily connected with former member James Iha). Not every musician would be that candid, and you have to give Corgan credit for not creating a false faade.
The live concert at The Fillmore featured on disk 2 does not include any of the huge hits, so be warned. While there are some familiar titles like Starla or Zeitgeist, there is still a huge helping of obscure titles. It's a great-sounding concert nonetheless, and although it may seem otherwise from footage in the documentary, the majority of the setlist is electric. Bonus material includes an insightful interview with Pete Townshend (who often draws comparison to his time in The Who and the current state of The Smashing Pumpkins) and some extremely fun, but brief interviews with diehard fans. // 9
Production Quality: If All Goes Wrong is beautifully edited, and it's obvious that the filmmakers spent a good deal of time compiling footage and editing the entire package. The documentary portion uses a variety of camera styles and storytelling techniques, including some very cool moments where it almost feels like a hidden-camera type of setup. Of course, in those moments, Corgan is caught in one of his many human, flawed moments. The live Fillmore wisely stays away from jerky camera techniques and maintains a sleek look throughout. // 10
Overall Impression: I came away from watching the 2 DVDs a little conflicted, as many old school Pumpkins' fans also will. As documentaries go, If All Goes Wrong holds your attention to the end and reveals more than you might expect about the mind of Corgan. While most of us can appreciate the fact that the Smashing Pumpkins tried something new - in this case playing day-old material for devoted fans in North Carolina - it's still difficult to completely wrap your arms around it. There are a lot of factors that leave an uneasy feeling, whether that's due to nostalgia, Corgan's disconnect from the people who have bought his records (at times it was downright uncomfortable to watch him interact with fans), or the simple fact that the music on disk 1 is still rough around the edges. To put it simply, if you're wanting to relive the Pumpkins' reunion via If All Goes Wrong, you might be left feeling a little shortchanged. But in the end, the DVD provides a compelling, tumultuous look at the iconic Smashing Pumpkins. // 9