Smashing Pumpkins were one of the fiercest live bands to emerge in a decade full of fierce live bands. At their best, the Chicago quartet sounded like they were harnessing chaos, where careening alt-rock explosions met virtuoso playing and snarling cool.
But from the off, there was always another side to the Pumpkins. It had been hinted at on their 1991 debut Gish, which closed with a hypnotic, acoustic lullaby Daydream. They melded the two sides of their sound even more dextrously on monster follow-up Siamese Dream, which darted from ferocious, pummelling psychedelic rock such as Geek USA and Quiet to dreamy, space-cadet ballads like Sweet Sweet and Luna, with some songs pulling in both directions – is the masterful Mayonaise a rock banger or an epic ballad? (it’s both).
A clip of the band performing Siamese Dream’s classic opener Cherub Rock on MTV in 1993 showed that even the album’s rock standouts could be turned inside-out. As host Ray Cokes says, “here’s Cherub Rock as you’ve never heard it before and you’ll never hear it again,” ushering in a deliciously chilled-out version of one of the Pumpkins’ all-time best songs. Some rock anthems just don’t work without their distortion pedals, and the brilliance here is just how much this version of Cherub Rock sounds like itself at the same time as nothing like it. The lack of their Big Muffs lets the sinuous riffs stand out, Corgan’s melodies free from the tension of the original and Jimmy Chamberlin doing really well not to do what he does best which is to seriously batter the fuck out of his drumkit.
The band were obviously delighted with this reworking as it went on to feature in their excellent tour film Vieuphoria. They would explore the acoustic format more thoroughly on the tour to support 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, with many of the tour’s shows cut into two halves, one stripped-down and acoustic and one full-throttle electric. It’s a trick they should try again, it’s what helped to mark them out as one of the 90s’ most special bands.