The Smashing Pumpkins formed in 1988 but wouldn’t start to reap the rewards of their endeavours properly for five more years. Despite releasing their seminal grunge effort Gish in 1991, their trajectory wouldn’t change for a considerable amount of time and were still playing tiny gigs—as this rare footage from Chicago’s Restless Records is proof of.
Gish is now regarded as being one of the definitive grunge records of all time but, upon release, it wasn’t met with much fanfare and the album initially peaking at 195 on the Billboard 200. It would mean that the band would be on the grind for a little longer before they started to get the plaudits that they truly deserved.
This meant that in the wake of releasing the masterpiece, Smashing Pumpkins went from town to town playing to rooms of small loyal fans who couldn’t quite believe that they were being slept on. Their set at Chicago’s Reckless Records in their hometown just a matter of weeks after releasing their debut record was a moment that the people in attendance will never forget.
Nirvana’s commercial breakthrough with Nevermind widened the taste of the general public and was a gateway drug of sorts, one that led to music fans turning their attentions to bands like Smashing Pumpkins who didn’t have to adapt their sound to mainstream tastes whereas it adapting to them which gave the band a real uncompromising purity.
“Then a little band called Nirvana came out and sold a bazillion copies. Then Pearl Jam sold a bazillion copies, so the standard of what was a successful record, literally changed on us overnight,” said Billy Corgan to Soundlounge.
“We went from being like, ‘Wow, you guys are doing great, big future’ to like, ‘You’re not going to quite make it’,” Corgan continued. “Wow, what happened? Alternative radio around 1991 – I think there were seven stations in America. And by the mid-’90s, I think there were 100-something stations.
“And here we are, still playing alternative rock. It was a cultural movement, it was a music business movement, it was really a hostile takeover of the systems that existed,” Corgan noted. “Suddenly it was being populated by people who didn’t really care about the perfect photo and the perfect posture. It just felt so different.”
Their set at Reckless Records came at an interesting point where Gish still felt like a treasured secret, with their set as you would expect relying on the record with them blistering through renditions of much-loved tracks such as ‘Siva’, ‘Drown’ and ‘Kill Your Parents’ — which were all designed for playing in vast spaces rather than record stores.
Check out the incredible set, below.