From what I can gather, the problem wasn't so much that the Pumpkins (i.e. Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin, and assorted ringers) played badly, it was that both the set list and the band's demeanor gave off the stink of audience contempt--low on hits, high on condescension. At one point, according to Perpetua, Corgan even mockingly uttered, "Did I pay for this s**t?"
It's hard to know who deserves sympathy in the audience-vs.-rock star standoff. The idea that musicians are expected to go out and give the crowd exactly what it wants has a faintly distasteful "Dance, monkey, dance!" vibe. But, then again, rock isn't jazz. Fans want surprise only up to a point.
I've seen some bad shows in my day. I remember a Lou Reed concert at which he played mostly new material, frequently with his back to the audience. Then he sleepwalked through "Sweet Jane" for the encore. I also saw Prince when he was deep into his spiritually-searching jazzy phase. That show featured loads of political and religious hectoring sandwiched between long fusion jams. The hits were relegated to a short medley. Both times, I felt ripped off.
Maybe that's a crass attitude. But I wonder if the recent proliferation of bands playing entire albums live is partly born from an attempt to head-off audience expectations at the pass. There's a much smaller chance the crowd will leave disappointed if they know exactly what they'll be getting. Similarly, if an artist feels the urge to rework their hits or try out new material, why not let it be known on the poster? Doing so might risk poor box office returns, but at least it'd be honest.
The question of who deserves what in the audience/performer exchange is a tough one. The answer is probably that both performers or audience-members deserves anything but the right to do what they want, whether that means booing or playing deep cuts. I do know one thing for sure though: I'm glad I didn't pony up for the Pumpkins.
What do you think? Do audiences have a right to expect things from rock stars? And do rock stars have the right to bristle at those expectations? What concert made you want your money back? Share your answers in the comments section.
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- Billy Corgan