Today Rocks Off is starting a recurring series of local music urban legends; not so much 'urban legends' in the sense of oft-repeated stories that turn out to be false - though those are fine too - but actual legends: events and incidents that get talked about so much they become a part of local lore. Know something that we should look into? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In November 1993, Smashing Pumpkins were about to break big. The band had just released its second LP, Siamese Dream
, and appeared on Saturday Night Live
for the first time. But before "Today" and "Disarm" would dominate the radio that fall, winter, and all the way up through the group's headlining appearance at Lollapalooza 1994, they had a string of Southwestern club dates to finish off. Rocks Off was at their show at Austin's Liberty Lunch, and it's still one of the tightest-packed crowds we've ever seen.
That show was brilliant - it was obvious Billy Corgan and company were about to become superstars - but the Pumpkins' Houston show at Rockefeller's West (formerly Club 6400, now Planeta Bar Rio) didn't turn out quite so well. It did, however, prove once again that Houston audiences take no shit, whether talking over the entertainment or tossing footwear at them. Michael Bell, now a cameraman for Panavision specializing in HD cinema cameras, was there.
[Click here for an MP3 of Corgan himself talking about the incident in 2000, right before the Pumpkins throttle the Aerial Theater - that's Verizon now, kids - crowd with "Mayonnaise." Thanks to Jason from the Watermarks for sending us the file.]
"You always hear about what happened: 4 or 5 songs into their set, a shoe flew up on stage and Corgan said 'if anybody (did) it again, we're going home.' Immediately somebody intentionally threw a shoe and the show was over. I remember seeing shoes flying around, but it was 1993 and the Pumpkins still had some Sub Pop-like cred and grunge dudes liked them and frankly, flying shoes were just a part of that scene.
"The picture painted always suggests that the shoes were aimed at Corgan for some reason, but I was there and that's just not the case. Now, the offending final shoe was definitely aimed at him because he basically baited the crowd. After the show I said, 'Sorry that happened, you know, some people...,' and in the most dickish rock-star way you can imagine, he said, "Whatever. Don't talk about it."
"I think the context of that show is important and rarely mentioned: the Montrose/local band/show-going indie public in Houston loved the Smashing Pumpkins. They'd played several free shows at Emo's and had developed a very passionate audience. They had played that epic show with Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Unicorn. They were cool and it was cool to like them.
"People bought the European CD singles from Record Rack and collected B-sides and all of that. When this show happened, it sold out really fast. Shudder to Think was opening, and a lot of people liked them too. This wasn't a crowd of Buzzfest alt-radio jock idiots, those people didn't really exist quite yet. These were Pumpkin superfans.
"I worked at a record store at the time so we had comp tickets, and I remember Richmond was full of people dying to get in. Somebody offered us $80 per ticket for ours, which was unheard of at the time (I had front-section floor seats for U2 that same year for an exorbitant $25 each), and we turned it down.
"When Corgan walked off that stage, he was also walking away from that devoted pre-platinum fanbase, the ones who knew all the words to the 'Siva'/'Window Paine' single and were working out how they felt about 'Disarm.' Of course, when they came back for Lollapalooza and he made the follow-up joke that people could throw anything, he wasn't going anywhere, it was in front of an entirely different make-up of people."
So who threw the shoe? Bell says only the culprit(s) and those standing nearby may ever truly know for sure.
"The only people who could really know would be those who were standing right next to the person. I'm sure everybody who tells the story thinks it was their friend that did it. In the weeks afterwards, when it was kind of a fresh topic of conversation at Cecil's, etc., I never heard anyone claim it was them. People were more pissed about the band, the culprit was irrelevant; at least in my circle, anyway."