The Smashing Pumpkins at Revolution Live; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; July 20
I have approximately one thing in common with Billy Corgan: I, too, tire of answering the same questions over and over again. Let me first, then, address the rhinoceros elephant in the room so that we can move on to the rock ‘n roll.
Yes, the Smashing Pumpkins are still around.
Corgan – the band’s founder, de facto leader, songwriter and visionary – is the only remaining member from the ’90s juggernaut that revolutionized alternative music/penned Rat In A Cage!!! Some would say that the Thin Bald Duke has always been and will always be the Smashing Pumpkins, that the other original members – James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky, Jimmy Chamberlin – were just cogs in the Corgan wheel.
Others would argue, rightfully, that James, D’Arcy and, particularly Jimmy – a force of god behind the drumkit and BC’s longtime creative foil – contributed to the band’s look, feel and presence, regardless of the musical contributions they brought to the table.
Discussions of are they/aren’t they (or rather, is he/isn’t he) worthy of the SP monikor are qualified – or offset altogether, depending on one’s perspective – by the simple fact that Billy Corgan continues to crank out typically worthwhile, occasionally brilliant pieces of music irrespective of his supporting cast.
And since I’ve never seen the Billy/Jimmy reincarnation, let alone the original lineup, I can safely attest without the baggage of preconception that this new bastardized ensemble
Absolutely f*cking rocks.
Perhaps the most striking aspects of Wednesday’s show were the evident dichotomy between new and old and the paradoxical notion of a humbled Billy Corgan. A worldbeater confined to the cramped confines of a tiny club in a city where music goes to die, the Pumpkins – and Corgan in particular – tore into their post-2000 material with a tempered ferocity that said something to the effect of, “We want you to know we’re too good for this. But we’ll shut up and let the music tell you.”
They opened with “Teargarden’s” Song for a Son, a mammoth cut that sounds much less of a classic rock cliche when stripped of its cheeseball piano intro and sterilized studio production. This version – delicate guitar interplay interspersed with freakout soloing – sounds much more a part with the SP canon than the one put to tape. It is vintage Corgan – big, bold, melodic and laced with heavy Fender tones, although wingman Jeff Schroeder (w/Gibson) took many of the leads, as he did all night.
Today was Today, which is to say it hit home with the oily muscle guys in the VIP lounge and the 30-somethings sporting Zero tees. The band played it – as they did with heyday classics Stand Inside Your Love, Tonight Tonight and Bullet With Butterfly Wings – by the numbers and with hands tied behind back.
Which only made the hellfire assault of As Rome Burns all the more deliriously thrilling. The song was the night’s easy highlight for me and probably something of a revelation for those unfamiliar with the band’s post-“Zeitgeist” material. Still unrecorded, Rome is a punishing, lighting-fast rocker in the Tales of Scorched Earth mold that showcases Corgan’s classical soloing and a steady diet of firing-squad fills via Karate Kid/drummer Mike Byrne.
(Obligatory Byrne mini-bio: he’s 20, used to flip burgers at McDonald’s, caught Billy’s attention by internet audition (seriously), and works a kit like a manic octopus. He’s everywhere – super busy, always looking for a spot to cram another THWACK… Mike’s also a bandana enthusiast. Seems to me like an all-around great human being.)
As for this dichotomy… Corgan seemed to thrust himself into the newer tunes as if with something to prove. Though he ran through Today, SIYL, Hummer and Bullet like obligatory retreads, the band injected the pummeling likes of dirge-epics United States and encore Gossamer with a visceral energy and an unabashed grandiosity that screamed for something more than these cramped quarters. Likewise, the frantic dual-soloing in set closer Tarantula one-upped the virtuosity in nearly everything before it.
With a hits-loaded set, Corgan threw bone after bone to a crowd that didn’t need bones in the first place. The place was loud, appreciative, receptive and tightly packed (so much so that I lost bassist Nicole Fiorentino to obstructed view… sorry Nicole. You sounded great in Gossamer). They also responded really well to the shows only quiet moment – a duet of ’20s lullaby Love Is The Sweetest Thing between Billy and little niece Ava. Kudos to the audience for the (com)passionate reaction and special shoutout to the moshers on the floor, who… were being total douchebags.
Other highlights included heavy, sexed-up renditions of electro-faves Eye and Ava Adore – the latter the beneficiary, along with fellow “Adore” cut Perfect, of a crunching rock makeover. New single Freak also stood out for its awkward-on-paper Sabbath riffing + “la la la” chorus. The song, like the rest of the “Teargarden” entries, trumped its studio counterpart in its distortion-laden live form.
Freak is a pop song. Here, it rocked.
“Zeitgeist’s” Bleeding The Orchid, as an out-of-tune variant to its album version … sucked, actually. Owata did no such thing. Another unreleased post-’07 gem, this one reminds me of 1979 in its effortless melodicism and lush propulsion. It recalls Zwan in its airy optimism, packs an impossibly catchy refrain and, in general, sounds like a future Pumpkins hit.
The Mighty SP was on its game Wednesday. They held a candle to their vaunted legacy. Succeeded on their own merits, too. And while it was great see BC and Co. in an 1,100-person dive, I got the overwhelming impression that this band – as it was from the very beginning – is built for something much bigger.
Note: all videos and pics are SC exclusives. Enjoy.
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Bleeding The Orchid
Love Is The Sweetest Thing