The Smashing Pumpkins, one of the most successful and frenzied bands of the 1990′s took center stage the other night in front of a passionate crowd of 30-somethings, all hoping to relive the glory of their youth. Strange that such dark and heavy songs, rich with gothic overtones and creepy whining, reminds us of carefree days but that’s the way it is. The Pumpkins were one of the best bands during the rise of “alternative rock” and managed to unite heavy psychedelic techniques of the 60′s and 70′s with the growing angst and displaced attitudes of 90′s grunge. The band released several ambitious albums before breaking up in 2000 after a string of personal issues and fleeting record sales. Sadly, once you crack the pumpkin, you can’t piece it back together.
While the marquis outside did indeed read “Smashing Pumpkins”, the band playing for two hours inside could more accurately be described as simply, The Billy Corgan Show. Standing front in center with a silly grin and his Nosferatu dome, the 43 year old Chicago-native surrounded himself with a passionate drummer, a short-skirted hottie on bass, and a talented under-utilized guitarist of Asian descent. Sound familiar? Let it be known however, the Pumpkins-reincarnate know how to play. Each band member put in a solid performance and Mike Byrne’s tight and pounding drums were so strong he at one point broke his kick drum. Corgan’s hired guns are a talented bunch and did the Pumpkins catalog justice. There is no doubt in my mind that Billy Corgan is in the Top 20 of American guitarists and his distortion heavy riffs have inspired more recent breakout bands like The Silversun Pickups. But if the story of The Smashing Pumpkins is anything, it’s a tragedy.
The band opened with “Astral Planes”, one of the five songs released off their free 44-song/11 EP box set called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope which is being released in portions across the next year or so. With the excitement at an all time high, it seemed like a good time to sneak in an otherwise so-so tune. The song played much better live than in the scope of their website but it was clearly a sign of things to come. The band followed that up with “Ava Adore” a track off their disappointing fourth album Adore. Corgan and friends then played lesser known tracks off older albums (“Hummer”) and more electronica obscurities like “Eye” but seemed to resent playing fan favorites “Today”, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Tonight, Tonight.” At one point Corgan even scolded a fan for not knowing the lyrics to one of the songs off Zeitgeist. The sad truth was that no one did. The crowd soon became divided with those who wanted a more immediate return on their $50 investment and those just along for the ride.
Then there was the encore. After a satisfying and energetic “Tonight, Tonight” the band cleared the stage and we all prepared for the band’s best. They soon emerged to play “Freak”, they’re newest release and one of their better songs of the past 15 years. But just when you thought everything was going to be okay, Billy Corgan erupted into a 20 minute distortion heavy mess of self-gratifying guitar bends and plucks known as “Gossamer”. It’s a Zeitgeist throwaway that the band only plays live. It was a bombastic and absurd way to end the show and even guitarist Jeff Schroeder seemed to look over in boredom at Corgan’s ridiculous antics. Like Marty McFly’s “much more enjoyable” Johnny B. Good solo in “Back To The Future”, it left the entire audience stunned. But not in a good way. When everyone was dying to hear “1979″, “33″ or “Zero”, Corgan instead chose to give us a drawn out and excruciatingly lame farewell. I appreciate the desire to channel a Jimi Hendrix-like finale Billy, but rule #1 in any live performance – know your audience.
All in all I will continue to hold fond memories of The Smashing Pumpkins. “Zero” will always be one of my favorite songs and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness will always be one of my favorite albums. I still think Billy Corgan is a tremendous guitar player and a talented song-writer. But alas, that was 15 years ago and along with the other three founding members, the appeal and mystique of The Smashing Pumpkins has floated away. If three-quarters of the band is gone and the lead singer doesn’t want to play the songs that made him rich and famous, it might be time to change the band name. The pumpkins are officially smashed.
01 – Astral Planes
02 – Ava Adore
03 – Hummer
04 – As Rome Burns
05 – Song For A Son
06 – Today
07 – Bleeding The Orchid
08 – Eye
09 – Stand Inside Your Love
10 – Bullet With Butterfly Wings
11 – United States
12 – Widow Wake My Mind
13 – Perfect
14 – Cherub Rock
15 – Disarm
16 – Stumbleine
17 – Owata
18 – Tarantula
19 – Tonight, Tonight
20 – Freak
21 – Gossamer [20:34]
The Smashing Pumpkins are giving away their newest release, a four-song EP called Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Volume 1: Songs for a Sailor thru their website. Here are the four songs:
A Song For A Son
A tragic tune that’s certainly the strongest of all four songs. Songs like this make you happy the Smashing Pumpkins got back together.
Widow Wake My Mind
This light-rock diddy features Billy Corgan doing his best impression of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”.
A Stitch In Time
Interesting song that sounds like a renaissance fair performer mixed with an Indian rock band full of electric sitars.
Ugh. Psychedlic Fraggle-Rock. Songs like this make you wish the Smashing Pumpkins never got back together.
Songs For A Sailor is the first release of a planned 11 Volume EP set planned for the Pumpkins. An interesting approach to releasing music and while I’m not digging all these songs I am looking forward to what’s next.