Buzzfestivus with Smashing Pumpkins, Jimmy Eat World Verizon Wireless Theater December 5, 2010
Ringing in the radio-friendly holiday spirit, 94.5 The Buzz welcomed Jimmy Eat World and Smashing Pumpkins to the first night of its annual "Buzzfestivus" holiday show Sunday night. Buzzfestivus concludes with an acoustic set from Shinedown tonight.
Arizona-based power-pop rockers Jimmy Eat World are touring in support of their seventh album, this year's Invented. The band took the stage illuminated by red and white strobe lights, kicking off their set with the title track from 2001's Bleed American. They continued to pull generously from Bleed, undoubtedly their most commercially successful record, with tracks like "Hear You Me" and "Get It Faster."
The band welcomed Phoenix-based singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews onstage for Invented's "Coffee and Cigarettes," a tune that delivered Jimmy Eat World's characteristic pop punch. Andrews, who recorded backup vocals on Invented, remained onstage, contributing vocals and keys through the band's set.
"You're kicking the shit out of our Dallas crowd already," joked singer/guitarist Jim Adkins to the flattered crowd.
While Chase the Light's "Big Casino" offered pleasant three-part harmonies, we were beginning to find it difficult differentiating one song from the next, which made us appreciate Future's "Pain," an moody, minor-key number that proved Jimmy Eat World wasn't necessarily a one-trick-pony. The fact that they next covered the gleeful Wham! holiday hit "Last Christmas" didn't hurt their cause either.
An acoustic, heartfelt "Hear You Me" got the crowd swaying, Andrews' harmonies meshing nicely with Adkins, while the bitter "Get It Faster" reeled us back into emo territory.
As the set progressed, it appeared Jimmy Eat World allows their punchy power-punk to speak on their collective behalf; the band plowed through songs with little between-song conversation or crowd interaction.
Overall, their set was expectedly emo; but Jimmy Eat World has evidently done some maturing since we've last seen them, as proven by the progressive (albeit small) dose of Invented material. Of course, we acknowledge the irony in this noted maturity: Jimmy Eat World are emo trailblazers, having helped define a genre largely made up of characteristically boyish tales of woe.
The band pocketed their most popular hits for the set's end, unveiling catchy power-pop anthems "The Middle" and "Sweetness" as set closers, each igniting an enthusiastic crowd sing-along. After unleashing their string of potent singles, Adkins thanked the crowd, announcing, "The Smashing Pumpkins are up next."
And as if it had just dawned on him that his band indeed shared a bill with the alt-rock warriors, he endearingly exclaimed, "Holy fucking shit!"
Suffice to say, the Smashing Pumpkins helped define a generation. Front man Billy Corgan and his band bypassed the confines of the '90s grunge label, playing a key role in sculpting an offbeat faction of lost hipsters guided by the abiding light of alternative rock.
The Pumpkins hold a dear place in Aftermath's heart. Having first seen the band in 1994, we followed them along their every tumultuous step, even traveling to Chicago to attend what was then promised as the band's intimate, final, "Farewell" show.
Any Houstonians remember when the band stopped by Soundwaves for a meet-and-greet in 2000? We do. In fact, we arrived the night before, snagging one of the first spots in line and ultimately crying like a blundering schoolgirl upon meeting the band.
Fast-forward through Corgan's short-lived pop outfit Zwan, his 2004 solo effort and his full-page newspaper ad requesting the reunion of his original band. As we all know, former guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy Wretsky declined.
Corgan's drumming co-pilot Jimmy Chamberlin stood loyally by the singer's side until last year, when the duo parted ways. Since then, Corgan has found proper replacements in bassist Nicole Fiorentino, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and 20-year-old drummer Mike Byrne - who, until joining the band, worked at a McDonald's.
Corgan and "The Pumpkins" began their set with a new song, Teargarden by Kaleidyscope's "The Fellowship," although the blinding light spectacle made it nearly impossible to even make out the band. As the quartet spilled into Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness single "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," our eyes better adjusted, taking in the sparkly windmills soaring above the band.
Lost Highway rarity "Eye" was a welcome detour, shifting from its original electronic vibe to an ominous space-rock tune.
When Schroeder jokingly called Siamese Dream an album "about getting high," Corgan swiftly countered with, "Siamese Dream was about getting high? No, it was about getting low, actually," he laughed.
In a jovial storytelling mood, Corgan reminisced about a girl from Houston he once dated, from whom he evidently first learned about the drug Lithium.
"I want to dedicate this song to her," Corgan said, before playing the opening notes to easily the band's most celebrated song, "Today," which sounded identical to the live versions we'd heard so many times and so many years before.
All Pumpkins albums were represented, with the disappointing exception of 1991 debut Gish. Nearly making up for that was "Drown," a 1992 track from the Singles soundtrack, its dreamy breakdown a welcome addition to the otherwise radio-friendly set list.
Teargarden track "Freak" jolted us out of our "Drown"-induced dream-world, pulling us from the former signature spacey Pumpkins sound to a bouncy pop tune, which, if compared to prior Pumpkins songs, would most closely resemble 1996's "Transformer," a B-side to Mellon Collie's "Thirty-Three."
The set list was doused with singles, which ultimately makes sense considering it the show was hosted by a radio station, but missing from the mix were worthy non-singles from the Pumpkins' vault. Also, it was eerily similar to the band's show in September at Warehouse Live.
"It smells like weed and puke in here," Corgan randomly announced. Such a crass image unsuitably led us into the graceful acoustic "Landslide," Corgan trading in his signature Stratocaster for an acoustic guitar, splitting finger-picking duties with Schroeder.
Though it's been admittedly difficult for seasoned Pumpkins fans to watch new members deliver the band's hits, each member performed soundly on the mark. Corgan in particular appeared cohesively rockin', good-spirited and eager to flaunt his guitar virtuosity.
A handful of classic Pumpkins singles, including "Ava Adore," "Tonight Tonight," "Cherub Rock" and "Zero," were all well-received by the crowd, while Machina ballad "Stand Inside Your Love" reminded us of the overlooked tracks that may not have been popular singles, but aptly display Corgan's intensely beautiful songwriting.
Curiously, it was during this song - once stripped of its distortion, a deeply candid love song - when a couple of adventurous fans chose to crowd-surf. Those watching the front man closely awaited the inevitable scolding Corgan was bound to deliver. And he did.
"This isn't the 90s," Corgan snapped. "Do you want the 90s? 'Cause I'll go '90s on you and hit you with my guitar if you crowd-surf again." Though we were among those cheering in support of the era, we had to agree.
Corgan seems to be determined not to revisit the past, apparently convinced his fans are clinging to old news, but it seems he might be missing the point. Any beef fans have expressed toward Corgan's new songs may not be simply because they exist, but because of their inability to contend with the "classic" Pumpkins catalog. We realize artists don't want to exclusively live in the past, but if Corgan doesn't want comparisons, he shouldn't carry over the Pumpkins' name.
After a fiery delivery of Mellon Collie's "Zero," the band exited the stage. Eventually, a chant developed, as fans feverishly shouted "Bill-y! Bill-y! Bill-y!," a telling move that revealed how many fans view this band: As Corgan and his for-hire bandmates.
This may be grounds for the popular argument that Corgan "is" and always "was" the Smashing Pumpkins, regardless of the rest of the lineup, we struggle to remember ever hearing crowds in years past chant Corgan's name solo.
Having seen the Pumpkins steadily and extensively since 1994, we don't remember ever feeling the band was constructing a façade of in-your-face light spectacles and over-the-top volume, as was the case on Sunday. It seemed like smoke and mirrors; quite literally like an aging man countering a mid-life crisis by purchasing a bright red sports car.
Now, we are not poking fun or pointing fingers at the inevitable: Corgan has aged, times have changed. The band has undoubtedly taken some beatings over time, but Corgan has endured.
We not only support this but also applaud the musician for venturing on, for fighting for his right. However, the reasons we adored the original Pumpkins was in great part due to the band's rapport: Their chemistry, aura and emotion.
While Corgan himself appeared at the pinnacle of his game Sunday, the Pumpkins' current incarnation lacked all of the above. Each member is endlessly talented, but many can play these parts just as well. Many have.
The band returned to the stage for a short encore of Teargarden's "Astral Planes" and closer "Heavy Metal Machine." "If I were dead, would my records sell?" asked Corgan in the Machina rocker. Surrendering repeatedly, he sang, "Let me die for rock and roll/ Let me die to save my soul."
As he sang, we wondered if the lyrics are particularly meaningful to Corgan at this point in time. "Let the world forgive the past," he beseeched before asking, "Will I survive?/ Is it up to me?/ Could you understand that it's not yours to keep?"
As Pumpkins fans know, every move the willful, albeit brilliant, front man makes is calculated and consequential. His choice to close the evening with "Machine" appears to communicate a) his allegiance to the rock and roll cause; b) a sense of hopeless acknowledgement that not everyone will necessarily support his latest venture; and c) in true Corgan fashion, a "fuck you" to those who have jumped ship.
Ultimately, these three sentiments best encapsulate the essence of the Smashing Pumpkins - or, more appropriately, Billy Corgan - from Day 1: Jumping in head-first and bracing for the backlash, but wholly unafraid of the splash it may make.
Personal Bias: See above.
The Crowd: A surprisingly wide mix of ZERO shirt-wearing twentysomethings, thirty- and fortysomething fans, families and so on.
Overheard in the Crowd: Props to anyone who could hear a thing in the crowd. Our ears are still ringing.
Random Notebook Dump: Though we witnessed a handful of half-drank beers and other mystery items obtusely flung onstage, we were pleased to see a lack of shoes being pelted at Corgan, and we're sure he was too.
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SMASHING PUMPKINS SET LIST
Fellowship Bullet With Butterfly Wings Tarantula Eye Today Ava Adore Drown Freak Landslide Tonight, Tonight Stand Inside Your Love Cherub Rock Zero
Astral Planes Heavy Metal Machine