Smashing Pumpkins Warehouse Live September 21, 2010
See photos from last night's jam-packed show.
Tuesday night's nearly sold-out Smashing Pumpkins set at Warehouse Live should have been a greatest-hits affair, at least in the eyes of most people who haven't been keeping up with the band these past three years since Billy Corgan resurrected the moniker. But for the crazy brave who have stuck around in the interim, it was a godsend, an exercise in how an artist can keep making challenging music even when the social-media peanut gallery says his time is up.
At 43, Corgan has not settled into anything. He hasn't eased back into a cozy modern-rock couch of his past hits, reveling in what he did. He's stretched out his legs the older he has gotten, morphing the Pumpkins' signature spacey, ethereal sound into a metallic and intricately-woven mass of crunching riffs and avant-noise. He's grown out of the cage the music industry built for him.
In hindsight, Corgan was always "the" Pumpkins, but when pop culture groupthinks about the band, of course they will always see the classic line-up of Corgan, James Iha, D'arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin. It's a tough pill to swallow for some, and it's not comfortable, unless you think of the situation logically and from a artistic standpoint.
Even Aftermath has felt it, but with more thought this new system fits Corgan.
Looking fuller and broader than in years past, Corgan took the stage around 10:40 p.m. with his new-era Pumpkins behind him in front of a Warehouse Live crowd of almost 2,000. He looked giddy and playful at times, even during the night's most grueling new passages. The band, now consisting of bass pin-up Nicole Fiorentino, teen drummer Mike Byrne and guitarist Jeff Schroeder, firmly held their places the whole night.
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Opening with "My Love Is Winter," the Pumpkins held the packed room at rapt attention, an almost unheard-of feat for a Houston throng. Two more new songs followed, "A Song For a Son" and "Astral Planes," both from the ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope album project.
The new work is expansive, with the former bringing to mind 1996 B-side "The Last Song." The simpler songs from earlier in the band's canon come off like bubblegum-rock compared to the current crop of Pumpkins material.
Older songs would form out of jams in between each other, sometimes taking us off-guard, like "Ava Adore," which was rendered partially unrecognizable. If you felt metal in the Pumpkins' former works, Corgan and company brought it out last night. They turned Lost Highway soundtrack cut "Eye" into something utterly different than the way it has been known the past 13 years. Sadly, it didn't benefit from a full-band recitation.
During the last half of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," Corgan turned over vocal duties to the crowd, who promptly dropped the ball. At first he acted perturbed, leading us to go on high alert. But then he went into a two-minute routine playfully baiting everyone, which was lost on parts of the crowd.
"The rat is me and you are the fucking cage," he hectored. Strange that the packed house couldn't remember the lines to one of the band's most beloved angst-ridden anthems.
A blitzing "United States" followed "Wings," with Corgan and Schroeder grinding away on the Zeitgeist cut, pulling and tearing it each way they could with reverb and snarl. It's obvious that the man has been taking his cues from early-'70s German psych records, adding ambient gristle to everything he can. It's not radio-friendly, but damn does it kill live.
Corgan went into comedy mode soon after this, probably to quell the butt-hurt from the previous "Wings" incident, introducing himself as former Houston Oilers head coach Bum Phillips and remarking on the ugliness of our city, but quickly adding that even if he thinks our city isn't pretty, it knows how to rock hard. Then, naturally, came a quick version of "La Grange" with he and Schroeder trading licks.
Brand-new and just released on the band's Web site a few hours earlier, "Spangled" is a sweetly-rocking lover of a song, one that wouldn't have been out of place on the gothic Adore LP. An extended drum solo after highlighted the prowess of the 19-year old Byrne. Compared to jazz-trained former skinsman Chamberlin, Byrne was a circus acrobat, playing ferociously the whole night.
"Tonight, Tonight" showed up out of nowhere from a jam that grew out of "That's the Way (My Love Is)," and the cut shot everyone up with a hot dose of nostalgia. It's still the kind of song you hear when you fall in love, or at least lust. It's a shining document of how well the band could and still can bring the saccharine when needed.
Closers "Freak" and "Gossamer" were straight-up slabs of skronk and noise, bringing to mind the most chaotic and best bits of kraut-rockers Can and Faust, and the Mellon Collie-era riff-diary "Pastichio Medley," with the room and the walls getting coated with sheets of Corgan's wailing guitar lines.
Most musicians mellow as they get on in age, or at least become complacent. This is not the case with Corgan and this model of the Pumpkins. He's just getting weirder and less apologetic about it. His radio days may be over, but these times are way more interesting for Corgan.
Personal Bias: Smashing Pumpkins were one of the first bands we actually took a shine in a mature, almost collegiate way. We wanted to know everything we could, from recording techniques to songwriting.
The Crowd: Punks, goths, preps, indie kids and pretty much everyone else who wore out both discs of Mellon Collie in high school.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Where's the Chinese guy and the goth chick?"
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My Love Is Winter A Song For A Son Astral Planes Ava Adore Today Drown As Rome Burns Eye Bullet With Butterfly Wings United States Spangled Tom Tom Cherub Rock That's The Way (My Love Is) Tonight, Tonight