Smashing Pumpkins / Sept. 30, 2007 / Morrison, Colo. (Red Rocks)
When they first emerged into the spotlight with 1993's great "Siamese Dream," Smashing Pumpkins struggled to stay surprising. Singer/songwriter/auteur Billy Corgan, like Springsteen or Prince in his oWhen they first emerged into the spotlight with 1993's great "Siamese Dream," Smashing Pumpkins struggled to stay surprising. Singer/songwriter/auteur Billy Corgan, like Springsteen or Prince in his own fashion, was so sensitive to the expectations placed upon a major rock star/youth figure that every move the Pumpkins made after, from the sprawling double album to the electronica flirtation, was an obvious one.
After an easily forseeable breakup and stillbirths for a new Corgan band (Zwan) and solo career, Smashing Pumpkins have again done the obvious thing -- they're reunited, albeit with half of the original lineup missing and a clunker of a new album. You'd think there wouldn't be much of a reason left to go see the resurrected band on the road. Happily, that's not so, although you might want to bring something to read during the tunes from the recent comeback album, "Zeitgeist."
Corgan might not have Eddie Vedder's knack for sincerity or Kurt Cobain's flair for making the personal universal, but he is the virtuoso performer of the "grunge" era. The sweated-over structures and many changes of classic Pumpkins tunes like "Hummer" and "Drown" sound just fine as presented by the new group, with Corgan maintaining admirable balance between playing to his crowd's nostalgic sides and proving his continuing musical potency with improvised guitar solos and smart arrangements. "1979" sounded as anthemic as always, performed solo by Corgan with an acoustic guitar, and a hard-rock arrangement of "Ava Adore" didn't bury the clever melody in the least.
Corgan still behaves as if his status as a major rock figure never diminished, both between songs (he alone stood basking in the audience's applause long after his bandmates departed the stage) and during them. Long, dramatic extensions were not called for on every tune, but the Pumpkins rolled them out anyway, which was particularly intolerable on the self-consciously angry and unpretty tracks from "Zeitgeist."
While the performances of his supporting players mostly remain as interchangeable as Corgan has always treated his underlings, it was clear all evening that the presence of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin lent weight to the conceit of a Smashing Pumpkins reunion. Chamberlin is one of the most powerful, technical yet witty players in the business and it's kind of a thrill to see him on the big stage again, indulging in numerous showy buildups and sending the crowd into a frenzy with the signature opening roll to "Cherub Rock."
Whether battering his kick for "Doomsday Clock," the best of the new crop of Corgan songs, or smacking rimshots on "Tonight, Tonight," Chamerlin illustrated that the second vital ingredient for superior stadium rock after a conscientious frontman is a kick-butt drummer.
Fans of the Pumpkins' golden era who never got to see the band play live will not be disappointed with the current group trading under the name. The light show is impressive, Corgan's voice sounds better than it ever has (to his credit, he's clearly gotten a lot of professional training over the years) and
Chamberlin is the only Smashing sideman who ever really mattered. But it remains to be seen whether Corgan will be able to take the success of this tour and direct it towards the first really meaningful new music the Smashing Pumpkins have made since the mid-'90s.
Here is the Smashing Pumpkins' set list:
"Bullet with Butterfly Wings"
"Bring the Light"
"Stand Inside Your Love"
"Glass and the Ghost Children"
"Heavy Metal Machine"