Billy Corgan debuted his leaner, meaner Smashing Pumpkins on Wednesday night, roaring through a scintillating 80 minutes of songs old and new before ending the set nonplussed, a ukulele in his hand.
Yes. Near the show’s end, Corgan took up a four-stringer to play a solo acoustic version of “Love Is the Sweetest Thing.” “I’ve waited a long time to play this thing,” he said, strumming the intro while waiting for the chatter from the crowd at West Hollywood’s Viper Room to die down.
“They’re not gonna be quiet, are they,” he said good-naturedly. “The ukulele cannot compete with L.A.” Some wiseguy yelled out “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” and Corgan took it in stride, joking, “They say never give your asshole uncle tickets, and there he is.”
After somebody else called out “Welcome Back Kotter” and the chatter continued, Corgan cut the song short, saying “I love you all, but I’m too old for this shit.” He departed the stage without playing the planned encore of “Freak” and “Today.”
It was an odd finish to an otherwise exhilarating performance at the 200-capacity Sunset Strip club. The Pumpkins main man largely refrained from engaging the audience in dialogue (except for a mid-set remembrance of the first time he played the Viper Room, and how chatty the crowd was then) and seemed buoyant and energized on the small stage with his smaller band.
Corgan has said in interviews that this four-piece edition of Pumpkins possess more “controlled fire,” and on Wednesday – a warm-up for a 15-date U.S. tour that begins Tuesday in Cleveland – all the pistons were firing.
The frontman and guitarist Jeff Schroeder – who besides Corgan is the only holdover from the Pumpkins’ 20th anniversary tour in 2008 – engaged in dueling pyrotechnics on “Ava Adore” and the new “Song for a Son.” New bassist Nicole Fiorentino’s thick lines stood out in “Ava Adore” and the intro to the metal marvel “United States.” And Jimmy Chamberlin’s replacement on drums, wunderkind Mike Byrne, was nothing short of wild child all evening.
With the likes of Perry Farrell and Matt Sorum watching from the VIP tables, Corgan was mostly smiles and shredding on this night. He wedged the line “Oh, California, look what you’ve done to me” into “Owata”; he seemed to delight in the unholy crunch of “Cherub Rock”; and he put more blood in the opening line of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” than three vampire movies combined.
The new material – the Pumpkins played three of the four songs on the new EP, “Teargarden by Kaleidyscope Vol. 1: Songs for a Sailor” – fit in seamlessly with the old (although “Song for Son” seems better suited to an acoustic guitar), and at one point, during “Perfect,” the vibe was so feel-good that the crowd joined in with handclaps.
If only a few of them would have covered some select mouths a few minutes later.
1. Astral Planes
2. Ava Adore
4. As Rome Burns
5. A Song for a Son
6. Bleeding the Orchid
7. Stand Inside Your Love
8. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
9. Widow Wake My Mind
12. Cherub Rock
13. That’s the Way (My Love Is)
14. United States
15. Love Is the Sweetest Thing [cut short]