Billy Corgan, Dave Navarro Debut 10 Songs

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Spirits in the Sky / Photo by Laurie Scavo
WRITTEN BY
Kevin Bronson

"You've done a lot of things, but you've never rocked a bookstore, have you?" Billy Corgan asked Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.

It was Friday night in Long Beach, CA, and their nine-piece ensemble, Spirits in the Sky, had just played a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Morning Dew." Sitting cross-legged on a wooden chair, Navarro just smiled. "Well," Corgan continued, "there are a couple young ladies over there who'd like you to rock their bookstore -- first edition."

The 85 lucky fans at {open}, a bookstore 20 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, were rocked – often very softly -- with covers and 10 new Corgan songs. They are, by and large, tunes that should please fans of the Pumpkins' 1990s catalog (especially Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Adore).

That he chose to debut them in such a novel way -- on a tour of out-of-the-way California venues -- is characteristic Corgan.

Along with Navarro, Spirits feature the Pumpkins' new 19-year-old wunderkind Mike Byrne on drums, Mark Tulin (the Electric Prunes) on bass, Mark Weitz (Strawberry Alarm Clock) on keyboards, Kerry Brown (Catherine) on percussion, Ysanne Spevak on violin, Linda Strawberry on backing vocals, and Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin.

They are some of the same players who joined Corgan at a tribute concert for the late Sky Saxon on July 24 in L.A., and the memory of the Seeds' frontman was kept alive Friday, both in the song selection and in the psych-folk flourishes and recurring spiritual themes of Corgan's new material.

The Spirits kicked off the show with one of six covers on the setlist, the Seeds' "Can't Seem to Make You Mine." Then they soared through "Freak," a new number with a big pop chorus about dreams. "I never would have written this song if I hadn't met Sky," Corgan said.

The set soon took on a folk-rock feel. Spevak's violin ached, while Corgan and Navarro traded acoustic guitar licks on new cuts "Circular Change" and "Emerald Green." But the early show-stopper was "Widow Wake My Mind," a catchy ditty with an audience shout-along and a lyric that implores: "Choose to accept the grace of the moment you're in."

Later, once the electric guitars were plugged in, there was something for the headbangers, too. "The Trip" was a stomp-cum-freakout with a stuttering chorus ("Time to take a trip-trip-trip-trip"). "Astral Planes" rattled the bookshelves with its harmonized guitars.

But in this setting, Corgan wielded the most power by matching intimacy with intimacy -- wowing the audience with a solo cover of "The Time Has Come" by obscure English folk singer Anne Briggs.

The serene "A Song for a Son" was the only Pumpkins number to crack the 17-tune setlist. For the tune, Corgan was joined by his band's former touring bassist, the very pregnant Ginger Pooley (nee Reyes) -- she's due Oct. 9 -- and her husband Kristopher on accordion.

Then came a full-band cover of Jethro Tull's "A New Day Yesterday." Corgan said he sprung the song on the them Friday after hearing it in the car; the members learned it during the day and hammered it out during soundcheck, with Corgan urging the cherubic Byrne to "just go crazy."

It wasn't flawless by any means, but Byrne hammered out a drum solo while Corgan smiled approvingly. And while Dippold delivered a spot-on flute solo, Corgan and Navarro backed off and shared a laugh, as if to say, "What on earth are we doing here?"

Fans weren't exactly sure either, but considering the night's hippy-dippy, psychedelicsentiment, one thing was for sure: It just felt right, man.

Setlist:
Can't Seem To Make You Mine (The Seeds)
Circular Change
Emerald Green Is The Colour
Widow Wake My Mind
West Coast
Freak
Morning Dew (The Grateful Dead)
The Fellowship
The Time Has Come (Anne Briggs)
A Stitch In Time
Caroline, Yes
A Song For a Son
The Trip
Astral Planes
Femme Fatale (Velvet Underground)
A New Day Yesterday (Jethro Tull)
Lucifer Sam (Pink Floyd)

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