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Zwan and Audioslave Live

By: Ross RaihalaUniversal Ampitheatre
Universal City, California
December 7, 2002

Yup, Billy Corgan is still bald. But the former Smashing Pumpkins dictator has stopped painting arcane symbols on his forehead, and he seems to have donated his collection of floor-length leather trench coats to a home for needy goths. Much more important, Corgan has traded the shrill bitterness that marred the Pumpkins’ final days for the fitter, happier sound of his new act, Zwan.

After a year spent road-testing more than six dozen new songs in club shows, Corgan introduced Zwan to the masses with a series of radio-festival gigs. Here at KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas show, sharing a bill with upstarts like New Found Glory and Sum 41, Corgan could have coasted on his former band’s prestige. Instead, Zwan–featuring Pumpkins vet Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, bassist/violinist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle), and a pair of indie-rock guitarists who spent time in Slint (David Pajo) and Chavez (Matt Sweeney)–tore through their set with the zeal of a teenage gang.

The man who once opened singles with lines like “The world is a vampire” now croons buzzy, joyful pop songs full of sentiments like “I feel love, honestly.” Hell, he even called one of the new numbers “Endless Summer.” Corgan smiled more in 30 minutes than he did in his final three years with the Pumpkins, and his confidence in his own gifts seemed more charming than arrogant. At one point, he caught his own visage projected on the screen behind him and paused just long enough to stick out his tongue and giggle.

The onetime Soundgardener briefly left the group this summer, scuttling what could have been a star-making stint on the 2002 Ozzfest tour. But despite the group’s turbulent history, there were no onstage fistfights at the KROQ show. Instead, Cornell gushed, “These guys saved my life this year” and invited his bandmates to join him in a group hug.

The music was about an entirely different kind of love. As the ex-Rage trio churned out monstrous robot riffs, a howling Cornell channeled Robert Plant at his most lemon-squeezingly lascivious. Any Rage fans still hoping for polemics had to settle for essentially meaningless–yet undeniably ferocious–odes to getting it on. If Audioslave ever get around to making another record, we suggest calling it Even More Songs About Fucking.