The line that snaked down the sidewalk of Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon contained a surprising variety of Smashing Pumpkins T-shirts, from the early ’90s Gish era to 2007’s Zeitgeist.
The occasion was Record Store Day, and the band was treating the first 250 fans that pre-ordered their new EP Teargarden in Kaleidyscope, Volume 1: Songs for a Sailor to an intimate afternoon set at Space 15 Twenty, an open-air courtyard framed by an Urban Outfitters, an art gallery, and a gourmet burger joint.
The courtyard was laid out like a tiny festival, with chilled beer in ice-filled tubs and the smell of grilling meat — a picnic-casual event where head Pumpkin Billy Corgan roamed the fringes in dark collared shirt, black pants, white Nikes with a red swoosh, and a gray cap askew atop his bald pate.
After a three-song opening set from local singer-songwriter Carina Round, Corgan took the stage, solo at first, playing acoustic versions of the new “A Stitch in Time,” followed by “Stumbleine” — from the 1995 epic double-album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness — the latter tune sending a middle-aged woman up front into an audible swoon of nostalgia.
With that, the rest of the current iteration of Smashing Pumpkins took the stage. Bassist Ginger Pooley recently left the band to be with her newborn son, so guesting in her spot was former Electric Prune Mark Tulin, who, at 62 years of age, was an odd sight in a rhythm section anchored by 20-year-old drummer Mike Byrne. Guitarist James Schroeder rounded out the lineup, with producer Kerry Brown providing the occasional conga rhythm.
Some minor sound problems were solved in time for a lively stab at “Tristessa,” which Corgan referred to as, “An oldie, but an oldie.” Teen drummer Byrne handled the epic, rumbling rhythms, endearing him immediately to the crowd, who continued to shout his name as he executed each complicated fill.
If any fans had forgotten about the giant festival occurring 115 miles east, they were reminded by one fellow who bellowed, “Fuck Coachella!” after the last lingering feedback of “Soot and Stars” faded away. This prompted a snickering Corgan to respond, “Gorillaz are bigger than the Smashing Pumpkins. That’s what I hear. Thom Yorke solo? Bigger than the Pumpkins.” The throng booed supportively.
In a musical era replete with reunions, this one’s an odd bird, and not just because Corgan’s the only holdover from the original lineup. He’s developed an obvious rapport with Byrne, despite their difference in age. And fans sang along even to the brand new “Widow Wake My Mind.”
But the band’s website has posts looking for a new bass player and keyboardist. So this incomplete band is neither reunion nor rebirth, but a kind of work in progress.
Still, no one here seemed to care, as they sat packed tightly in this unique space with wide grins and held-high fists.
After the set, Corgan chatted with SPIN. “I thought it went really well,” he said, lingering backstage. “It’s a first show, whether you want it to be or not. There are things you can’t account for, like not being in game shape, but I thought it was fun and I’m really happy.”
He explained the genesis of the current band:”It’s hard when you’re an alternative band and you’re in that cross between indie-world and the mainstream world, so I floated there for a while, and I finally just decided I’m not going to try to deal with either world and try to create my own world. I think people are really responding to that.”
A Stitch in Time
A Song for a Son
Soot and Stars
Widow Wake My Mind
Stand Inside Your Love
That’s the Way (My Love Is)
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Baby (Corgan solo on ukulele)