“Onstage we are going to give you more than anybody else, and we are going to kick your ass harder than anybody else. You can laugh at us, you can poke fingers at us, but for what it is, we’re as good as it’s going to get.” — Billy Corgan, SPIN’s June 1996 issue.
The Smashing Pumpkins have endured plenty of flack over the years, most recently for the band’s current lineup — Corgan is the sole original member. But Monday night, as the revamped quartet kicked off SPIN’s week-long 25th anniversary concert series at New York’s Terminal 5, which is being presented in conjunction with ZYNC from American Express, Corgan hushed any dissenters as his promise to “kick your ass harder than anybody else” rang truer than ever in the form of a 135-minute set that was streamed live on SPIN.com.
At 43, Corgan just wants to rock loud and hard. For SP’s 14-date summer tour, he assembled a light show to match the band’s sound: a seizure-inducing barrage of psychedelic colors, delivered via two spinning flower stage props with reflective steel plates as their petals. The result was blissfully overwhelming as opener “Astral Planes,” a highlight from the band’s new 44-track project Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, redefined “flower power” for the alt-rock generation with its combo of jet-engine-like riffs and intense kaleidoscopic visuals.
Corgan has been accused of being cocky and boastful, and this night he certainly played like it — which is a great thing. On songs like “A Song for a Son,” another newbie, he engaged in guitar heroics that would impress Queen’s Brian May, showing his classic rock chops on the tune’s epic closing.
“Today,” “Cherub Rock,” and “Hummer,” all gems from SP’s 1993 breakout second album Siamese Dream, saw the Chicago native manhandle the neck of his Fender Strat (at 6’4″ dude has some big hands), pausing to motion at the sold-out crowd before diving into another solo.
He stepped forward to windmill, a la Pete Townshend, and run the neck of his guitar on a monitor on “United States,” from 2007’s Zeitgeist, and went riff for riff with guitarist Jeff Schroeder on another album track, “Tarantula.” Pop-rock hit “Perfect,” from SP’s electronica-tinged 1998 release Adore, rocked hard and loud yet was equally melodic and beautiful, and on “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” Corgan ended a short pause for a sing-along with a piercing shriek and guitar blitzkrieg that knocked heads backwards.
The band skipped softer jams like fan faves “1979,” “Space Boy,” and “Thirty-Three,” and all 19 songs were delivered with extra power, even the more experimental “Ava Adore” and “Eye.” From Adore and the soundtrack to David Lynch’s film Lost Highway, respectively, the songs received a rock’n’roll makeover. Their drum machines were traded for the hammering fills of 20-year-old wunderkind Mike Byrne, who replaced founding sticksman Jimmy Chamberlin when he left last year. Their bass was notched up, too, and rumbled high in the mix courtesy of Nicole Fiorentino, a veteran of bands like Veruca Salt, Spinerette, and Twilight Sleep, who replaces bassist Ginger Pooley (who replaced Melissa Auf der Maur, who replaced D’Arcy Wretzky, the band’s original bassist).
The set was virtually non-stop with Corgan only pausing to apologize to longtime fans (“Sorry for what I’ve done to you [laughs]”) and take a shot at Stephen Malkmus, who mocked the Pumpkins in Pavement’s 1994 tune “Range Life.” “I’m your rock’n’roll puppet,” Corgan told the crowd in a silly high-pitched voice, dangling his arms like a puppeteer controlled him, and joking, “Oh look, he’s killing the guy from Pavement.”
The show closed with the one-two punch of “Freak” and “Gossamer,” the poles of the band’s sound. “Freak,” another Teargarden track, was a union of pop-rock sensibility with heavy, distorted bass lines and lyrics that show Corgan can still be the romantic mouthpiece for disenfranchised youths. If “Freak” was an indication, Pumpkins fans have something to look forward to. Unreleased “Gossamer,” meanwhile, was a 15-minute-plus guitar meltdown, closing with Corgan hoisting his axe overhead.
But it was “Tonight, Tonight,” the lofty nostalgia trip from SP’s crowning 1995 album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, that was the most moving moment. After Corgan sang “Believe in me as I believe in you” with help from 3,000-plus adoring fans, he paused to let the sweaty mass spread over three floors take the lead. He placed his hands over his mouth in a moment of emotion. After 23 years and more than a few potentially alienating missteps, it was clear his fans still do believe.
Elsewhere at the opening night of SPIN 25…
Chicago alt-rockers Kill Hannah set a dark, lovelorn mood onstage with their tunes and style. The bassist and two guitarists — angular hairdos, black leather jackets, skin-tight jeans — took the shadowy stage with white light sticks strapped to the body of their axes, and cut into the industrial buzz saw riffs of songs like “The Chase,” an anthemic number with melodramatic lyrics: “The chase is on /If you run / I will follow you / And I belong in your arms / Dying next to you / The chase is on,” sang Mat Devine, the frontman who named the band after his ex-girlfriend (yikes!) and sported an interesting ‘do if his own — a cowlick shaped like devil horns.
Bad City, another Chi-Town band, was described by one fan as a”modern day Whitesnake.” The lead singer’s long blond locks and ampedup onstage romanticism did ring of the bestselling ’80s hair band. BadCity’s sassy debut album, Welcome to the Wasteland, is out August 24.
Turbo charged punk blues group The Jim Jones Revue ripped through the tracks off their self-titled debut, including set highlights “Drop Me In The Middle,” a countrified rocker with honky-tonk piano, and the good times rock’n’roll jam “Princess & The Frog.” “I’m a man, I’m gonna show you how,” frontman Jim Jones, the former lead singer of Sub Pop act Thee Hypnotics, sang over gritty electric guitar riffs on the latter. Who knew the hot-blooded soul of Little Richard would surface in a British garage rocker? Thank the lord it did.
Smashing Pumpkins setlist:
1. “Astral Planes”
2. “Ava Adore”
4. “As Rome Burns”
5. “A Song for a Son”
8. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”
9. “United States”
10. “Bleeding the Orchid”
12. “Cherub Rock”
13. “That’s the Way (My Love Is)”
15. “Stand Inside Your Love”
17. “Tonight, Tonight”