Better than: No Smashing Pumpkins.
Billy Corgan just kind of does whatever he wants. The Smashing Pumpkins frontman–and now sole remaining member of the band’s original lineup–has been making music for about two decades now. He’s written love songs, hate songs, double LPs, masterpieces, and then some other stuff that he’s called “masterpieces.” He used to do it with people that fans approved of–you know, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin–but now he does it with some kids he hired from Berklee to replace those people after he pissed them off and they decided it was better to not work with him anymore. But he still calls what he’s doing the Smashing Pumpkins. And yet, weirdly enough, despite all the hatred he’s gotten for “breaking up the band” and “being an asshole,” he’s remained at the forefront of music culture. Sure, he’s made some pretty “out there” records that aren’t very good during this time period, but his erratic and eccentric personality has proven to be his lasting legacy. Last night at the Barclays Center, he put it all on display for Brooklyn.
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Seeing the Smashing Pumpkins now isn’t like seeing the Smashing Pumpkins in 1990. Or 1995. Or 1998. Or pretty much any other time in their 20-plus year history. Seeing the Smashing Pumpkins now is a bit like randomly running into that first love of yours from high school, but now that first love from high school has put on a little bit of weight, talks about “big” concepts like “love” and “hate” and “other bullshit” that just all sound pretentious, and still, despite being the one who broke up with you, unashamedly references the past and how good things were back then. And when you’re with this person from high school, you immediately remember: “Oh yeah. This is why we broke up. This person is a terrible.” But at the same time, you can’t prevent those old familiar feelings from coming to the surface. You get a taste of what things used to be like. You feel that subtle chemistry again. You remember the first time you kissed. You remember the first time you held hands. You remember the first time you locked eyes. Or in the case of seeing Billy Corgan walk on stage, you remember the first time you heard “Tonight, Tonight.”
This is a pretty strange experience, because Billy Corgan and his band of Not-Quite-Teenagers-Anymore don’t sit on stage and play strictly classic Smashing Pumpkins songs. It’s not that this dude is purposefully reliving the past, or is trying to be something he once was. To his credit, he’s not playing Gish straight through and making a shitload of money while doing it. In fact, most of the music during last night’s show came from the band’s newest record from this year, Oceania. And you know what? Most of it was pretty god damn good–specifically, “Quasar,” “Violet Rays,” and “Pinwheels.” Throughout the concert, Corgan stood in front of a massive orb that displayed everything from swirling octopus tentacles to vibrant shifting lights to moon-like craters. He played the shit out of his guitar. He posed on the edge of the stage like a “rockstar,” with his legs split as he held his pick in the air. But the fact remains that, no matter what, this is still Billy Corgan, the man with the raspy tenor voice that will forever sound like it’s the year 1997.
Corgan seems to be self-aware. He thanked the crowd for coming out for the makeup concert (it was originally scheduled for October 31, but was postponed due to Hurricane Sandy), and even wished everyone, “Happy Halloween!” At Barclays, he even joked about his perception. “Some reputations are earned,” he said midway through the show, a bit tongue and cheek. He informed concertgoers that the band was filming the performance for a concert DVD, and would be playing most of the new record, but made sure to note that he’d play classic songs, “If I’m in the mood.”
It’s those moments with Corgan that make you roll your eyes, but then after he shuts the fuck up, you hear the first few chords of “Disarm.” You hear that overtly earnest lyric that spoke to you at some point in your life when you first smiled at someone you loved, and how in that moment that song played in your head. You remember how the word “cut” struck you. You remember calling yourself a “little boy.” You remember those moments of angst and frustration and love and happiness and how the Smashing Pumpkins were there for it all. And no matter how hard Corgan tries, even though he does do whatever he wants, those memories won’t ever be broken up.
Critical Bias: The first band I searched for on Napster was the Smashing Pumpkins.
Overheard: “With that orb, Corgan’s got a real affinity for tentacles. I don’t get it, but I like it.”
Random Notebook Dump: “Tonight, Tonight” is one of the best god damn songs ever written.
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