Better Than: Dave Grohl
The Smashing Pumpkins need no introduction. When they hit the stage, it’s because it’s time to hit the stage. There’s no banter, no countdown, no pyrotechnics. Billy Corgan and his band of merry men, sans James Iha and any female presence, D’arcy Wretzky or otherwise, launched into “One and All (We Are)” from their new album, Monuments to an Elegy, with little warning on Monday night at Webster Hall. The show felt like a transaction, and Corgan wanted to make sure we got our money’s worth. Along with Jeff Schroeder, Corgan brought on Killers bassist Mark Stoermer and Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk for the gig.
This is the church of Corgan, the deviant disciple leading us with lackadaisical guitar riffs and surgeon-like precision. “Well, we blew our bass amp three times” were some of the first few words to leave the frontman’s mouth, Corgan visibly irritated and simultaneously delighted with his rock ‘n’ roll-ness.
A photo posted by @smashingpumpkins on
From 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, the Smashing Pumpkins took over the Physical GraffiTea teashop (96 St. Marks Place, the same building on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti) and turned it into Madame ZuZu’s tea store, a retail space where fans could purchase Monuments to an Elegy a day early, alongside SP-branded mugs, ornaments, lithos, tea, the whole shebang. Diehard pumps know that Billy has been clean and sober for a few years now, and the PG vibe of the store mirrored his teashop in Highland Park, Illinois.
The store was nowhere near as crowded as, say, something Kanye or One Direction could do in 2014, but it had fans filtering in and out. At the pop-up shop were more WFMU shirts in a single place than anywhere apart from maybe a record fair, their wearers carefully examining each item, some buying the album (in the hope, presumably, of returning to their beloved ’90s). Tracks on the record, like the massive “Being Beige,” prove their sentiment to be anything but misguided: The song, live, bled perfectly with the Siamese Dream classic “Hummer,” and the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness chart-topper “Tonight, Tonight”.
When their best-known track makes an appearance near the beginning of the night, it feels something like a hand stroke, Corgan kissing us on the cheek, missing the forehead. When he greets the crowd, his appreciative words are muffled.
It’s enough to rile up the aging Gen-Xers, the lucky hundreds who were able to score tickets to Monday’s gig the very second they went on sale. Unlike the audience of, say, Pavement’s reunion shows in 2010 or Guided By Voices’ soon after, the Smashing Pumpkins fans were mild-mannered, passive, even. Even the drunks in the crowded concert hall were kind, wearing their “Fuck You, Anderson Cooper” shirts in peace.
For a man not known to keep quiet, Corgan was the opposite of verbose, barely talking to the crowd. His latest controversy comes from an interview with the Independent where he compares himself to the late Kurt Cobain, announcing, “In the purest sense of the word, we were competitors. He and I were the top two scribes, and everybody else was a distant third.” Live, it’s evident Corgan believes it.
What younger musicians would do to validate their confidence (swing microphones, joke about encores, crawl into the crowd) Corgan does by barely moving. He wrote the songs these people love, and his only job is to play them. Near the end of the set, Corgan and crew tackle a washed-out version of David Bowie’s “Fame,” transforming the glam-rock classic into flannel-clothed distortion.
There’s a 1996 episode of The Simpsons called “Homerpalooza,” where the Smashing Pumpkins make an appearance. Billy Corgan introduces himself with “Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins,” to which Homer responds, “Homer Simpson, smiling politely.” The five-second interaction is burned into the memories of ’90s kids everywhere, along with Bart’s aside of “making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel,” as despondent youth sway, uninterestingly, around him. These are the kids, now adults, of Smashing Pumpkins. If they were bummed then, they are no longer. Sometimes this nostalgia game is worth it.
Critical Bias: I foster an unhealthy obsession with Corgan’s past dating history (Tila Tequila, Jessica from the Veronicas, Jessica Simpson) and spent much of the night looking for his long list of ex-lovers. He’s my Taylor Swift, ladies and gentlemen.
Overheard: “No ‘1979’?” “No ‘1979.’ ”
Random Notebook Dump: Would pay good money to see Courtney Love and Marilyn Manson storm the stage. Didn’t Tommy Lee drum on the new album? Where is Tommy Lee?
One and All (We Are)
Drum + Fire
Glass and the Ghost Children
Stand Inside Your Love
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Fame (David Bowie cover)