The Smashing Pumpkins
12/02 & 03/2008
Gibson Amphitheatre – Universal City, CA
Words/Photos/Videos by Reverend Justito/concertconfessions.com
As any fan can tell you, it’s not easy being loyal to The Smashing Pumpkins. Being a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins is much like being in an abusive relationship. They break your heart and beat you down, yet you keep coming back for more. In my days, I have seen some amazing shows, and I have seen some train wrecks. Walking into the Amphitheatre once known as Universal on the 8 year anniversary of their “last show ever” I fully expected a beat down from my sometimes abusive lover. I had read the reports of Kazoo solos. I saw the YouTube clip from NYC where Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan invited an unhappy fan on stage only to humiliate him. Knowing how lame Los Angeles fans can be, I expected a riot. I suppose Billy Corgan did as well, as the set him and his 8 piece bad played was another fuck you to every fan they have pissed off across the country on this tour.
I was a little bit worried when Billy Corgan came onto the stage in a weird outfit that looked like the bastard butt baby of a bald Cabbage Patch Kid and the Statue of Liberty. A horn heavy welcome number was screeched out by the lanky front man. However, as soon as he picked up his guitar it was a full on rock and roll assault. “Tarantula” from the bands come-back album “Zeitgeist” felt like an obvious natural opener. I didn’t recognize the next number, and I figured we were well on our way into the downward spiral of selfishness and sadness. Yet when Corgan and company started teasing the opening chords of “Siva” from their debut album “Gish” only to blast into a version well over seven minutes, I knew deep down in my guarded heart that tonight was going to be much different.
While I expected tears from watching my one time favorite band piss on 20 years of history (this is after all being billed as their 20th anniversary tour) the last thing I expected were tears of joy. Yes folks, after well over 300 shows of various bands, I finally cried at a rock show. “Mayonaise” is my all time favorite SP song (with “Drown” coming in a close second). Never in a million years did I ever expect to hear this song live. I thought it was the drugs at first, playing tricks on me with those oh so familiar opening notes. Clearly I was wrong when Corgan stomped on that Big Muff guitar pedal and played those phat chords that clog your artery much like the product the song is named for. I stood and watched as tears rolled down my face. Billy Corgan could have killed a puppy on stage at that point, and it would have been ok with me.
The night kept rolling on. Hits such as “Tonight, Tonite” and “Stand Inside Your Love” were mixed up with more obscure songs such as “Once Upon A Time” and “Superchrist”. The opening notes of “Today” also shocked me. I have heard over time how much Mr. Corgan hates the song. More so even then Courtney Love & Sharon Osbourne.
It wouldn’t be a Pumpkins show without a good amount of silly stage banter from Mr. Corgan. He joked about our freeway system (101 is for cruising, 405 makes you suicidal and 5 gets you to Mexico) which quickly transformed into jokes about the Red Rocker Sammy Hagar. He also joked at one point about couples (market research shows that couples spend more money on Pumpkins tickets then singles) and made mention how the crowd should just quit and sit down since the 1990’s were a long time ago. This all lead up to a rant about how fans quit on The Smashing Pumpkins in 1998, but it was ok as they had quit on the fans 8 years ago today.
The end of the show for lack of a better term was rather jammie. “Heavy Metal Machine” seemed softer than usual and lacked focus at times. However the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Song” was anything but. Corgan beat drums, played weird bird call instruments and conjured feed back well beyond the wildest dreams of Syd Barrett. While two men in the section over disagreed, I thought it was a genius way to end the set. I also thought the encore of “We Only Come Out At Night” was genius with jokes, Kazoo solos and teases of “Close To You” by The Carpenters.
Over all, I am shocked at how great night one of The Smashing Pumpkins stay here in Los Angeles (ok, Universal City). I expected to get beat down and abused, instead I was treated to great make up sex. Yes, I have quit on The Smashing Pumpkins. Yes they have quit on me. Sure, some changes may have occurred over the years, but without a doubt The Smashing Pumpkins reminded me last night why I fell in love with them in the first place.
Can I tell you a secret? Deep down inside, I was praying for a riot. I had heard the tales of terror about how the 20th Anniversary tour was a scam. I read horror stories about how folks were walking out, booing and demanding refunds from the Uncle Fester meets Jack Skeleton hybrid that didn’t bring D’arcy & James along for the ride. I just have one thing to say to all those folks who cried, bitched and didn’t have the time of their lives.
That’s right. FUCK YOU. While it was not the feel good greatest hits set of night one, night two of the Pumpkins stay here in Los Angeles was just as intense as the first time around, but on an entirely different level. The biggest problem however with this entire tour (and a section of the sold out crowd last night) is simple. Simple people with closed minds can not handle new music.
Early on in the set, after a rocking intro of the late 90’s Goth techno power metal hit “Ava Adore” the band took it down a notch and sank into a stripped down acoustic set. Three songs were played (sorry, I don’t know the titles of any of them) all of which I felt were really good. One song had all 9 musicians on stage playing totally different parts, yet it all came together very well. Another song reminded me of something you would have heard on Neil Young’s “Harvest” record.
My personal highlight of the night was “Soma” from their 1993 record Siamese Dream. With its quiet intro and loud chorus, the sonic assault was perfect. Another favorite of mine from that album “Cherub Rock” soon followed bringing the crowd to their feet with great energy and enthusiasm. A few other hits followed. “Zero” was the noisy harmonic fueled feed back laced grove we all know and love, and while in my book it still feels played out, “1979” was probably the highlight of the night for just about everyone else.
The second half of the show (as far as I could tell) was basically new music. The only way I can describe most of it is The Mars Volta meets Willie Wonka. With the exception of the Conga/Caribbean number (sorry guys you lost me there, just not my thing) I enjoyed all of it. Sadly, I can’t say the same for most. Two very drunk macho looking men with trophy dates fresh from the taxidermy clinic sitting behind us clearly felt that Mr. Corgan was a faggot for dancing around the stage with his tambourine. They begged for more hits, yet talked all through “Landslide” about their small genitalia and oversized pick up trucks.
Guitar shredder George Lynch joined the band for two songs last night. With all the lights, and seats somewhat far back (I have had worse that’s for sure) I wasn’t even able to make him out until Corgan announced his name. While I may not be a fan of Dokken, the man can play guitar and took these new jams to another level. As Corgan also mentioned, he is in better shape then anyone in the band.
I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t understand these two night stands The Smashing Pumpkins have performed. Who cares if James and D’arcy are no longer around? The Smashing Pumpkins have always been Billy’s baby, and without the deadweight, he is free to expand not only his musical horizons, but the horizons of his fans. At one point, the violin player strummed out the instrumental title track for “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”. Not only was it unexpected (as the original is piano) it challenged you to see the song in a beautiful new light. Over these two nights, anyone who is truly a fan of The Smashing Pumpkins got everything they could have wanted. 90% of the bands hits were played (maybe next time I Am One and Thirty-Three). Album tracks from their biggest selling records of the 1990’s were busted out. Yet most important, we got a glimpse into the future. 1994 is over, there is never going to be another “Today” or “Tonight, Tonite” and I am fine with that. Music is supposed to evolve; it’s boring when musicians do the same thing over and over again. So here is to another 20 years from the band by the lake.