Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


Nineties Cool or Post Millennial Pablum?

The Smashing Pumpkins - Barclay's Center, Brooklyn - December 10, 2012

by Jamie Frey

In the larger universe of modern rock, there is a pretty clear line between “cool” and “uncool.” Most people in the know, and many who are not, are aware that Billy Corgan’s 2012 version of The Smashing Pumpkins is not cool. Though indie music blogs may occasionally report about “Siamese Dream” and their other ‘90s triumphs, they seem to have little interest in the Billy Corgan of the present other than the crazy things he says, valuing Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow over Radiohead. No one seems to know this better than Billy Corgan, whose crowd last night looked less like the freaks, Goths, nerds and metalheads of the days of yore and more like the crowd who buys tickets for Barclays’ Brooklyn Nets. Despite Corgan’s resentful standing in the music world in the past few years, he is certainly one of the best living songwriters and guitarists and has made at least two records as good as “Loveless” or “Daydream Nation”, though most won’t say it at this point. Foreshadowed by Stephen Malkmus’ public questioning of their function and meaning, The Smashing Pumpkins landed on the “uncool” end of things. That being said, it is a weird thing that The Pumpkins play Brooklyn, maybe for the first time ever?

“If I take off my glasses, it’s like the old Smashing Pumpkins,” I said to a friend, as the band took the stage. The female bassist is there, a brunette this time; not the blonde D’Arcy Wretsky (who faced jail time for drunk driving last year) or redhead Melissa Auf Der Maur (went solo,) but Nicole Fiorentino, who spent time playing with ‘90s alt-rockers Veruca Salt and last night provided strong coquettish backing vocals not unlike Kim Deal. The guitar player. Jeff Schroeder (who is half-Asian, in case you’re wondering,) is a hard working shredder, replacing the likable slacker James Iha. The most interesting newbie is Mike Byrne, the 22-year-old drummer (and former McDonald’s employee,) replacing the potentially irreplaceable Jimmy Chamberlain, who was chosen out of allegedly thousands of applicants. Byrne's drumming stood out, playing with less jazzy flash than Chamberlain; but heavy. and proving to be a strong counterpoint for Corgan. Given his age, I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t remember a time when The Pumpkins ruled the radio.

The band wasted no time, launching into this year’s very strong, synth-heavy “Oceania”, which often sounds like Brian Eno producing Rush. This set found Corgan, as well as the other band members, leading on Mellotron through this concept record. In a recent heart-to-heart on Howard Stern’s show, Corgan said that if “Oceania” wasn’t received well, he would finally hang up the Smashing Pumpkins moniker. Howard asked what verification he would need to feel that way, and Corgan said he already had achieved it at that time. Corgan came onstage looking happy and confident (the last time SP 2.0 played New York; he put on a bizarre show and ranted at the crowd, causing some to leave.)

By starting with the new material, the Pumpkins showed confidence that the quartet was a new act unto itself, not indulging the audience right away as the Greatest Hits act that many of the crowd were baited to the show for. One got the feeling that many were holding their iPhones with anticipation, waiting to film “Tonight, Tonight” or “Zero” to post on their Facebook pages to make their co-workers jealous.

It may not be “Mellon Collie”, but the “Oceania” material is brave, heavy, and experimental and contains many winks of the catchiness that made SP America’s weirdest corporate rock band. If there were still an alternative radio station, you can bet they’d make room for the jangly Goth-pop of “The Celestials” or the electro-rock lament “Violent Rays.” Some of it sounds like vintage Pumpkins, but that never really stayed the same from one record to the other. Oceania may not be a critic’s favorite, but it decidedly wasn’t panned the way many might have expected for an infamously hated personality and his “bogus” backing band. The outfit feels decidedly new and Corgan has never been one for gratifying the audience. The set ended with the four members performing “Wildflowers” each of them on synthesizers. The rest of the group left the stage for a brief moment, leaving Corgan, the sole survivor, to indulge in some guitar heroics. It is to be noted that there was a globe with ridiculous psychedelic imagery behind the band, which was at times laughable (although projecting weird shit on other shit describes many Saturday nights in Brooklyn for many artistic types.)

Corgan promised in the middle of the first set that they would play the new record and, “if he was in the mood,” play some “classic” tunes. The hard realization - for him and for me – that we were at a Gen X classic-rock concert set in. The second set opened not with any SP tune but a very epic and genuine cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which rocked more like Mott The Hoople or Queen than the original recording. What followed was one of the night’s magic moments as Corgan kicked in the riff to “X.Y.U.,” one of the heaviest moments from the recently re-mastered “Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.” The crowd finally seemed to loosen its ties, though I was made aware that there were hired hands in the middle of the floor to prevent moshing. Still the old weirdoes around me had no problem dancing like they could very well be on LSD (although they were more likely wasted on overpriced beer.)

What followed was a bittersweet but meaningful trip through the Smashing Pumpkins’ catalog, leading “Tonight, Tonight” with the MCIS B-side “Tonight Reprise” and bringing us back to the first time we heard that song, a memory of shaking your zipper blues for the first time. They gave the crowd what they wanted, truly one of the greatest moments in modern rock, Schroder’s e-bow playing the string parts, sounding like Robert Fripp on “Here Come The Warm Jets.” Corgan’s heelish personality came out more during this section, taunting the crowd with football humor that went over this writer’s head. Sneaking in “The Dream Machine” - a “new, new, new song” which was an extended jam in many parts that sounds promising towards the next record - they left the stage for a long time. Corgan and the gang, goaded back after a long break, played a gratuitous trio of a guitar heavy “Ava Adore,” the soaring epic “Cherub Rock,” and finally “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” Corgan’s angst sounding as nasty as it was in 1995.

Billy Corgan is obviously still working out his feelings in front of a crowd, and I got the feeling that the audience may have felt a little confused by the set, but they were watching a confusing band. Even at their most populist, SP were always hard to swallow, choosing stoned out jams over crowd satisfaction. I would like to bet that Corgan would prefer a 10.0 from Pitchfork than an arena victory lap with the likes of Soundgarden and Alice In Chains at this point in his career. Despite his age, Corgan is still just a rat in the cage, wrestling with past glories and the ambitions to make the epic, huge rock music that rests in his own teenage heart, and many of ours. is an independently published music fanzine covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming bands and a resource for all those interested in rock and roll.

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