Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Show review: The Smashing Pumpkins at Riviera, 10/14

By Gene Wagendorf III 

The Smashing Pumpkins tear through  "Panopticon"
The lights draped across the The Riviera's stage formed the outline of a circus tent, and after a couple lesser curiosities performed (I'm still trying to process exactly what the fuck I saw in openers Fancy Space People), the night's main attraction arrived. Billy Corgan brought his latest incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins back home for a sold out show, one that would feature few "hits" and plenty of new material for both fans and skeptics to sink their teeth into. Setting the tone for the night, the group launched into the bombastic new track, "Quasar," which seems destined for a future as a set-closer. The appropriately named song featured glimmering guitar wails that rose up over chaotic drumming, lulling briefly for a breather on a bed of bubbling bass before blasting off again. That formula worked to help Corgan craft some of the '90s most memorable rock songs, and it continues to serve him well.

The first true test of this new lineup came when 21-year old drummer Mike Byrne rolled out the opening of "Geek USA," the meatiest cut from 1993's Siamese Dream. The drum-roll was preceded by some stumbling carnie music, which would have made it a perfectly tragic time to fail on former drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's most impressive performance. Thankfully for Byrne, Corgan and (most importantly) the audience, the kid knocked it out of the park. I can say kid because, well, he's probably just started his Jagermeister phase. "Geek" sounded as agitated as ever, an aural melee that had me pissed off at someone somewhere for, well, something. That energy was deftly shifted by Corgan into the celebratory anthem "Muzzle," which played out as a grand, life-affirming bounce. Jeff Schroeder's serpentine lead snarled around Corgan's "I knew the silence of the world mantra," a moment that had me fondly recalling what happens when you stand in a meadow at dusk.

Plenty of strobe lights and Gish songs make Billy smile
The dynamic between new and old songs proved to be what the night was about. Some moments, like "Panopticon" drifting seamlessly into "Starla", a song almost twenty years its senior, proved that despite the role players, the classic Pumpkin's sound is alive and well for the die-hards. Others, like the strange plopping of "Lightning Strikes" between "Window Paine" and "Soma," seemed to intentionally highlight the band's new direction. The latter did lead to one of the more theatric spots of the performance, as the sound of a crackling thunderstorm gargled over the end of "Lightning" and faded gently beneath the opening clink of "Soma."

"Siva," from the band's debut Gish, was injected with a bass-driven detour, courtesy of Corgan's 98th? new female bass player, Nicole Fiorentino. Her flashes, albeit brief, went a long way to dispelling the notion that The Smashing Pumpkins are somehow a lesser band without founding members Chamberlin, James Iha and D'Arcy Wretzky. Corgan and Schroeder engaged in some impressive tandem noodling over Fiorentino's elastic rhythms, a bit that would've felt more bloated with a less confident and creative bass player. The band did miss a chance to truly show off an old/new two-punch combo by stuffing "Frail and Bedazzled" between "Oceania" and "Silverfuck." Both clocked in and just under twelve minutes, with "Oceania"  perfecting The Pumpkins loud-quiet-loud calling card and "Silverfuck" sounding nothing short of a sledgehammer to the temple.

Mike Byrne had little trouble filling Chamberlin's big shoes
The most interesting blend of old and new came when "Owata" followed "Cherub Rock." Predictably, "Cherub" got the biggest pop from the crowd, but "Owata" displayed the mature songwriter Corgan has become. The lyrics didn't drip with angst and ambiguity, but rather a candid economy that was pleasantly affecting. The set closed with "For Martha," Corgan's elegant, tear-inducing elegy for his late mother. The song's normal, grandiose piano melody was traded for a more subtle music box sound that served it well. The singer reigned in his trademark whine, preferring to let the sorrow pour out in a gargantuan guitar solo. The song was the most powerful performance of the night, moving elegantly between rococo blasts and understated lyric.

The big (and poorly kept) surprise of the show was the reunion of local band Catherine, whom Corgan had produced in the early '90s. His introduction of the group was the only moment where a "typical Billy" rant almost slipped out, as he recalled sharing a practice space with them "back in the day, when we were writing Siamese Dream, or I was writing Siamese Dream..." Few in the audience seemed to recognize the name Catherine, but a potentially awkward moment was averted as they won the audience over with a throbbing version of "Idiot" from their 1993 EP, Sleepy. For someone who has been tagged an egomaniac by critics, it was interesting to see how comfortable Corgan was sharing the spotlight, stepping back to play guitar without demanding a spotlight solo or guest vocal duties. One more Catherine tune, the chainsaw buzzy "Broken Bird," was followed by The Smashing Pumpkins taking an energetic gambol through "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." The new lineup pulled it off like they'd written it and played it a million times (knowing Corgan, practices have been tough), and the chrome-domed one even let out a hair-raising howl that brought back 1996 for a few minutes. That said, I'm glad it was only a brief temporal disturbance. As much fun as it is to listen in on The Smashing Pumpkins past, their future is sounding pretty good.

Catherine takes the stage for the first time in 16 years


Check out more show reviews:
Smoking Popes at Double Door
Danzig at Congress Theater
The Drums at Subterranean
Atari Teenage Riot at Reggies
Jane's Addiction at Metro

1 comment:

  1. It seemed you were rather pleased by the show. Excellent review. My take on the show at http://nelsonv.blogspot.com