Even in the prime of his band 20 years ago, The Smashing Pumpkins‘ Billy Corgan didn’t really seem like other rock stars. During the height of alternative and grunge in the ’90s, the Pumpkins got grouped in with the rest of the bands when really, they were quite different. Even then, Corgan seemed like a reluctant rocker.
Now a few decades later, Corgan comes across as a bit resistant to that handle, albeit he seems much more comfortable. Tuesday night at the Fonda Theatre, Corgan and his most recent shuffled lineup (which includes guitarist Jeff Schroeder, Mark Stoermer of The Killers on bass and Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine on drums.) played through 17 songs, including five from their latest release Monuments to an Elegy, which came out a few weeks ago.
The Pumpkins still have their die-hards, as there were quite a few people who were extremely receptive to the new tunes. The single “Being Beige” has gotten a little bit of radio airplay and sounds reminiscent of the Siamese Dream era of the band, when they were near the height of their popularity. “The world’s on fire, so have you heard?” sings Corgan in the song’s chorus early in their set Tuesday, to the nearly unanimous headbanging of the crowd.
Corgan and his bandmates are slightly lacking in the charisma department. Corgan was always very understated, even when delivering some utterly impressive guitar solos, at one point playing one behind his back, seemingly without effort. Schroeder and Stoerner were particularly immobile, and Wilk was maybe the most energetic of the bunch, serving as the backbone on the drums.
It was five songs in before Corgan said his first words between songs: “Thank you so much, thank you.” Then the Pumpkins jumped into “Tonight, Tonight” from their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness double-album, and all of a sudden, it felt like you were transported to 1995 (in the best way possible).
Corgan’s voice had a slight trouble hitting the tougher points in that song, but he managed to make it work rather well. Plus, he had the entirety of the crowd to help him anyways. You got the sense in this mostly thirty-something crowd that this song represented a time in the crowd’s lives that probably seemed so far out of reach, and the Pumpkins helped them remember what those times were like. “Time, is never time at all / you can never ever leave without leaving a piece of youth / And our lives are forever changed / We will never be the same,” I mean, it’s all right there in the lyrics. The crowd felt as though it was comprised of the grown-up versions of the kids in the iconic “1979” music video.
The Pumpkins hit the meat of their set with three throwback jams, beginning with “Disarm” and continuing with Mellon Collie‘s “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”.
The latter two songs felt like tracks that would have definitely ignited mosh pits were it 20 years ago. But due to the increased age of the attendants, perhaps these people didn’t want to roll into their day jobs bruised and sore when it would have been much more difficult to bounce back than in their youth. Despite this, there were a number of people who sold out their bodies while enjoying the show. One woman in front of me spent much of the duration of the show jumping up and down (and I have no doubt her legs are killing her this morning).
A cover of David Bowie’s “Fame” lead into the set-closing “Silverfuck,” and the band would return to the stage for an encore “Burnt Orange-Black.” Fans were probably a bit bummed not to hear other big early-years hits “Today” and “1979,” but definitely appreciated just how many of those far-ago songs did get played.
Though Corgan and the Pumpkins’ music remains bombastic in both songwriting and sound, it’s not often performed in that manner. Corgan would make use of his hands in gesturing to the crowd during certain points and threw about a half-dozen guitar picks into the crowd while often showing gratitude for those who had come out on a few day’s notice.
Tickets were only announced to this show over the weekend following their KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas performance. Tickets weren’t sold out by the time doors opened, but perhaps that had more to do with the $65 + taxes ticket price on short notice than the recognition the band still garners today. Though recent releases haven’t been nearly as well received as their earlier work, the songs performed off their new album seemed much fresher and much more in line with what fans can appreciate.
At the end of the show, Corgan took a few minutes to show his appreciation by looking many fans into the eyes, shaking hands, and saying thanks. In being completely fair, there aren’t too many bands who peaked in the ’90s that could have drawn that kind of crowd on less than 48 hours notice — which lends itself to the idea that the Smashing Pumpkins will always hold a special place in the hearts of many who came of age during that time. There’s no real price that can be put on nostalgia.
Words: Mark E. Ortega