Tuesday, October 5th 2010
Shows: The Smashing Pumpkins
For weeks and weeks leading up to this show, everyone who heard I was going made sure to tell me that the upcoming Tulsa performance by the Smashing Pumpkins would suck. “Billy’s the only original member.” “It’s not even a band anymore.” “Lower your excitement by 10,000% and you’ll have a good time.” What these people failed to realize however, is that regardless of the quality (or lack thereof) of the Pumpkins’ new recorded material, as a live unit the band is better than ever.
The Tulsa show had two opening bands: Cherri Bomb, a group of teenager girls from Los Angeles, and a band based out of Oklahoma City named the Pretty Black Chains. Cherri Bomb were laughable at best, a clear attempt to market “rock” to young girls. Just a tip for the lead singer, try as hard as you want, you will never be Joan Jett. The Pretty Black Chains started off promising, but then played through 11 more songs that sounded just the same as the first. A weird mixture of indie rock and jam band, their 45 minute set unfortunately allowed them to greatly overstay their welcome.
Corgan has been known to be a diva at live shows, telling the crowd to shut up, getting pissed when they ask the band to play older songs. Everyone’s heard the stories. For some reason at this show though, he shelved all of that attitude and played through a solid 2.5 hour set mixing together a string of older hits and stuff from the ill-received Zeitgeist (2007) and the current Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project. It was the band’s first time in Oklahoma since July of 1998, and the capacity crowd at Cain’s Ballroom on Sept. 24 was more than ready to hear the band live again.
Playing one of the most intimate shows on their current tour, the Pumpkins’ started off their set with two new tracks, both from the first Teargarden EP. A Song for a Son comes across much better live, but not many in the crowd were familiar with the track. By the time Corgan got to the solo in the track, the crowd didn’t care whether or not they knew the song and under the heavy strobe lighting, the show was off to a powerful start.
Ava Adore was one of the early highlights of the evening, showcasing new bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne. Throughout the evening the two would create one of the most vicious, pulsating rhythm sections I’ve ever heard live. Mike Byrne is still relatively new to the live performance thing and at times it showed, but overall he had no trouble holding his own. Nicole, on the other hand, is one of the most ridiculously precise players I’ve ever seen live and did a more than adequate job of taking over the revolving door known as the Pumpkins’ bass player slot.
Other highlights included relatively rare live performances of both Drown and Eye. Eye was downright haunting live and had the crowd pretty much in awe. By the time it finished and Billy broke into the opening riff of Bullet With Butterfly Wings, the crowd exploded in a weird mixture of anger and pent up angst and joined the group in singing what is probably the band’s most well known (and loved?) song. The song itself was sped up quite a bit but hasn’t lost any of its ferocity over the years.
Up next was an extended version of United States from Zeitgeist and damn if this song isn’t 1000% better live than on record. Both Jeff and Billy’s guitar work was truly phenomenal, and Mike really tied everything together on the drums. In the middle of the song, Billy did an excerpt from the Star Spangled Banner on his guitar, mostly in the shape of feedback. Immediately following that, the group broke into a makeshift cover of Zeppelin’s Moby Dick, mostly to let Mike show just what he’s capable of on the drums. Make no mistakes about it: Mike Byrne may only be 20, but he’s got a lot going for him.
After a few more new songs, Billy started playing the riff for Rhinoceros. Alas, it was only a tease, but since it segued into Cherub Rock,t he crowd really didn’t care. I wasn’t expecting to hear Cherub Rock at all and it was really the moment that cemented the fact that least as a live band, the Pumpkins still have it.
One of Zeitgeist’s best cuts, That’s The Way (My Love Is) was up next, followed immediately by Tonight, Tonight, which again allowed the crowd to collectively go crazy. The song underwent a few arrangement changes as well, but still sounded great and was surely the highlight of the evening for more than a few people in attendance.
After running through Stand Inside Your Love and Tarantula, Billy brought out his acoustic guitar and one of the girls from the first opening band, Cherri Bomb. Billy announced that they was going to play a track that the Pumpkins’ hadn’t in quite some time, a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide. The Pumpkins originally covered the song back in 1994 for Pisces Iscariot, and like several other moments throughout the night, the crowd seemed to be almost in awe of what was happening. While the opening band was not by any means good, their lead singer did a fine job of performing with Corgan on this cover. Check it out below:
The group closed the show with a near 23 minute version of Gossamer, a track that’s never been officially released. It’s an epic, nearly prog-rock number based around Nicole’s pounding bassline and Corgan’s eastern Asia tinged guitar work. It’s a weird song and definitely turned off several in the crowd, but the hardcore Pumpkins’ fans were eating it up and Billy had to have nearly shredded his vocal chords screaming during the track. It was a fiery way to end the show, and definitely left a lasting impression (for better or worse) on those in the crowd.
Throughout the night Billy was very talkative with the crowd, joking around with some guy for holding up a sign asking “What is the song Mayonaise about?” and even promising to come back to Tulsa if the band ever does another residency. The crowd was incredibly responsive to most of the new music and all of the old stuff, and the band seemed legitimately happy with how the show turned out.
Overall, for less than $40, one couldn’t have asked for any more. The Pumpkins’ put on a hell of a show. The bottom line is this: regardless of what anyone tells you about the band, if you have ever liked the Smashing Pumpkins, don’t pass up this live show just because James, Jimmy and D’Arcy aren’t in the band anymore. Corgan’s found himself some very talented new band members and unlike so many critics and fans, they don’t seem to be stuck in the past.
Setlist: A Song for a Son, Astral Planes, Today, Ava Adore, Drown, As Rome Burns, Freak, Eye, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, United States (w/ Star Spangled Banner & Moby Dick), Spangled, Tom Tom, Rhinoceros (Tease), Cherub Rock, That’s The Way (My Love Is), Tonight Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love, Tarantula, Landslide, Gossamer