I can't say expectations were high as I sat at a bar, sipping my wintery lager, watching hockey, killing time before circling around the corner to take in a surprisingly intimate Smashing Pumpkins show at Webster Hall. I had done this before, 2 years earlier, psyching myself up for an evening of teenage nostalgia at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was a bit of a let-down
. I expected too much, Billy delivered too little, and I went home committed to that particular evening being my last encounter with Billy Corgan and a band he called The Smashing Pumpkins.
When it comes to the Pumpkins, it was never Billy's voice that sold me. Sure, he could screech and squelch with the best of the '90s alt-rock idols. But those pipes always seemed a tad too youthful, especially when considering the heavy haze of shoegazey distortion and muscular percussion that lassoed around them. That was the sell; the distortion, the arena-sized rock that erupted out of these guys.
Billy recently released a trio of news songs from the band's upcoming album, Monuments to an Elegy
. To my surprise, they were - what's the word - good? Gone is a hint of existential crisis, the overly dramatic dabbling in the unknown. On "Being Beige", "One and All", and "Drum + Fife", Billy doesn't sound as if he's out to prove himself as some freaky sound-savant, capable of diving in any and every creative direction on whatever whim has moved him (like that 8 hour synth experimentation from earlier this year, for example
). The songs are beautifully produced, exquisitely melodic, a bit more relaxed, and A LOT more reminiscent of the sonic bliss most Pumpkins fans originally fell in love with.
Also, the band...let's talk about the band. Two years ago Billy was playing with children
...so much so his new D'arcy was rumored to have graced the cover of Siamese Dream
(not true, but you get the idea). This time around, Billy has enlisted the help Rage Against The Machine's Brad Wilk on drums, Killers' bassist Mark Stoermer, and longtime guitarist, Jeff Schroeder. Suddenly a show on the eve of the album's release in a venue usually headlined by buzzy indie bands didn't sound so bad. Still, you never know with Billy.
I can happily say the band delivered. Playing before a mixed bag of old fans, industry types, and those driven by the same curiosity that brought me to Barclays two years ago, the Pumpkins turned in a very different gig than my last experience with the band. Where once there was a half-empty arena gobbling up most of the general fidelity, at Webster Hall the sound was sharp. From note #1 ("One and All"), Billy and his big boy band ignited a powerful charge through the building...heavy, riffy, and down-right authoritative. It was that glorious distortion I mentioned earlier...there is just something about it. It's so so Pumpkins-esque. The set was dominated by Elegy
of course. But the band also punctuated it with a hearty amount of classics. "Hummer", "Tonight Tonight", "Drown", "Disarm", "Zero", "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", and "Silverfuck" all dotted the performance, a nice tip of the cap to the long-time fans in attendance. And guess what? Elegy
's new material nestled in nicely amongst them.
Focus on the future, appreciate the past. Unlike the Barclays gig two years ago, Billy seems a little more at peace with striking a balance with his audience this time around. He also seemed content (despite a few technical difficulties) with the intimacy of the moment. This was not an arena, this was not an amphitheater. It was a club...a smallish club. Still, his solos were dramatic, his rock idol posturing surprisingly appropriate, and his appreciation for everyone that has stuck with him, authentic. This time around I didn't leave the venue shaking my head. I left the venue making a note to listen to Monuments to an Elegy
in the morning.