Tower Theater (Upper Darby, PA)
October 19, 2007
If there’s any question as to whether Billy Corgan still has balls, it was answered when his band opened an evening at the Tower Theater with “Superchrist,” an unreleased epic whose lyrics can’t be found in even the deepest depths of Google. Ever since Billy and Jimmy Chamberlin reformed the Smashing Pumpkins, there has been the worry that they’ve plunged into the world of Dinosaur Rock Bands who haven’t done anything relevant in 20 years. Well, their latest album, Zeitgeist, has proved to be one of the best Rock albums of the year and after their October 19th performance in Upper Darby, PA, it’s safe to say that it will be a few more years before you hear the Pumpkins in your dentist’s office.
Although the current filling out of the Pumpkins’ lineup isn’t official, the touring band surprisingly managed to hold their own. Competently, but not comparably, filling in for James Iha on guitar is Jeff Schroeder, a veteran of the Shoegaze scene. Former Halo Friendlie and Laguna Beach composer Ginger Reyes proved to be the Pumpkins not only hottest, but most impressive bassist yet. Rounding out the lineup is Jazz pianist Lisa Harriton on keys who provides nearly all of the synthetic musicality that keeps the band from sounding akin to any of the other veterans of 90’s Alt. Rock.
The biggest problems of the evening were not musical, but visual. Billy was decked out in a white button-down shirt and white shorts over top of what seemed to be a striped body suit. It’s hard to decide whether the outfit was more reminiscent of a scrubs Halloween costume or mental-patient-themed pajamas. The band also could’ve used some help on their stage set. Consisting of a dozen large triangles made of beams of light that sat on the floor and were suspended from the ceiling, it looked like a cross between Trent Reznor visually commenting on the mind-controlling effects of electronic media and Laser Floyd. Putting these stylistic problems aside, the Pumpkins still managed to put on a more-than-impressive show, considering that they hit their prime 14 years ago.
The band’s set was mostly divided between their super hits, which no one in attendance had heard less than 600 times, yet still screamed the loudest for, and material from their latest album. Although these newer songs came out sounding better, they barely fazed the audience. “Pomp and Circumstances,” a perfectly crafted ballad, failed to tug on any heart strings and some of the hardest songs the band has put out to date, like “Doomsday Clock” and “Bring the Light” made no heads bang. The album’s singles seemed to be the only new songs that didn’t inspire beer runs and bathroom breaks.
The middle of the performance included a tried-and-true Arena Rock tradition that generally comes off as deep and powerful as Nickleback’s latest power ballad: the acoustic mini-set. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case and the set turned out to be one of the high points of the evening. “It could’ve been Phillies-Cubs. Right now Ryan Howard is somewhere listening to his iPod and thinking about what could’ve been,” Billy proclaimed, appealing to the fellow baseball fans in attendance, before delving into a solo version of the bittersweet “1979.” Jimmy Chamberlin then joined his “life partner,” (as they so affectionately refer to themselves) onstage to bang a tambourine during “Perfect.” Okay, maybe the tambourine was a little cheesy.
A few of the set’s highlights came in the form of Pumpkins classics, rearranged and revamped so the set wouldn’t sound like a Hits of Alternative Radio compilation. For “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” the band turned up the keys, turned down the guitar, and mellowed the chorus to keep it from sounding so MTV-friendly. The new “Heavy Metal Machine” sounds like a dance club remix by Marilyn Manson and far superior to the album version. Of course, all of these rearrangements didn’t turn out so well. “Glass and the Ghost Children” was transformed into a 10+-minute-snoozefest that bounced back and forth between a hippie jam and coffee house Spoken Word.
The new Pumpkins ended the night in as wonderfully pretentious fashion as it had begun, with a track only to be found on an LP limited to a pressing of 25 copies. Although the beautiful ballad, “Let Me Give the World to You,” may have not produced the most exciting moment of the evening, it was worth it just to see a sea of faces dumbfoundingly trying to think of what this song could possibly be, so they wouldn’t lose their cred. as a fan. Even if the fans never found their cred., such a stylishly pompous decision on the band’s behalf ensured that they still had theirs. — Izzy Cihak