The Smashing Pumpkins Ruined My Joy, Again, Last Night at The Palladium
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.
In 2000, a 15-year old Gavin persuaded his dad to buy him a ticket to see the Smashing Pumpkins on their farewell tour. They were to play the cavernous NIA in Birmingham, England. Gavin had not been to see many concerts before. In fact, his previous concert was Jamiroquai. Gavin had listened to Siamese Dream for all of his childhood years, and had in fact learned to play the beginning of "Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" on piano. He had a "Zero" T-shirt. Upset as he was about Machina, the Smashing Pumpkins were still Gavin's favorite band. He had looked forward to this chance to see them for months and months.
Eight songs into their farewell to all of Birmingham, Billy Corgan left the stage for a costume change. When he came back, he announced to the crowd that, in fact, we hadn't cheered enough, and that he would be leaving and taking the band with him. Forty-five minutes into a very expensive arena gig, the Smashing Pumpkins left. Part of Gavin's childhood left with them.
Fast-forward to 2013. Gavin has seen many more concerts. He has many other favorite bands. The Zero T-shirt was discarded on that day in 2000. Nevertheless, part of Gavin was kind of excited to see the Smashing Pumpkins again. Maybe they could undo the 13 years of hurt. Maybe Billy Corgan could make up for that day. Maybe, just maybe, they'd play all the hits, and Gavin could forgive them and be released from his teenage torment.
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Not a chance.
A lot has happened to Corgan since that farewell tour 13 years hence -- there was Zwan, there was some other stuff where he wore a hat, there was a wrestling promotion, there was a furniture commercial. Eventually, Corgan got "his band" back together using an advert in a newspaper. Only Jimmy Chamberlin responded, James Iha having gone on to better things than being an egomaniac's understudy by collaborating with A Perfect Circle, and D'arcy Wretzky having disappeared somewhere uncertain.
With Chamberlin having departed for a second, possibly third, time in 2009, the Smashing Pumpkins became Billy Corgan and three people he found. Weirdly, all of them fit the archetype of Smashing Pumpkins members -- an attractive female bassist, an Asian-American lead guitarist and a drummer who looks a bit like Jimmy Chamberlin. Now, finally, Corgan had a version of the Smashing Pumpkins he could fully control, all of whom were just delighted to be there.
Have you ever seen the show Dollhouse? Well, in that show, you can hire an empty vessel of a person, a blank personality and mold it entirely to your desires. I am of the belief that Billy Corgan went to the dollhouse to re-up on Smashing Pumpkins members. Not only was there no charisma whatsoever on the Palladium stage, even the stage banter, of which there was virtually none, was incredibly deferential to Corgan. It really is like a man living out his former glories with shells of what came before. It's really a show just to prove to the former members that he still can. Iha was an absolute virtuoso guitarist, adding layers, sweep and majesty to early Pumpkins work, arguably more so than Corgan. Chamberlin was a whirling dervish of a drummer, ready to add a fill or an incomprehensibly complex backbeat.
Now? Now they are a covers band, and a bad covers band at that, doomed to stalk the land bashing out versions of songs you used to love at a wildly inappropriate tempo and with no heart or soul. "Tonight, Tonight" had the violin track replaced by a high-pitched distorted guitar. "Ava Adore" had a backing track. For real. The whole band sat there doing nothing while the intro magically appeared from nowhere. There were some new songs too. No one at the venue pretend to give even the tiniest crap about the new songs, apart from one inexplicably enthusiastic gray-haired man in front of us, who enthusiastically air-guitared to tracks from Oceania while looking bemused by "Cherub Rock" which is so backwards I can't even begin to comprehend it.
Thus, given that no one there was in attendance to hear anything written since the departure of James Iha, what the Pumpkins had to do was nail the old stuff. And nail it they did not. Sure, they trotted out the old favorites, with "Rocket" and "Today" also making appearances, but there was no punch. Songs like "Cherub Rock," when that joyous, filthy, distorted guitar kicks in from the intro and rolls the song relentlessly into a verse, were totally lacking any of that energy and verve that made the Pumpkins such a thrilling and unique proposition two decades ago. It was verging on the robotic, and flatly robotic. It felt like Corgan and cohorts were simply bashing through the songs required of them, often at a pace far exceeding that of the recorded version, in the hope they could get it over with. One exception was an extended jam to Melon Collie standout "X.Y.U." and even that felt stilted at best. "Zero" had a double-guitars-not-quite-in-harmony solo that could most charitably be described as painful, and even "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" suffered from a lack of commitment.
Basically, then, Billy Corgan has moved from decimating my teenage years into desecrating my adulthood, and I will not stand for it any more. Neither should you. The time's come, Corgan. Leave us with our memories. The Smashing Pumpkins right now are Iha or bust, and the Palladium last night was a total bust.
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