Live Review: Smashing Pumpkins Debut a Changed Billy Corgan at the Warfield

Smashing Pumpkins
Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014
The Warfield Theatre

When the Smashing Pumpkins hit the stage at the Warfield last night, it was a very different band than the one fans had listened to and seen over the past 20-plus years — and in more ways than one.

With singer/guitarist/songwriter Billy Corgan the sole remaining original member — as James Iha, D'Arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlin have all departed at various points over the years in very public spats — the lineup was filled by current guitarist Jeff Schroeder, joined by Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk and Killers bassist Mark Stoermer.

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Being backed by a wholly different set of musicians, Corgan himself seemed to be a changed man.

When the Pumpkins headlined Lollapalooza '94, they were a group seemingly on top of the world; Siamese Dream was selling millions of copies, the videos for “Today,” “Disarm,” and other singles were in heavy rotation on MTV, and the band was on the cover of Rolling Stone.
When the tour came to Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountian View, however, many fans — myself included — walked away with the feeling that the band was about to implode.

Towards the end of a listless, shambolic set that sounded little like the lush and layered production of Siamese Dream, Corgan stopped playing his guitar mid-song and started complaining about the way the venue was set up, then went on a verbal tirade berating a great number of random subjects, seeming to have a mental breakdown right there on the stage.

His bandmates were none too pleased about the situation, and before long they all walked off the stage, ending the show.

My impression of the band was not bolstered any when I saw them again two years later at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Golden Gate Park. For much of the set, the group's timing seemed off-kilter, the drums sounding all over the place, which was unusual for the normally steady Chamberlin.

It was not all that surprising when just a few weeks later the news broke that Chamberlin and their touring keyboardist, Jonathan Melvoin, had overdosed on heroin — Melvoin died, and Chamberlin was fired from the band.

The time that has elapsed since that era seems to have changed the mindframe and disposition of Billy Corgan much for the better, as the man that took the stage at the Warfield last night seemed much more comfortable in his own skin, and with his relationship with his fans than he did 20 years ago.

About halfway through the show 47-year-old singer thanked the crowd for being there, telling them, “When I was a younger man I wouldn't have appreciated this — but now I do.”
He also had some fun at the local audience’s expense, pointing out that while he understood that they had to wait in line in some rain to get in to the show, back in his hometown of Chicago, “we wouldn’t have called this ‘The Storm of the Century!’”

Playing a broad cross section of the Pumpkins catalog, including tunes from their new album “Monuments to an Elegy,” Corgan's voice was the strongest I've ever heard it live, snarling through “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” while pulling back some for quieter selections like “Disarm.”

Although it would have been nice to have seen the original lineup playing together on stage for nostalgic reasons, the current group sounded great together, inspiring many fans at the sold-out concert to sing along at the top of their lungs and pogo about in joyous abandon.

With a new record just out, it would seem that the Warfield gig, along with a handful of other shows in the past weeks, was designed to be a warm-up for a full tour in support of the LP — if later shows are anything like Thursday night’s concert, fans old and new will be in for a treat.

 

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