Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smashing Pumpkins--DAR Constitutional Hall, Washington, DC

Smashing Pumpkins were recently in DC at the DAR Constitutional Hall for two shows featuring two completely different sets. The first show was called “Black Sunshine” and the second “White Crosses.” I was at the White Crosses show. I have no idea the backstory or significance to these two respective titles, so let’s just skip all that. I covered a lot of this ground over the summer, but let me give a quick disclaimer: I am a fan of this band and I am not really objective when it comes to discussion. As far as allegiances go, they're right up there with Michael Jordan, A Confederacy of Dunces, and those UPS commercials featuring the guy with the weird haircut utilizing the dry erase board. I'm unapologetic in my fondess for all those mentioned and I will barely entertain even rational arguments to the contrary. And although I don't listen to Smashing Pumpkins nearly as much as I used to, they're cemented into a list of my all-time favorites and are not leaving. I've seen countless Pumpkins shows, sat through a set from the short-lived Zwan, and been in the audience for one of Billy Corgan's solo shows from The Future Embrace days and feigned enjoyment. So now that my credentials and my biases are of the way, let me just say this was probably the best Pumpkins show I have seen since Corgan actually had hair.

(Speaking of which, I can't believe how long he has had that shaved head. When you first saw that, how long did you think he could keep that up? Two months? Maybe three? To put things in perspective, President Clinton was still serving his first term when Corgan last had a head of hair.)

After a couple of cantankerous shows in New York (and one the night before in this very building), I was half-expecting to walk into the auditorium and have the air already filled with tension. I even thought of throwing my hat into the ring. Although instead of yelling out "Where's James!" I was thinking of bombarding the band with loud shouts of "I want the drum machine back!" You see, I'm old school. And it was hard for me to forgive the band for ditching the drum machine in favor of Jimmy Chamberlin back in 1988.

(I have a group of friends from college that I exchange emails with every week day. Whenever one of us wants to convey a message with sarcasm, but is slightly worried the sarcasm will be lost over a monotonic email, the selected passage will be surrounded with the # sign. Therefore, had I sent the last sentence before the parenthesis to the college panel, it would have looked like this: #And it was hard for me to forgive the band for ditching the drum machine in favor of Jimmy Chamberlin back in 1988.# I just wanted to clear that up. Side issue #1: Anyone still upset that James Iha and D’arcy aren’t in the band needs to move on. This has been the reality for well over a year now. They aren’t coming back. I don’t know what else to tell you. But hey, at least you’ll always have that Let It Come Down album to hold on to! Side issue #2: In reference to the two links in the paragraph above, Andy Warhol's famous quote was, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Unfortunately, he didn’t have the foresight to realize something like Youtube would one day be in our lives. Fifteen minutes seems a tad short now, doesn’t it? Warhol had a nice run, but it’s time the pop culture vernacular catches up with the 21st century. For now on the quote will read like this: "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for acting like a complete a-hole on Youtube for about an hour-and-a-half." Please cite me accordingly.)

I'm not sure what happened but I think I was actually supposed to be writing about this supposedly great show I saw. Alright, here we go...

With no opening act, the lights dimmed and the beginnings of "Ava Adore" started playing. Corgan emerged in his customary ridiculous outfit, sans guitar, holding a plastic Halloween jack-o-lantern and dancing around the stage in a manner that can’t be described. Actually, that’s not really true, it can be described. Just envision Billy Corgan trying to imitate Elaine dancing on Seinfeld. That about sums it up. “Cupid De Locke” was next, followed by a stirring “1979” and Corgan was still empty handed. Not that he didn’t have adequate backup. Chamberlin was his usual self and Zeitgeist-era members Jeff Schroeder, Ginger Reyes, and Lisa Harrington were joined by a trio of enjoyable horn players.

The setlist was simply superb. Early on, while still in slow-down mode, the band played “Sunkissed” from the Zeitgeist add-on American Gothic and a new song called “99 Floors” which might be the best Smashing Pumpkins song I have heard in quite some time. They visited enough old material, but it never seemed whore-ish and crowd-pleasing. Corgan finally got around to picking up an electric guitar and they belted out “Soma” and “Cherub Rock” in succession. The most unexpected part of the night was what didn’t happen. Other than urging the crowd to clap along during “I Of the Morning,” Corgan didn’t say a word to the audience the entire night. There wasn’t any “We’re happy to be here” or “Hey you in the third row, you want a piece of me?” None of that. It was just the band playing, and us listening.

That’s not to say there wasn’t the fair share of polarizing spacey jam sessions and seven minute guitar solos. However, they were relegated towards the end of the set, and those who paid a hefty ticket price to hear Mellon Collie and Siamese Dream tunes had already been appeased. (Most notably during a pin drop rendition of "Disarm.") After an encore that kicked off with an acoustic “That’s the Way (My Love Is),” the band turned it up a notch and sent the crowd packing with a long, sprawling alternate version of “I Am One.”

Overall, they spliced together a perfect blend of heavy guitars, and frail and gentle melodies, which is where I always felt Zeitgeist slightly missed the mark--a lot of the former, almost none of the latter. But if a song like "99 Floors" is any indication, I think the band has reclaimed their identity. And that's why the evening was so enjoyable. For the first time since the band got back together (and yes, if Corgan and Chamberlin are involved, saying “the band got back together” is a completely fair statement), it seemed like we were not only watching the Smashing Pumpkins we all once knew, but also the Smashing Pumpkins that we should all be happy to know again.

--Alex

2 comments:

Bree Davies. 24/7, 365, El Rocker. said...

I can't agree that "we need to get over it." James and D'Arcy (particularly James) were an integral part of the band. The last decade of Pumpkindom has been a hard pill for me to swallow in general, as I haven't been able to consider anything after Mellon Collie a real pumpkins record, even when they were participants after that record. I know that my views on their career are ignorant and frankly quite stupid, as performers are creative people who grow and change just like we do, and they can’t stay the same forever. But I want the Pumpkins to stay the same. I always have. In fact, I haven’t seen them live since 1996. Instead, I just watch Viewphoria when I want to see the Pumpkins I love, and leave it at that. Ignorance is pure bliss when it comes to this band for me. When people find out that SP is my favorite band of all time, they are often surprised. There isn’t anything else in my repertoire of band/performer/rapper obsessions that runs in the same vein. I think after I became disillusioned, I moved on completely.

Siamese Dream is the most perfect album to ever be put into existence as far as I'm concerned, and since I first heard it when I was 13, nothing has felt the same way. I can’t express the feelings that come from inside me when I hear that record. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on their show as a more objective pumpkins fan than I will ever be. I was just given their Denver show by my editors to review this Friday the 5th, and I have been mulling over it all week. I am happy and sad and scared and excited to see them. I have been on the verge of tears with anticipation, unsure of what I can say and what I will say when this experience 12 years in the making happens. I wish I had someone like you with me to guide me through the parts of the set I won’t know!

I enjoy your blogs and the music you put up to share. Thank you so much!

Alex said...

Thanks for your comment.

Maybe "get over it" isn't the right set of words. But here's the point: We've known this (the current lineup) to be the reality for a long time now. And it baffles me when people still act surprised and/or outraged by it. I often find it disingenuous and fake. As in, really, you're still taking pot shots about D'arcy and James even though they haven't been in the equation for years? (FWIW, These were often the same people who used to deride D'arcy and James's uselessness in the band.)

I think what it boils down to is a lot of Pumpkin fans are very emotional, for whatever reason, about the band. Sometimes irrationally so. And they (I should probably be saying "we") take things very personally, case in point, the nostalgia of D'arcy and James.

I agree with your thoughts on Siamese Dream and first heard it around the same age.

 
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