For a recent preview of The Smashing Pumpkins concert in Orlando, FL, someone who thought they were really clever commented that $50 was a lot to pay for a band that hadn’t had a hit since the Clinton era. It seems this person doesn’t understand that that’s how most bands who are in that boat make their money nowadays.
And truly? Despite all of the ill will that Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins has collected over the years, from critics, other musicians, former managers, and even fans, he is more than worthy of making a living as a touring musician. His voice is unique, to say the least, but he still sings his old hits with the same timbre and volume that he did years ago. He can still play guitar as though no time has passed since the band released Siamese Dream in 1993. The new Smashing Pumpkins, version we’ve lost count, consists of the latest rotation of a pretty female bassist (and typically one that has played in another alternative rock band recently – in the past, Corgan-accompanying bassists have been pilfered from bands like Hole, A Perfect Circle, and in this most recent incarnation, Veruca Salt), an Asian guitarist, and a drummer who is willing to sport a mullet or a bowl cut to honor Jimmy Chamberlin. And they are solid enough to convince even the most finicky of longtime fans. Corgan is too much of a diva and truly too good of a musician to surround himself with others who lack chops, and playing with The Smashing Pumpkins is a good enough gig to lure outstanding young musicians out on the road.
But maybe the aforementioned commenter is correct. Nearly $50 is a lot to pay to see some old geezer onstage, flanked by young kids, playing nostalgic tracks. But when you’ve been playing since the late 80s, and survived the rise and fall of grunge, various Lollapaloozas, losing band members to drug addictions, band breakups and new projects, writing a poetry book, and criticism not just from critics themselves but from an entire culture, rocking out two weeknights in a row has long been a part of your repertoire. Corgan may have truly earned his negative reputation with some petulant rock star antics in the past, but no one can deny his level of skill and professionalism as a musician. He is, for all intents and purposes, a survivor.
And if $50 is too high a price to pay for an outstanding rock show, when there are so few bands still releasing new material who are capable of putting that on, then so be it. Tell that to the audiences who have helped the Pumpkins to sell out most of the shows on this tour.
Recent sets have been filled with a lot of new songs from the oft-confusing series Kalaidescope by Teargarden (songs that are equally palatable and musically complex, something lacking on 2007’s Zeitgeist album), but fans will be happy to hear old hits. Corgan will begrudgingly play “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, seeming dispassionate while singing “Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage,” which sounds just as dated as you’d imagine, and wishing that said song didn’t pay for his second home. Luckily, he’s a lot more excited to play a rollicking version of “Tonight Tonight” to the delight of audiences. Even bigger old school Pumpkins fans may get to hear and be totally thrilled by the best arrangement of “Perfect” – ever. He’s been throwing in old favorites like “Stumbeline” and “Tristessa” at random shows, although not last night in Orlando. And despite his lack of love for some of his older hits, when he sings about “angels with their wings glued on” in “Cherub Rock”, decrying early 90s scenesters, it rings just as true today as it did in 1993. And he really still loves playing the guitar solo on that song.
So forget what you’ve heard. He might not get the band to play “Zero”. Forgive all the crazy statements from that Rolling Stone interview a few months ago. Know that you’re seeing a band that doesn’t live on nostalgia alone. If you go to see The Smashing Pumpkins, you will be witness to a growing rock legacy, and you won’t regret it.
If you can convince a friend to take you instead of their date who only knows them as the band that sings “Tarantula” and “that world is a vampire song”, you can still catch The Smashing Pumpkins tonight at Revolution in Fort Lauderdale, located at 200 West Broward Blvd, downtown. Doors open at 7pm. If you can’t convince your friend, it’s too bad – the show is sold out, once again.