Live Review: The Smashing Pumpkins - Gibson Amphitheater, Los Angeles
Wed, 03 Dec 2008 14:49:52
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During the first night of The Smashing Pumpkins' two-show stop at the Gibson Amphitheater, it felt like 1995 at Universal Citywalk. The "Jurassic Parking" structure resembled a scene from Heavy Metal Parking Lot. The smell of marijuana and stale beer wafted through the air, while various late twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings clad in "Zero" t-shirts and flannel button-ups tread through the garage toward the venue. Couples drank and made out in their cars. In many ways, the vibe was the same as it was that fall that the Pumpkins released their epic alt rock monolith, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The air was cold, brisk and full of life, just like it was that October 13 years ago.
This reviewer may only have been 11 when that record dropped, but he vividly recalls the feeling of alternative rock n' roll boundlessness that Mellon Collie summoned. It was an event marked by a revolutionary fire. During this first show, The Smashing harnessed that fire more than ever. In fact, they sounded better now than they did back then. The concert was nothing short of epic, and it's everything a fan could hope for from Billy Corgan and Co.
The show began like a dream, right from the ethereal keyboard opening. Drum demon Jimmy Chamberlain hit the stage first, delivering a metallic jazz-fusion percussion solo. The Pumpkins have often been considered Corgan and Corgan alone. However, tonight proved otherwise, as Chamberlain took the spotlight first before anyone else, including the enigmatic frontman. The fantastic backing band including bassist Ginger Reyes and guitarist Jeff Schroeder served as perfect accompaniments, and everyone got his/her time to shine.
After the drum jam, Billy hit the stage with the rest of the band. Clad in a white gown with a fantastic gold crown, he looked like a rock deity. It was another stage persona that Corgan's never shown, and 20 years into his career, he still keeps fans guessing. With the flurry of colorful lights, the opening stage setup looked like a freaky game show from the '60s directed by David Lynch. Corgan proclaimed, "Welcome to the show. Don't be afraid of the dark. It's only a show." However, it was more than a show, it was an experience that any rock fan shouldn't miss. After a sunny and bouncy "Everybody Come Clap Your Hands," Corgan shed the Greco-Roman digs in favor of a white "Zero" shirt and spaceman pants, and he blasted the crowd off to oblivion with him.
Forging an impenetrable wall of distortion, "Tarantula" sounded massive, as it brought the band's most recent full-length, Zeitgeist, to life on stage. Corgan ripped a frenetic solo like some mad six-string scientist. His playing becomes bombastic live, and his voice commanded all attention, as he riffed through the song. Next, the band's recent Guitar Hero release, "G.L.O.W.," possessed an arena rock stomp. The crowd began chanting along to the distorted din. As the chorus resonated, the song stood proudly alongside the band's classics. The staples elicited the biggest response though. Jamming a Middle Eastern-style lead, the band launched right into "Siva," and the audience erupted. The song brandished the same raw vibrancy that it had in the band's early days, and Corgan hit everything note for note.
From the Lost Highway soundtrack, "Eye" followed, feeling noir-ish, sexy and dangerous with its shaky electro buildup and lovelorn chorus. Corgan's voice soared over the keyboards, and the song reached rapturous heights of aural ecstasy. "Mayonaise" brought everyone back to the early '90s, and it had a strange sense of pain that gave the crowd so much joy to partake in.
"Tonight, Tonight" sounded cinematic and utterly orchestral. On stage, the Pumpkins injected vitality into the classic single. The crowd hung on every word, singing along as the lights flashed and Corgan poured his heart out with each line. "Stand Inside Your Love" led into a full metal jam with guitar leads abound. Another track from Zeitgeist, "United States," stretched into a long sonic journey that ended with Corgan playing strains of "The Star Spangled Banner" on his fender strat with his teeth, as strobelights flashed. The song had a progressive brilliance that couldn't be matched by any other alt rock band.
Before breaking off into an intimate acoustic section mid-set, Corgan, all smiles, joked, "We know you like slow jams—especially slow jammin' down the 101." The crowd laughed, and Corgan donned an acoustic guitar as the rest of his band mates closely flanked him towards the front of the stage. He cracked another one, "It's a good time to sit because you're all old. We know the '90s are a distant memory."
The '90s didn't feel so distant. However, it wasn't because the songs felt nostalgic. Rather, they were timeless, and given the band's new vigor, they feel fresh and fiery. In addition to celebrating 20 years as a band, last night was actually the eight-year anniversary of the Pumpkins' "final" show. Billy addressed that fact before telling the story behind the somber, gorgeous acoustic number, "Once Upon a Time." He explained, "I wrote this song for my mom, Martha. She taught me not to give a fuck about anything, and you can see it's really worked for me. It's been a good career strategy, I can tell you that." The song was one of the most poignant moments of the evening, as the traditionally guarded frontman let everyone close to him. In fact, the song's warm embrace overtook the crowd in a haze of lush melody.
“We know the '90s are a distant memory”
"Again Again Again" and "The Rose March" rounded out the acoustic set, before the band kicked back into full metal messiah mode. "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" sounded more vicious and vitriolic than ever before. It was sped up to match the live rage in Corgan's voice. "Today" and "Heavy Metal Machine" kept the energy at a high.
The band ended with a fantastic rendition of "We Only Come Out at Night." It seemed like the Mellon Collie days again, but everyone was all smiles this time around. In truth, today is the day for Smashing Pumpkins. It's way better than ever before. The '90s can officially rest easy.