LIVE PHOTOS/REVIEW: Smashing Pumpkins @ Barclays Center

A Smashing Pumpkins fan tries to get the perfect iPhone shot

Words and Photos by Andrew Parks

A few years ago, I had the (some would say) pleasure of seeing a random Soundgarden reunion in Chicago. A slightly surreal display of stilted solos, forced smiles, and Jesus Christ poses–literally, not the song– that Chris Cornell had spent years perfecting in a hillside mansion mirror, it alternated between fleeting moments of guitar-guided reverie and the feeling that far too many Gen X dreams died spectacular deaths tonight.

Now don’t get me wrong; like most children of the ’80s who transformed into surly teenagers in the early ’90s, I can recite molten grunge standards like “Rusty Cage,” “Outshined” and “Black Hole Sun” from memory. So I was secretly excited to see the boys back in town to play a multi-purpose gymnasium on UIC’s East Campus. The problem–and this was echoed a few years earlier when I saw Stone Temple Pilots during South by Southwest–was the inescapable chasm between Cornell and the rest of the band. Someone clearly didn’t get the memo that the entire country thought his Timbaland collab was some kind of ego-exorcising joke, and he had to earn our respect back. This may have changed in their fall tour run, or on their first proper album in 16 years (the recently released King Animal), but to these eyes, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots seemed to be fulfilling that age old cliche of getting the band back together for the sole purpose of paying one’s bills.

Smashing Pumpkins @ Barclays Center

Not that there’s anything wrong with that; if people are willing to pay for a freshly exhumed nostalgia act, going through the motions may be all they want in the end. (See also: every Rolling Stones show since Voodoo Lounge.) However, it does set up quite a contrast with the sometimes baffling (a synth-heavy solo album called TheFutureEmbrace, this Pitchfork interview, Zwan), something breathtaking (songwriting that remains stronger than most of his contemporaries, with or without the original Smashing Pumpkins lineup; live shows like the one I saw last night) turns Billy Corgan’s career has taken over the past decade. You don’t make those kind of decisions if you’re looking to boost your bank account. You do them because you sold enough copies of Siamese Dream and the greatest CD-era double album since Use Your Illusion to do whatever you damn well please.

Lucky for us longtime fans, Corgan seems to be finally reclaiming some of the spark that’s been missing since he made a Jimmy, D’arcy and James reunion sound as likely as Axl and Slash meeting under the mistletoe this Christmas. An understandable development since the frontman has been playing with his ‘new’ rhythm guitarist (Jeff Schroeder) for five years now, and the rest of his rebooted lineup for at least two. So, yes, the band’s first proper LP (Oceania) is a step in the right direction, impenetrable storyline be damned. (Something about love, and stars, and the sun, and water, right? Or is that just the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness reissue that dropped last week?)

Smashing Pumpkins @ Barclay Center

That much was clear amid the new car smells, short lines and previously unthinkable selling points (no ATM fees! charging stations for cell phones! dare-I-say-exciting food options that reach well beyond Yankee Stadium’s one Parm stand!) of Brooklyn’s Barclay Center on Monday. As Corgan led his well-rehearsed wrecking crew on the “long, dark journey” that is Oceania, I found myself thinking I’d heard a Siamese Dream B-side one second (“Quasar”) and songs I’d surely revisit on Spotify later the next (the immediate melancholic melodies of “Pale Horse,” a towering title track).

None of which equaled the raw power of the group’s 15-minute take on “X.Y.U.”–a deep cut from Mellon Collie–or the giving-’em-what-they-really-want rush one still gets from hearing “Disarm,” “Tonight, Tonight” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” back to back, but Corgan already knew that. How else to explain his surprising sense of humor–the way he freely admitted that “some reputations are earned,” and that he’d “get around to some dusty classics later”…if he felt like it. While he’d probably said the same thing in every other city on this tour (fairly consistent set lists suggest that much, from a triumphant David Bowie cover to a ripping version of “Zero” at the end), there’s something refreshing about owning your mistakes and embracing the art you truly believe in–good, bad, or somewhere in between–especially when it probably wouldn’t be much fun for the rest of ‘Smashing Pumpkins’ to take on more of a cover band role than a creative one. That’s more than we can say about Corgan’s closest antecedent in the cooky, lineup-shifting frontman department: Axl Rose.

Or as Corgan said with a smile later, “I’m killing my mystique right now, but you know what? I don’t fucking care.”

Smashing Pumpkins @ Barclay Center, 12.10.12:
The Celestials
Violet Rays
My Love Is Winter
One Diamond, One Heart
Pale Horse
The Chimera
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Tonite Reprise
Tonight, Tonight
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
The Dream Machine

Ava Adore
Cherub Rock

  • Jxnatti

    The sound was really good last night, in the shiny new complex, with the exception of one of the
    later Oceania songs in which William just banged on his mistuned tinny Strat
    like a monkey and gave everyone a frontal headache. His drummer, who had kind of a timberlake
    look, was positively shredding. The bass
    and other guitar played well but like they were at the end of a long tour…let’s
    get home and crawl under the sheets for a few weeks.

    Both the big globe visual screen and light show were a total
    bore. I read somewhere it was designed
    by the Pink Floyd guy, who I’m sure wasn’t cheap…waste of money. I don’t think I looked at the video more than
    once. Ooooh, archival footage of a
    missile factory….think deep thoughts about the slightly tangential relationship
    to the music…ooooh a big lonely tree and a starry night sky, how trippy…who
    cares? Maybe it’s because William, with
    his chubby belly hanging out of his too tight tshirt and dramatic rock poses,
    is more interesting to check out. I love
    how coming from the era he does that he clearly worships overproduced rock gods
    like Floyd…at one point during a ballad he even did a pretty decent Waters
    imitation croak. Awesome.

    It was hilariously disconnected how much he talked about
    football. All of the fake artsy fartsies
    were giving me the stink eye earlier for watching Monday night football during
    the opening band, then it turns out William probably was, too. Go cry about it, gloom cookies…its America,
    we love crippling violence.

    While we’re at it though, it was actually bizarre that the
    torch bearer for twisted, obsessive romantic love responded to boos at his
    mention of Tom Brady with “What’s wrong with it? Do well and marry a hot model.” Really, dipshit? That’s what it’s all about? Are we back at the point of admiring Aryan frat
    boys who have been given every opportunity to succeed? Is whatever Brady is doing, “Doing well”? Funny I thought it was about creating beauty
    through your art and finding lasting love and warmth and acceptance.

    Another point about the interlude commentary: the last time I saw this band was in some
    small venue in San Francisco, and I’m pretty sure that like me, nobody cares or
    remembers about New York’s acceptance of SP back in the day. You’re just playing yourself with the whole “doesn’t
    it make more sense now?” thing. Expressions
    like this don’t further your reputation as misunderstood, gifted crank, or ruin
    your mystique… it’s just irritating arrogance.
    At the end of the day you write good songs, have an interesting voice and
    can really play your guitar…let’s leave it at that. If you actually want to get into it, SP probably
    does make more sense now, but it doesn’t have anything to do with you. It’s because back in the day New York wasn’t just
    a corporate run shadow of its former self that eats whatever gets stuffed down
    its bloated throat, it actually had a music scene of its own that didn’t really
    dig your grandiose arrangements. So how
    does it feel that your way of doing the good old rock and roll goes hand in
    hand with late stage corporate capitalism?
    But don’t worry, William, you’re currently winning the battle of you vs.
    Kurt. In 20 years nobody will really remember
    Nirvana and you can still do a farewell tour.

    Oceania is a very good album. I thought so as soon as it came out, and
    still do. And getting to hear it whole
    was awesome, even if the lemmings in the crowd didn’t know any better. Takes balls to play the whole thing front to
    back (another Pink Floyd move, bravo).
    Try that, Soundgarden. I also
    think the newly remastered and expanded Mellon Collie sounds amazing, so
    amazing that the band should release an acoustic version of it and tour small
    venues to promote. Are you listening,

    All in all a good safe arena rock night was had by all. Starting the “dusty old classics” with XYU
    was a heavy, much appreciated choice, and the Bowie cover was sweet as
    well. The “new new” song (Dream Machine)
    they debuted played well, but I would have liked to hear Porcelina and Mayonnaise
    instead. Maybe next time. And the good tshirts were only $20….rock on.