TENDER OR BLARINGLY ASSAULTIVE, PUMPKINS ALWAYS SMASHING.
One Smashing Pumpkins fan had a chance at tickets for the band's Southern California shows but decided against going, complaining, "I always go to see the Smashing Pumpkins, and it always turns out to be a heavy-metal band."
It turned out the same Tuesday in San Diego. But before the Pumpkins' 2-1/2-hour show turned into a metal mass of distorted guitar and Billy Corgan's strangled voice, there were moments of splendid musical and emotional abandon - especially those accompanied only by subtle guitar.
Corgan wants to be Bob Dylan, quietly communicating thoughtful emotions in literate, wordy song. He also wants to be Ozzy Osbourne, screaming angst and destruction through a wall of metal noise in "Zero."
Corgan has decided he'll have it all. Hey, any guy who's gonna release a sprawling, two-CD set of his most ambitious music ever, then shave his pale skull clean and go on national TV wearing a garish black-and-silver T-shirt emblazoned with "ZERO" obviously knows something about going over the top.
And over he went Tuesday night, turning San Diego's SOMA into a cinderblock- and metal-sealed blasting zone of music and emotion. (The band has now headed north for a way-sold-out, three-night stand at the Palace in Hollywood beginning tonight.)
In an opening semiacoustic set and then a long, roaring electric tirade, the Pumpkins simultaneously mocked themselves and showed why they've become one of the dominant creative forces of the '90s - not to mention becoming a burgeoning commercial blockbuster with the hit album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" and this small-club tour, likely the hottest concert ticket of '96.
Anyone familiar with the Pumpkins' rather stiff stage show from the past, especially their headlining Lollapalooza slot two years ago, is in for a surprise. Maybe it's the intimate venues, but more likely it's that the Pumpkins worked more as a band on "Mellon Collie."
Whatever the reason, the transformation is often spectacular - a loose, limber band with everyone pulling his or her musical weight.
The Pumpkins were living proof of Corgan's lyrics in the opening "Tonight, Tonight": "Believe that life can change/ that you're not stuck in vain/ we're not the same/ we're different tonight."
Corgan seemed especially comfortable living in his skin. Maybe the overwhelming commercial success of "Mellon Collie" gave an added boost of confidence. He was chatty, open, funny and never condescending - so much so that his amiable stage persona overcame that recent head-shaving that, on TV at least, has left him looking like some sort of space alien or one of those eels from a Discovery Channel documentary.
For every despairing "Despite all my rage/ I'm still just a rat in a cage" lyric ("Bullet With Butterfly Wings"), Corgan offers a ray of hope, be it "Today is the greatest day I've ever known" ("Today") or "Believe in me as I believe in you" ("Tonight, Tonight"). The tender emotion of "Beautiful" and "By Starlight" was jarred by the screaming electric angst of "Zero" and "Bullet With Butterfly Wings."
So the guy has two - maybe more - personalities. You're hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't these days. Corgan just sings it to the skies. His chameleon act makes other angst-driven bands such as Nine Inch Nails suddenly seem one-dimensional by comparison.
The format - where the band acted as its own opening act, starting acoustic, then going electric - was perfect, as everyone from Neil Young to Elvis Costello has discovered in the past.
The first half-hour of the show was perhaps the most satisfying music of the Pumpkins' career. Corgan's quieter, introspective songs were delicately complemented by James Iha's slide guitar shadings. Amazingly, bassist D'arcy and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin have in just a couple of years gone from clumsy studio liabilities to one of the most supple rhythm sections in modern rock.
And despite the occasional stab at rock-star detachment, Corgan was unable to keep from grinning as the audience sang every word of "Today."
After a short break, the electric blasting began in earnest. The smashing chords of "Jelly Belly," "Geek U.S.A.," "Bullet" and more obliterated the introspective mood. Only only a few electric songs - "1979," "Cherub Rock" and a fantastic, tough "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans" - brought back any subtlety or nuance to the show.
Eventually, the long sonic assault took its toll, hammering the crowd into submission. The calls for the first encore were weak at best, finally gaining enough momentum to bring the Pumpkins back. When that ended, the crowd started to disperse, happy to go home. It was only the lighting and roadies scurrying on stage that tipped anyone that the Pumpkins weren't quite done. Most of the crowd gamely stayed through the second encore and were well-paid for it; a version of "By Starlight" was as stirring as its studio incarnation.
The band will be back for a proper tour this year. Watch for it to be one of the best of the year.
Photo Their hairstyles, makeup and outfits may make them look like extraterrestrials, but the Smashing Pumpkins sure know how to get Earthlings rocking along with them.
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|Title Annotation:||Review; L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Feb 2, 1996|
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