The Smashing Pumpkins @ Hisense Arena
A mammoth sphere hung above Billy Corgan and the modern reincarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins, projecting rotating images that I’m sure were meant to appear introspective, but reminded me of nothing more than those old shitty Windows Media Player screen savers.
This is The Smashing Pumpkins of 2012, taking to stages much too large as they lay down Oceania, the new record, front to back. The immediacy and tension of the '90s Pumpkins is long gone. From my vantage point, Corgan stood in the centre of distracting stage, without even a spotlight on his pale face. Which is horribly fitting, since Corgan and his Pumpkin b(r)and are nothing more than a shadow of former greatness.
Though Corgan is the only remaining Pumpkin, that hasn’t stopped him from whoring out the name. This was evidenced by the $40 “Zero” t-shirts for sale, originally worn by Corgan in the Bullet With Butterfly Wings video.
No longer are Corgan and the Pumpkins suited to play arenas, as the largely empty (or, mostly partitioned off) Hisense Arena proved. Violet Rays highlighted the subtle grace of Oceania, leading one to believe how much more suitable this sort of gig would’ve sounded and appeared at venues such as The Forum or Palace.
Oceania isn’t a bad record per se, with tracks like My Love Is Winter and Panopticon translating well enough live. And to be fair, Corgan’s pipes sounded richer than their scratchy past. His band also kept time respectfully enough. By sticking to his vision and playing Oceania for half the show, Corgan drew a thick line in the sand, as if to say, “Are you with me or against me?” In asking fans to pay upwards of $100 a ticket, the answer was evident: over one hour into the set, and not a single shred of classic Pumpkins? It was a clear shun of the majority of the over-25 crowd, who originally fell in love with the band on the strength of those tracks.
The moment you agree to play arenas, you must also accept that giving fans your classics (or even some variety) is part of the deal. It begged another question: who was onstage at Hisense, The Smashing Pumpkins or Corgan’s inflated ego? Being both an artist and a performer is a delicate balance that Corgan doesn’t give a shit about. He implored the audience, half-heartedly, to take a “journey” through playing Oceania. This drew the odd cheer from the crowd, but coupled with the bored looks around me, it was clear that many weren’t aboard Corgan’s journey. You cannot fully move forward unless you admit and acknowledge where you’ve come from, Mr. Corgan.
Finally, as the last notes of Wildflower faded out, Corgan dived into a plodding rendition of Bowie’s Space Oddity “The stars look very different today,” sung Corgan. How very, very true.
Disarm and Tonight, Tonight followed, but without the gusto these songs once maintained (and Jimmy Chamberlain’s skilled drumwork) it felt like little more than placating a crowd which Corgan had already lost.
After Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Corgan announced that the band was about to play Soot And Stars: a track not played by the Pumpkins in 18 years, (which was a bold-faced lie, because it’s been played throughout this tour), followed by an awkward statement. “Not like you deserve it,” he said.
Uh, alright William. I’d wager your fans have another idea about what’s truly deserved in a night of rock'n'roll.
BY JOSHUA KLOKE
Photo credit: Mary Boukouvalas
LOVED: Seeing that fan vomit on the tram ride home. Feel your pain, my man.
HATED: That lacklustre Bowie cover. Seriously Billy, you’re out of your league.
DRANK: A few cheap pots beforehand.