The Smashing Pumpkins @ Webster Hall, NYC 12/8/14
End-of-year lists — including ours — may have already hit the internet, but there are still a few releases left in these waning weeks of 2014. One of them is Monuments To An Elegy, the Smashing Pumpkins’ followup to 2012’s Oceania, and the first in a planned set of sister albums that Billy Corgan has said will be completed next year with Day For Night. Though it might still exist in the shadow of the Pumpkins’ peak (most music by most people does, for what it’s worth), it’s getting pretty well-received so far. It’s a curious little album — super short by Pumpkins standards and making liberal use of glossy synths in a way that, as Michael observed in his Premature Evaluation of the album, doesn’t have an easily identifiable precedent in Corgan’s career. Fittingly, Corgan has taken current Pumpkins associate Jeff Schroeder on the road — along with Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk on drums and the Killers’ Mark Stoermer on bass — for a handful of small, special shows around the release of the album. Last night, they hit Webster Hall in Manhattan.
The last time I had the opportunity to see the Smashing Pumpkins was in an arena. Webster Hall, on the other hand, is a middle-ish-sized club. Having passed on that arena show, it made for a unique setting for my first time seeing a Pumpkins show. Though there are many fans turned off by the idea of seeing Corgan and whoever’s he got with him at any given moment instead of the original lineup of the band, there are plenty of others still fervently attending his shows, and the band wouldn’t have any trouble filling a much larger space than this. Parts of Webster looked like they were literally overflowing: On the opposite side of the balcony from where I stood, people had climbed onto all sorts of things to get a better vantage point, combining into a big mass of bodies at different elevations that looked impossible to pass through.
The thing about a dual guitars, bass, and drums lineup for these couple of Pumpkins shows — in addition to NYC, they’re doing London, Paris, and Berlin — is that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for this new material, which makes up an appropriate but not overwhelming portion of the set. Opener “One And All” sounded great, because it’s the chuggiest guitar song on the album, with a riff that does approach prime Pumpkins era vibes. But a lot of what makes this new material stand out is those synth textures mingling freely with Corgan’s overdriven guitars, and stuff like “Tiberius” or “Monuments” got a bit lost without those little glistening synths. “Drum + Fife,” like “One And All,” fared a bit better, with the band turning it into a kind of hardened funk that translated well. (Their approaching-nu-metal cover of “Fame,” not so much.)
As I was at the show, I kept thinking it was sort of a weird setlist, even heavier on the new stuff than I would’ve expected even from someone like Corgan — never one for fan service, necessarily. But the hits and old material still made up the majority of the set; it was just that those inclusions were, at times, random choices. As spiritual antecedents, stuff like “Ava Adore,” “Ghost And The Glass Children,” and “Stand Inside Your Love” make a lot of sense mixed in with the Monuments material, but, again, going without synths kind of takes away characteristic elements of stuff like “Ava Adore.”
I like almost everything Corgan’s ever worked on, and probably have soft spots for parts of the catalog that many others don’t. Still, this was my first time seeing him live, and I did have a certain weakness for wanting to hear the hits. To that end, there was a take-no-prisoners run toward the end of the main set that did the job: “Drown” into “Disarm” into “Zero” into “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” Earlier, the orchestral swoop of “Tonight, Tonight” was turned into emphatic downstrokes of distorted guitar, and that time around it actually worked quite brilliantly. The general rawness of the show was surprising and kinda steamrolled the differences between all these songs, but once you could just sort of ride with the aesthetic, it was pretty exhilarating to see these songs blasted out in such a small space. Who knows if Corgan will take this lineup on the road in a more prolonged engagement, but together they kick up an impressive noise, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them do it again, whether in a room this small or much larger.
(Photos: DeShaun Craddock)