After a close friend described the current state of the Smashing Pumpkins as “washed out,” I was ready to defend the quartet despite their ostensibly lengthy, experimental, and not always well-received musical ventures.
Why does everyone always make fun of Billy Corgan? Outside of his mass of supporters, I’ve heard people describe him as “that awkward bald guy”, with his “whiny sad voice,” who takes himself way too seriously. But let’s face it, there’s a reason why the Pumpkins have been around since they formed in Chicago 1988. Aside from his musical talent, Billy Corgan represents the most unlikeliest celebrity in the same spirit as Trent Reznor defiles the machine of commercialized music; he may be a musical God, but at least he tries to overcome it by staying humble.
The show ultimately proved that – the set was a well-balanced blend of all the best aspects of their career. Starting off with an explosively energized performance of “Doomsday Clock,” the debut track from their latest album Zeitgeist, the band rocked out with “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” among other quintessential Pumpkins tunes. It was the best of the past and the present, from “Down” and other Rotten Apples songs, and surprisingly enough, “To Sheila” and “Ava Adore” from their most radically experimental album Adore. While Corgan was missing his iconic Zero shirt, his long-sleeved stripes made us all remember the heavy psychadelic roots of the band. In humble appreciation, the band dedicated “1979” to Canada for being the world’s #1 fan – a sweet touch indeed. I also particarly liked the fact that James Iha and D’arcy were replaced by but another female bassist and asian guitarist. Did he think nobody would notice?
Now for something a little more substantial. Zeitgeist as an album explores many conceptions of nationality – particularly in reference to the band’s good old homeland, the United States, and the alienation that surrounds an individual when being attached to certain values and meanings simply based on their locality. It’s for this reason that the album in and of itself is so monumental: at all points in history there is indeed a “spirit of the time.” Hegel described this as a single historical figure who represents all aspects and values of that time, and eventually when such meanings are overturned, another Zeitgeist comes to be. Tracks such as “For God and Country” look at this phenomenological dialectic and describes how everything – including music is a subject to this temporality. At the end of the set, Corgan came out by himself and quite candidly laid bare his appreciation for the fans in Canada, who kept the Pumpkins at #1 on the charts when they were #2 in their own country. This is all making sense.