Less than a year after disbanding the Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan debuted his new band, Zwan, on Friday night. Eight hundred ecstatic fans packed into Pomona, California’s Glass House for a fourteen-song, hour-and-a-half set from the freshly formed foursome — Corgan, ex-Pumpkin drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, former Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney and bassist Skullfisher (a.k.a. David Pajo, formerly of noise agents Slint and Tortoise).
Though two songs, the chaotic “Chrysanthemum” and the big-riffed “Sorrow,” suggested Zwan would be a Pumpkins rehash, Sweeney’s warm, often twangy tones (versus Pumpkins guitarist James Iha’s crunch) added to the optimistic mood of others. In the four-chord rave-up “Cast a Stone,” Corgan sang, “You should never feel alone when I’m around,” to the crowd’s obvious delight. In the countrified “The Shining Path,” for which he moved to organ, he sang, “Let the new day break with love.” Over the soft, shuffling of “What Have They Done to Me” — on which Corgan again played keys — he sang, “I might walk alone but I’m almost home.”
The set’s centerpiece was a sprawling number called “Jesus I.” Built on a simple, repeating progression, the song grew into an increasingly disordered garage freak-out before Corgan threw in a few verses of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man,” and then began chanting “J-E-S-U-S” a la Van Morrison’s “Gloria.”
Though “Jesus I” and others — like “My Life and Times” and “Never Give Up” — were plenty loud, Corgan seems to have given up on screaming. In between songs, he was also quiet, rarely speaking beyond a “thank you.” But it was clear from the guitar interplay and on-stage giggling that he’s found something of a musical soul mate in Sweeney.
If there is a common stylistic bond between Zwan and the Pumpkin, it’s Jimmy Chamberlin. While the new material might occasionally call for less thunder, his jazz-minded flurry of rolls remains instantly recognizable. One song, “The Empty Sea,” was constructed on a steady rumble before evolving in a droning jam, under which Chamberlin played what amounted to a thirty-second solo.
Cries for Smashing Pumpkins’ songs flew from the floor all night, but they would go unanswered. The lone non-Zwan material was a cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” complete with extended instrumental intro. There was one encore, “And So I Died of a Broken Heart,” a softly strummed number featuring Corgan and Sweeney’s vocal harmonies.
The evening before Zwan’s debut, both Corgan and Chamberlin attended Mick Jagger’s invite-only mini-set at Hollywood’s El Rey Theater. Neither would say much about the new band, but when asked if he had any reservations about working with Corgan again, Chamberlin said, “He’s the love of my life. I never even thought about not doing it.”
The set list for Zwan’s debut show (song titles subject to change):
The Empty Sea
Cast a Stone
Don’t Let Me Down
The Shining Path
What Have They Done to Me?
Never Give Up
My Life and Times
And So I Died of a Broken Heart