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Live Report: Smashing Pumpkins

Universal Amphitheater, Universal City, Calif., July 1, 1998

When it comes to change, there are those who subscribe to the “If
ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” mentality, and there are others who
believe that change spells progress and shows an ability to adapt
to an inconstant status quo. The Smashing Pumpkins would appear to
be fierce advocates of the latter. Not only is change a good thing,
but immediately changing what you’ve just changed is even better.
Having said that, the Pumpkins deconstructed and rearranged the
fifteen songs on Adore from murky, intoxicating poems into
explosive, brazenly crafted performance pieces before an enthralled
congregation of 6,000-plus at the Universal Amphitheater in
Universal City, Calif.

A lethargic and brooding “To Sheila” inaugurated the charitable
evening (the band’s full share of ticket sales was donated to Five
Acres, a Los Angeles-area children’s aid society), and set the tone
for a performance that would be more about evolution than
reminiscence. “Behold! The Nightmare,” “Pug” and “Crestfallen”
followed — all taking on a bolder, more aggressive texture than on
Adore. A raging “Ava Adore” was re-orchestrated into
something that sounded very similar to Led Zeppelin’s “The
Immigrant Song,” save the cabaret-style piano couplet in the middle
courtesy of keyboardist-for-hire Mike Garson.

Besides Garson, the stretching of Adore‘s songs into
full-blown epics was also facilitated by the three drummers who
replaced the ousted Jimmy Chamberlain. Former John Mellencamp
drummer Kenny Arnoff provides the primary firepower on skins, with
additional percussionists Dan Morris and Stephen Hodges adding to
the rhythmic assault with maracas, congas and gongs — instruments
that were previously unheard of in the Pumpkins regime.

Corgan, at first seeming all business on this night, showed his
playful side before “Tear.” After throwing his guitar pick at
D’Arcy, he was shot-down by his provocatively dressed bassist (yes,
she was wearing the see-through T-shirt that she so proudly
displays in Adore‘s liner notes) via a wincing “Stop
throwing picks!” “Girl Power! What can I say?” was the only
response Corgan could muster. It seems that on-stage frolicking
doesn’t fit so well into the band’s new-fashioned conceit. Ten
songs into the set, the Pumpkins finally reached into their
archives, albeit not very deeply. A jangly, down-home version of
“Tonight, Tonight” settled the crowd into a fireside mood before an
even gentler “Perfect” subdued matters even further.

The exercise in tranquillity, however, was abruptly halted by a
nearly unrecognizable “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” Proving to be
the most dramatic moment of the show, Corgan transformed himself
into a menacing, God-like figure and assaulted the audience with an
abrasive and primal version of the reprobate Mellon Collie
hymn. The shock of his incessant shrieking was still wearing off as
the band adjourned the main set with a tantric “For Martha.” The
first encore closed out the non-Adore hat trick with a
fuzzy, upbeat version of “1979” in which Corgan announced
mid-verse, “I almost forgot the words!” (Tonight being only the
second show of the North American tour, some fine-tuning in the
lyric department would do Corgan some good; earlier, he needed the
liner notes from Adore to get through a solemn “Annie
Dog”). With D’Arcy sprawled out on top of a speaker, Corgan
completed the performance of Adore‘s tracklist with a
lengthy “Blank Page.”

After stating that the show usually ends there, Corgan taunted
the crowd with the fact that the Chicago Bulls won the NBA
Championship — not the Lakers — before announcing “Are you sure
you can handle the metal? It’s going to get a little heavy.” An
eerie, near twenty-minute rendition of Joy Division’s
“Transmission” followed, with tidbits from David Bowie’s “Let’s
Dance” thrown in the mix as well. The pain of Ian Curtis’ lyrics
were easily adapted by Corgan, who specializes in that sort of
songwriting. It just so happens that the despairing songs become
desperately engaging when performed live. But what used to be
accomplished with grungy guitars and brutal drumming is now
executed with maracas, congas and a host of new musical surprises
— a transformation at one point in time which seemed less likely
than finding a wet bar in Hell. Would you like one or two olives
with your Martini, Mr. Corgan?

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