Billy Corgan isn’t mad at you anymore. At last night’s two-hour Smashing Pumpkins concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, he was a man filled with love and longing to accompany his rage. There wasn’t a single moment of defensiveness about the current lineup of the band or his place in the rock & roll pantheon. He let his new music speak for itself.
Early on, Corgan cheerfully alerted the crowd that the first part of the night would be dedicated to the band’s ambitious new album, Oceania, followed by “a few of those dusty classics – stuff off of Dookie, Nevermind, Superunknown and Van Halen I.”
His good mood was understandable. The music of Oceania is some of his most direct and emotionally potent since the late Nineties. At the Gibson, the new album’s grand scope revealed itself from the first song, “Quasar,” rising from an impatient swirl of big guitars and Corgan’s furious whine. With the romantic “The Celestials,” Corgan was more vulnerable, strumming a jangly riff as he sang a hopeful line, “I’m going to love you 101 percent,” while bassist Nicole Fiorentino provided a soft harmony vocal and swayed gently to the rhythm.
Above the band was a huge white globe, which acted as a curved projection screen for a series of cosmic and psychedelic images, befitting the album’s often epic scale. Oceania‘s title song was characteristically spacious, defiant, uplifting, noisy and melodic, with whispers and screams and echoing guitar lines. It was a Corgan translation of Pink Floyd. And “Violet Rays” emerged from layers of Floydian keyboard swells before shifting into some jagged outlaw guitar.
On “My Love Is Winter,” Corgan wailed “Please come back …” with real longing, then leaned back for some biting guitar interplay with Jeff Schroeder, in one of the night’s many sweeping guitar statements. The first part of the set ended with the album-closing “Wildflower,” with drummer Mike Byrne, Fiorentino and Schroeder on keyboards for dreamy waves of atmosphere, creating a setting for Corgan to ignite one more molten guitar solo.
The second part of the show wasn’t simply a predictable set of hits, but something more interesting, beginning with a searing take on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The song was ideally suited to Corgan’s high-tension voice.
The band roared through “Tonight, Tonight” (from 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) while the big globe projected scenes from Georges Melies’ 1902 silent film classic A Trip to the Moon. Rising from delicate ballad to an explosive rock wall of sound, the song remains a great specimen of the early Pumpkins quiet-loud energy. Mellon Collie is set for an expanded reissue in December.
After a wounded “Disarm” (from the 1993 album Siamese Dream), “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” opened with a Gothic bass riff, soon followed by a wailing “Zero” and a wild and churning “Cherub Rock.” Especially moving was the tough, weary ballad dedicated to the bandleader’s musician father, “Song for a Son,” which built into a full eruption by the band.
“L.A. is my lady,” Corgan joked, recalling the title of one of Frank Sinatra’s less memorable tunes, a failed anthem for the city he sometimes now calls home. He joked easily with the crowd. “Every hedonist-Satanist, we love you!”
And he never even got to “Runnin’ With the Devil.”