Billy Corgan hadn’t let five minutes go by before he peeled off his first guitar solo at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Smashing Pumpkins launched a fall tour last night. (The U.S. leg of the tour wraps up in Philadelphia on October 22nd, and the band heads to Europe for a series of dates after that.) The group’s new show is a two-hour feast of multisensory psychedelia – think strobe lights, reflective gold fringe and a pair of enormous fans in the shape of revolving daisies.
But Corgan and his current bandmates – guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne – have hardly gone hippie since they last played live in 2010: At the Wiltern the Pumpkins were more interested in power than flowers, bulldozing through muscular versions of old hits, recent stuff and material from Oceania, an upcoming studio album due out early next year.
The lean-and-mean approach extended to Corgan’s stage banter, which as recently as three years ago was likely to devolve into a lengthy diatribe about his artistic integrity and fans’ obsession with the early 1990s. In stark contrast, the frontman didn’t even address last night’s capacity crowd until well over an hour into the concert, when he sang, “Oh, California, look what you’ve done to me,” in “Owata,” a crisply propulsive highlight from the Pumpkins’ ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project. (Earlier he’d freestyled a bit of “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers,” but that seemed purely for his own amusement.)
If he kept the words to a minimum, though, Corgan funneled his rat-in-a-cage intensity into his singing and playing, particularly in the pummeling “Quasar,” from Oceania, and in a thrashed-out take on Siamese Dream’s “Geek U.S.A.” The band reached back to their 1993 classic for a handful of other tunes, including “Cherub Rock” and “Silverfuck,” the latter of which featured a freak-out by the band’s two guitarists; Schroeder later defaced that song’s mellow stretch with some appealing No Wave skronk.
And although the energy dipped a bit during “Suffer” and “Obscured” (both from the Gish days), Corgan and company recharged for Oceania’s “My Love Is Winter” and the Adore deep cut “For Martha.” They encored with a breakneck “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” and even here Corgan kept his nose to the grindstone, allowing the audience to take over lead-vocal duties for an a cappella singalong. Despite all his rage, dude looked happy – and grateful – to be there.