Anyone who was unsure as to what to expect from the Smashing Pumpkins’ performance at United Palace last Thursday surely had that question answered within the first few minutes. They started on time, and opened “Roctopus” with a Jimmy Chamberlin drum solo, after which erratic frontman Billy Corgan took the stage – in a dress. A big, layered, tulle dress, with a gold overcoat and a gold headdress resembling the sun.
Although the show was billed as the Smashing Pumpkins, “Billy Corgan and band” would have been more appropriate. Even discounting the fact that other than Corgan, Chamberlin is the only original member that remains, Corgan’s backing ensemble was just kind of there. They were dressed in their black and white gothic formal wear of suits, dresses and corsets, while Corgan stuck out even in terms of clothing, wearing an all-white layered skirt and matching white “Zero” shirt. There’s been plenty of talk that the original line-up was more or less manufactured as part of an image while Corgan ran the show, and noticing that the band members physically resembled those they were replacing seemed to be testament to such gossip.
If the show is going to be put in one person’s hands, however, at the very least Corgan is an entertaining choice. One cannot deny that he has impressive technical skill on guitar, and he made sure to introduce challenging riff after riff after riff, just in case anyone should try. Even the mediocre, more current material like “Tarantula” and “United States” was energized and exciting. When he wasn’t showing off by playing his guitar, he was showing off in the most literal meaning of the phrase, holding his guitar up above his head and staying that way for awhile, as if expecting to be hit by lightning. He’d play a note or two, then strike another pose of reverence.
But basic showing off on guitar or even wearing a skirt/dress is far too small time of an act for Corgan’s indulgence. He closed out the main portion of the set with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun,” which was, of course, ridiculously long and filled with general messing around with feedback. Towards the end of it, he began to beat some sort of tin drums or timpanis, and audience members slowly started to trickle out of the theater. But even that was not enough.
During the encore of “Everyone is Beautiful,” Corgan let loose the tongue-lashing he had seemed to want to give since earlier in the night, when he said, “We’re getting into the last part of the show, and we hope you enjoy it. But believe me, you’ll enjoy it. And if you don’t, I’ll have a breakdown. I’ve read the Internet, I know what I’m like.” He ranted for a solid five minutes (interspersed with song), more or less encapsulating what seemed to be his performance theory: “We’re in the fun business” and “It’s rock ‘n’ roll, okay. We’re just fuckin’ around, okay. Lighten up. I think we’ve earned the right to have some fuckin’ fun.”
Like many an audacious frontman, Corgan is both easy to adore and easy to despise. It just depends on your mood – and his.