On reading the announcement that the 90’s “rock legend” Billy Corgan was going out on a solo tour of less-than-arena-sized venues, I
knew immediately I had to attend his New York appearance. With early Smashing Pumpkins classics “Gish” and “Siamese Dream” a
constant staple on my MP3 player, how could I pass up the opportunity to see the great bald wonder up close and in person? Short answer
– I couldn’t.
Having only recently acquired the newly released, “The Future Embrace” – his first “solo” work – I was still getting familiar with the new songs
when the tour rolled into NYC. So it was on Monday night, the 27th of June that I would once again subject myself to the “live rock & roll”
experience. Because that’s what it is – an “experience.” There is always so much more to attending a show than your initial intentions –
that is, to see your idol up close and in person. For example, as I chugged up to the venue I was startled to see a line of people stretched
from out in front, circling all the way around the block. Ugh – I am going to have to wait on a long line! A testament to Mr. Corgan’s
continued popularity, but something I am loathe to do. But, that is the price one pays for “general admission” tickets. However, I get
inside in relatively good time and use all my acquired experience and finesse to get as close to the stage as absolutely possible. However,
since not even the opening acts have come on – I am in for a long wait.
So, now my back is beginning to ache (from standing in one spot, elbow-to-elbow with a hoarde of ‘youthful indie fans’ and the
interminable wait for the second opening act (why oh why must there be *two* of them?). Yes, I know I could arrive later and avoid all this,
but then I wouldn’t be “up close” (my reason for attending in the first place). Huge pieces of musical equipment are laboured into place
and on comes the English band, The Crimea. I know nothing about them either, but I am about to find out. It appears this band is part of
a growing trend of what is being called “emo” bands.
Part of the way through their very first song, I immediately find myself developing a strong dislike for this singer. Call me cynical, and I
apologize if this person actually does suffer from some kind of mental disorder, but it appears to me like he was mimicking the behaviours
and expressions of someone who was more than just a little ‘off’ – only to hit his “mark” and snap to his vocals everytime they were
needed. It strikes me as calculated and too convenient to be a coincidence. In short, it appeared to be an extremely unappealing act.
However, half of the audience were completely lapping it up, and I suppose, moved by the ‘sincerity’ of it all. I found it a torturous
experience. During their (mercifully) final song, the singer looked like he was having a seizure. He convulsed and shook and wailed. It
was at this point that I was finally “in sync” with the band, as it made me want to be sick as well. Oh, well, they can’t all be winners.
At last it was time for the sainted Billy and his band
of Broken Toys. First, the basics. The stage setup
was sparse: a microphone for Billy, two eccentric
silver metal stands holding keyboards and a 20″ iMac,
and a set of electronic drums on the right side of the
stage. The lighting was different from anything I have
ever seen before. There were no overhead lights of any
kind. Behind the band was a curved wall of light, with
individual squares that showed bright colors and
patterns throughout the show. The only frontal
lighting came from the side of the stage where a few
tall skinny things which looked like LEDs shone on the
Billy and his band took to the stage and the energy in
the room was instantly charged with excitement. A
four piece band, the main driving force (after Billy,
of course) is keyboardist and computer wizard Brian
Liesegang, who was an original member of the band
Filter. Then there is the amazingly hot and gorgeous
Linda Strawberry, who provides all the essential
backing vocals, as well as keyboard enhancements of her own. Linda has adopted the “Suicide Girls” look and gives the band all the
female sex appeal one could ever want. She’s dazzling to look at and it was hard for me to take my eyes off of her. Rounding out the
band is electronic percussionist Matt Walker. Matt filled in as the Pumpkins drummer, during original skinman Jimmy Chamberlin’s
troubled times. Fortunately for Mr. Chamberlin, those days are long behind him, and in fact, he is back with a brilliant solo album of his own.
The show (as is the album) is equal parts programmed electronica, and improvised playing. A good portion of the sound does come from
the computer, which lends the renditions to come very close to the versions on the album. Billy’s guitar work is (understandably) sparser
compared to his two previous bands. Gone are the power rhythm guitar chords which dominated The Smashing Pumpkins and Zwan, as the
basis for all of these current songs are icy keyboard driven electronic melodies. That said, just about everyone of the new songs contains
at least one shimmering guitar line, and he does let loose with “killer solos” whenever appropriate.
Billy himself is a larger than life figure. He’s tall to begin with, and his sense of clothing style only contributes to his iconic presence. From
where I was standing, everyone in this New York crowd was adoring Billy and the applause and cheers were long and loud between every
song. Billy talked briefly at times, and shed layers of clothing as he went along.
“All Things Change” was a major crowd participatory number. With the hookline “we can change the world,” Billy was successful in getting
the entire crowd to sing along with it. Here is where the live version became much different than the album track. This lengthy end out with
extended crowd sing along provided just one example of what I came for – the essence of being there.
The first single and (obviously) one of the strongest tracks on the album – “Mina Loh (M.O.H. – “my old heart”) is a chilling tale of
terrorism in our midst. There is no timelier subject matter at the moment. Complimentary vocalist Linda Strawberry truly shines on this
one. Every song from the new album is played. “The Camera Eye” satisfies, with Billy singing the lyrics “who needs pain to survive? I need
pain to change my life.” “A100” is a deep, grumbling groove and segues into polished Corgan “emo” – but the right kind of emo. Cool,
together, slightly restrained, but with the passion bubbling underneath. “DIA” has Billy and Linda blending their voices perfectly. “Now and
Then” is a real passionate crowd pleaser. With Billy patting his heart repeatedly as he emphasized the “I can be a friend” lyric.
But it wasn’t all heart-wrenching emotion, as Billy
treated everyone to a cover version of ACDC’s “Its a
long way to the top if you want to rock & roll”. Ahh,
Billy, nice to see you still have one hand firmly on
your suburban wildboy roots.
For the encore, Billy came out by himself and sang the
album closer “Strayz”. A tender and personal
confessional, it was the perfect ender to the show.
Each time he sang the lyric “you know I’m true. I
wasn’t born to follow” – he again patted his hand over
his heart. Shaking his head for emphasis, closing his
eyes then opening them again to look right at the
audience. From my vantage point I saw nothing
calculated or insincere about this, but rather a man
baring his soul.
As the house lights came up, Billy showed his
appreciation by shaking many fans’ hands from the edge
of the stage. He remained there for quite some time,
as an expected surge forward resulted in more lucky
fans than even he might have anticipated. Billy has
gone on record as stating he plans to reform The
Smashing Pumpkins. With Jimmy Chamberlin already
committed to the project, I eagerly await the
announcement of these tour dates as well.
Review and photographs by Dave H.