Smashing Pumpkins, SECC, Glasgow
Thursday 14 February 2008
Superficially, the sci-fi gothica of one of the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre's lesser halls should have blended perfectly with the Smashing Pumpkins' music. As bruise-coloured lights picked out flashes of steel ventilation ducts amidst the darkened ceiling hollows, the excesses of the band's more grinding, industrial moments could have turned the place into a cathedral built in praise of sleek functionality.
Yet a spiritual experience was always going to be a long shot in a space which is equally at home hosting trade shows. Outside of the dense cluster of fans packed in front of the stage, sound bled off unpleasantly towards the fringes, to such an extent that the band's dry singer Billy Corgan felt inclined to comment. "Welcome to the Subaru factory. Maybe we can all get together and build a car later."
It seems a shame to judge the band unfavourably in such adverse conditions, but for passages of this two-and-a-half hour set, the stale air of self-indulgence leaked in. Corgan is a songwriter with a talent for merging the light touch of popular song with brooding, heavy-rock soundtracks, yet his forays into prog instrumentation and goth drone sometimes test the patience.
For a band who are well into their reunion phase, the fact that the Pumpkins maintain most of their original fire is to be celebrated. Particularly when only Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain remain from the original line-up, joined by guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes and keyboard player Lisa Harriton. Using the band's most successful songs as a barometer – "Tonight Tonight", "Bullet With Butterfly Wings", the ever-sublime "Today" – the trio seem to be doing a good job.
In truth, the set could have been trimmed by at least a third. It's not that most of the songs don't deserve their place here, but many could have been much shorter. Yet Corgan is one of the world's most wilful rock stars, and he'll have it no way but his own. "Thank you for the one boo," he shouts out to a crowd member after announcing a recent track, "The Rose March". "He still won't accept we made an album after [the 1991 debut] Gish."
While the lesser parts of the gig may be attributable to Corgan's bloody-mindedness, however, so too are the moments of greatness. The way his fallen angel falsetto conjures distressed beauty from solo versions of "1979", "That's the Way (My Love Is)" and"My Blue Heaven", for example. And, in the most melodramatic part of the set, a 20-minute version of "United States" drawn from ragged calls for revolution to a spectral "Star-Spangled Banner" and back into cataclysmic, unifying protest-rock.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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