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Smashing Pumpkins play Guitar Hero World Tour event, debut new song


Memo to Activsion: Next time you have a launch party for the newest version of Guitar Hero, book the happy-go-lucky Foo Fighters (oh yes, they too are available for video game launch parties, for the right price, that is). The Smashing Pumpkins aren’t in any mood to send blue-eyed, blond-haired marketing minions home humming "Today."

Billy Corgan’s message Saturday night to partygoers at a private Guitar Hero World Tour launch party?  He is no corporate shill. Sure, the Smashing Pumpkins ringleader cashed the $100,000+ check his band surely received for performing at the bash, which was co-sponsored by Best Buy and took place just blocks away from the Minneapolis-based big box retailer's La Brea Avenue store in a massive sound studio -- but that doesn’t mean he played nicely. 

Things started out promisingly enough as Corgan took the stage around 10 p.m. The band tore through "Tarantula" with efficiency and grace before performing a perfunctory version of “G.L.O.W.” (which is featured in Guitar Hero World Tour as a single, the first time a band has recorded a new song exclusively for the franchise).  But the second half of the set left the curious crowd, heavy on Best Buy execs and contest-winners, feeling confused, used or worse.

(Full set list plus more of the review after the jump)

"Old School...1979!" one man a decade or so removed from the frathouse yelled out, perhaps unaware that the band had just offered up a blistering rendition of "Siva," from Smashing Pumpkins’ debut "Gish."

With that kind of crowd staring back at the frontman, you can hardly blame Corgan for saving the entire second half of the set for working out new material, and dark, experimental feedback-laden noodling. Was this the 41-year-old's way of rebelling against "fake" guitar heroes playing the video game on one of the multiple screens set up just steps away from the stage?

"I feel like Sarah Palin up here," he deadpanned at one point during the set, perhaps referencing his comfort level at being the evening's cheerleader. Although Corgan seemed in good enough spirits (wearing a silver skirt and a tight, black shirt with a spider on it...the same exact outfit he wore to the Scream Awards earlier this month: See picture above), it was clear he wasn’t in the mood to play the hits.

Instead, fans who stuck around (many retreated to the bar area after they realized Corgan and Co. weren’t going to play "Zero" or "1979") were rewarded with a compelling, almost-jazz-like riff fest from Corgan and his longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The imposing guitarist played with vitriolic fury during the latter half of the set, as if to show wannabes what a real guitar hero looked like. 

Corgan spat on the stage as he unleashed wall after wall of dissonant, driving riffs that sometimes devolved into extended feedback loops. He broke strings, played kettle drums, hissed and sang into "the heart of the sun," as he droned in a mantra-like moment during their cover of the classic Pink Floyd song "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The sun."

I was beginning to think I was at a Liars show, and damn if it wasn’t compelling for those willing to make the journey with Corgan. And while the Pumpkins have been doing this shtick on stage since at least 2000, something felt different Saturday...perhaps as a result of a new sound emerging from rehearsals (the band is getting ready for their 20th anniversary tour, beginning Friday in Columbus, Ohio; and a new "concept" record). 

Even as the band embarks on a backward-looking 20th-anniversary jaunt this fall, the lanky Illinois-born songsmith proved there is plenty of gas left in the Pumpkins' songwriting oven. Case in point? Check the new song we heard last night, "As Rome Burns."

Full lyrics from "As Rome Burns" below (I grabbed the lyrics sheet off the stage post-gig). Avert your eyes, Pumpkins fans who are partial to tunes like "Tonight, Tonight": This is not a love song:

“We are the new gods/same as the old gods/we’ll take all your blood/and turn it into mud/as Rome burns/one by one/two by two/together they ride/side by side/into love/together they die/and still they want to weather the tide/as Rome burns.”

“Forgiveness all your days/to count what you can’t save/we’ll take out one good eye/and leave a world to fall behind/as Rome burns.”

“I see them everywhere out shaking to the beat/cursing out their elements/with chaos, chaos bleats/and what seemed urgent then turns wicked in the heat/as Rome burns to the mother (expletive deleted) ground”

Full set list:

Speed Kills
As Rome Burns
Sounds of Silence
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun

The Smashing Pumpkins DVD documentary and concert film from their 11-night stand at San Francisco's Fillmore last year, "If All Goes Wrong," hits stores Nov. 11.

-- Charlie Amter
Photo of Billy Corgan at the Scream Awards earlier this month by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (14)

Surely the man who yelled out "1979!" meant that he wanted the band to play it.

The Smashing Pumpkins are not Sonic Youth, Pavement, Wilco, or the Grateful Dead. So, they should probably stick to what they do best - creating catchy hooks and melodies and delivering those songs live. While I appreciate that Mr. LA Times music review blog dude assigns extra-cred to the bad boy rock and roll tradition of the Stones, the Doors, the Stooges, Zeppelin, Nirvana, etc........

Sometimes, the Frat Boy is right.

Does Corgan hate the corporate tie-in, or does the writer hate that someone he obviously has respect for has chosen to sell out?

All I read is a lot of presumption by the writer, reading in to what he thinks Corgan is thinking. Obviously if Corgan hated the game/concept so much he would not have taken the time to get mo-capped for the game.

Corgan's always been a churlish bore.

I think you injected a bit too much of your personal tastes into this article. I'm sure Corrigan wouldn't have played the gig, let the game use the bands songs or spent the hours in a motion capture suit to be IN the game if he held such disdain towards it.

Okay, we get it. YOU don't like Guitar Hero. But do you have to project your dislike for the game onto Billy Corgan? You can make all the inferences you want about his attitude on stage, but he did motion capture for the game. I have to think he wouldn't go through that much trouble if he wasn't into it.

Of course he wanted them to play it. I think the point was that he wanted them to play something "old school" like "1979" from 1995 right after they had just played "Siva" from 1991. Clearly, the guy wasn't a fan and probably just wanted to show off the one song of theirs that he had heard of.

Quick riddle: What's worse "fake" guitar heroes or "fake" music critics who are just bitter because the only gig they played was the clarinet at their high school reunion?

Before you stand on your (and not Corgan's) soapbox telling everyone how much he hated it, realize that Corgan signed the deal, he wasn't forced into it. Now go back and listen to your Pixies and think of how great you really coulda been.

This article is ridiculous. You attempt to slander a game and promotional event by picking out subtleties and nuances in a performance? Does this writer have a blanketing knowledge of how Corgan acts at every one of his concerts?

Additionally, if a profession musician is paid to play an event, and acted in the unprofessional manner you described, why as a music journalist would you praise that?

Your disdain for Guitar Hero is evident. Perhaps that is because you can't play on Easy mode without tanking.


Yes, playing dissonant, "jazz-like" music is the equivalent of giving the crowd the finger. After all, who could ever possibly want to hear anything more than a carefully polished rendition of a packaged pop-song at a concert? Surely not this reviewer...

I dont understand the criticism of the piece. I thought it described at least a dozen concerts/shows that I've been to. The writer felt Corgan wasn't comfortable playing there and relayed it in the piece. The Smashing Pumpkins last couple albums have been heavy feedback albums and that's what at least half the show was. The frat guy comment was not needed because that happens every show. Thanks for reminding me not to see them.

god you ppl not happy with the pumpkins sound need to take a time machine back to 1995. and don't you get tired of hearing the same songs over and over? i guess not

Ummm you guys, I know he used some big descriptive words but the reviewer is saying he LIKED the show...

I'm a pure metal head at heart ever since but i also love alt. rock at times.
the smashing pumpkins had metal moments during concerts from way back and the best thing that we could do is/was to respect that kind of detriment.
i think billy just know how to play the game.
He's not a yuppie, he's a #%$@* musician for god sakes!

so, smashing pumpkins forever!

All of you haters of the smashing pumpkins have your own close minded opinions. It is always easiest to jump on your out-dated preconceptions of a band that has progressively moved on to making better and amazing music. Check out United States off Zeitgeist and then talk to me about how SP is not Sonic Youth, Wilco or any other band that it is popular to say you like. THE SP ROCK! Btw I am a huge WIlco fan.


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