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

October 26, 2008 |  4:41 pm


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