At 9:30 Club, Smashing Pumpkins Both Overcooked and Underdone

By David Malitz
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, July 12, 2007

Billy Corgan and His Enormous Ego, er, Smashing Pumpkins, visited the 9:30 club on Tuesday, and well before a single note was played, the evening was already quite the spectacle. Corgan threw himself a party on the release day of the new album, "Zeitgeist," although it really was more of a retro, faux-political campaign. The band rolled up late afternoon in classic cars with a fake Secret Service detail. Nominating convention-style posters and buttons were handed out to fans lined up outside. The interior of the club was festooned with Smashing Pumpkins flags and red, white and blue bunting.

President Corgan? Nah, far too democratic. Dictator Corgan? A little closer. Grand Exalted Leader Corgan? There we go. It was a silly if slightly entertaining commotion, but "Gilligan's Island" would have been a more appropriate theme. The actual show was nothing but a three-hour bore.

Yes, three hours. At one point early in the evening Corgan actually muttered, "I'm having one of those I-don't-wanna-play-music moments." Rest assured, that moment passed. Boy, did it ever. The sold-out crowd got treated to bloated, directionless rockers like "United States" and "Heavy Metal Machine," lackluster versions of '90s hits such as "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Zero" and a truly excruciating 20-minute unreleased jam called "Gossamer," which for some reason was saved for the second encore and sent a good third of the audience scurrying for the exits.

It's hard to know how they lasted even that long. There were just a few songs when everything clicked and you were reminded why for a few years back in the '90s the Pumpkins could legitimately be viewed as one of the best and biggest rock bands in the world. "Hummer" found that happy middle ground between the group's early shoegaze tendencies and arena rock ambitions. "Cherub Rock" was a full-on sonic assault, sounding even more vital than it did nearly 15 years ago. "The Aeroplane Flies High" was the one meandering epic that actually felt epic and not totally pointless.

As far as highlights go, that was it.

The very tall, very bald Corgan is an imposing figure on stage and an electric guitar seems like a natural extension of his body. He's a technically proficient player who can make single notes scream and power chords rumble like few others. It was his songwriting ability that was mostly exposed on Tuesday. The best of the new tunes, "Doomsday Clock" and "Tarantula," simply chugged along at a brisk pace. The worst, like "Starz" and "Bleeding the Orchid," would be forgettable if they weren't so annoying. Even when the band broke out mega-hits "Tonight, Tonight" and "1979" it was hard to hear what made them modern-rock radio staples in the first place.

The inclusion of a six-song mini-set of acoustic material was as inevitable as it was intolerable. Corgan's nasal wail is tough enough to take when it's accompanied by massive guitars and thundering drums -- and that's on record, with the assistance of studio trickery. In a live setting, with nothing but an acoustic guitar to accompany his voice and embarrassing lyrics ("This is the song I've been singing my whole life / I've been waiting like a knife / To cut open your heart / And bleed my soul to you" -- there are so, so many more where that came from), it was borderline torturous. Ten more minutes and I would have confessed to war crimes.

After the massive buzzkill of "Gossamer," Corgan and Co. -- that would be original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who has been playing with Corgan for the past several years, and, um, some other people on bass, guitar and keyboards -- actually came back for one final song: "[Expletive] You."

Yep, that's pretty much how I felt all night.

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