Billy Corgan took out newspaper ads in Chicago last week proclaiming his desire to resurrect the Smashing Pumpkins. Whether that was a PR gambit to boost the fortunes of his first, just-released solo album -- "The Future Embrace," a dour affair that's going to need all the help it can get -- is unclear. Before he can get the old gang together, however, the Pumpkin king is touring to support that new disc.
The lackadaisical show Corgan played at the sold-out 9:30 club Friday night covered nearly every "Embrace" track and was padded with the kind of covers that suggested his mind is already occupied with whatever his next project might be.
With three support players working behind stand-up keyboard and percussion contraptions that looked like relics from a Flock of Seagulls video shoot (and made it hard to tell if they were actually playing anything), Corgan and his guitar were the night's most human element. Corgan has lately been trumpeting '80s gloom-and-glammers Love and Rockets as an influence, and any heart that was allowed to peek through his songs fluttered only briefly.
Among Corgan's new originals, "The Cameraeye" and "Walking Shade" were the clear standouts, the former riding a liquidy groove, the latter dominated by a charring guitar underlay. Most striking in the 90-minute show were the reengineered covers: The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" (which appears on "Embrace") sauntered, blues nugget "Sitting on Top of the World" was a frail lament, AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (if You Wanna Rock 'n Roll)" was a twisted glam-rock meditation, and Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee" was fractured nearly beyond recognition with metal overtones. All of which suggested that even if his solo show was pretty dull, Corgan's ear for dark and unusual ideas is still perked up.
-- Patrick Foster
Has Odetta ever encountered an audience she couldn't turn into a choir? Probably not. But as her performance at Blues Alley on Saturday night illustrated, the task sometimes requires a gentle scolding.
"That's pitiful," moaned the internationally acclaimed folk singer, struggling to suppress a laugh after listening to voices halfheartedly rise in dissonance at the start of her opening set. But at the end of the intimately staged performance, when the audience chimed in on the same song, "This Little Light of Mine," Odetta had sufficient reason to overturn the verdict, noting the crowd's "gorgeous harmonies" while en route to a standing ovation.
Seated onstage, sans guitar and accompanied by pianist Seth Farber, Odetta spent the evening celebrating musicians who've lifted her own voice and spirit over the past half-century -- Bessie Smith, Leadbelly and Victoria Spivey, among many others. The songs were mostly familiar, but nearly all were personalized with a little anecdote, political barb or timely admonition. At one point, for example, after recalling the days when a shot of penicillin was widely regarded as a cure-all for sexual misadventures, Odetta introduced "Careless Love" by warning, "Don't forget condoms."
Because her unmistakable contralto is still strong and supple, the 74-year-old singer had no difficulty conjuring a wide range of emotions -- from deep despair ("T.B. Blues") and indignation ("Bourgeois Blues") to spiritual resolve ("Something Inside So Strong") and childlike glee ("Loop de Loop"). All the while, Farber deftly orchestrated the mood swings, his hands often commuting back and forth between blues riffs and gospel chords.
-- Mike Joyce
Thad Cockrell and Caitlin Cary
His-and-hers country music duos aren't in vogue anymore. But at Iota on Friday, Thad Cockrell and Caitlin Cary left listeners wondering why the form ever went away.
Cockrell and Cary possess all the ingredients the great singing tag teams had. Their personalities, for starters, are distinct. Cockrell, who comes from a family of preachers, was pouring sweat even before showtime, and wearing a beat-up suit jacket and corsage that looked like they'd already been worn to a really good party. When his glass went empty, Cockrell asked for a "beer or whiskey, or any adult beverage." Meanwhile, Cary, in a demure (and clean) print dress, came to the stage with what looked like fresh-cut flowers she said came from a grocery down the street.
And while going through material from their fabulous new CD, "Begonias," Cockrell and Cary flaunted voices that held their own whenever the situation demanded. Cockrell said he wrote "Please Break My Heart" with Patsy Cline in mind. But since Cline, 40 years dead, wasn't around to sing it, Cary delivered the tune with a tough and twangy vocal that did her elder proud. Cary belted out "Don't Make It Better" like another legendarily sturdy country gal, Tammy Wynette.
Cockrell's voice isn't as bold as his partner's, though it's more flexible. He flashed a gorgeous hillbilly falsetto, the "high-lonesome" sound that's distinctly American, during "Something Less Than Something More." But Cockrell's and Caitlin's vocals were best heard together. Crooning over band mate Richard Gilbert's pedal steel on "Conversations About a Friend (Who's in Love With Katie)," they meshed like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. On Cary's gospel-influenced "Big House" and the spare "Warm & Tender Love," the harmonies echoed Buddy and Julie Miller, as fine a duet as contemporary country offers.
Cockrell told the crowd that for years he's had a recurring dream about playing in a Texas bar behind chicken wire, which protects him from beer bottles thrown by peeved patrons. On this night, the only things hurled toward the stage were praise and cheers, and Cockrell and Cary earned all of them.
-- Dave McKenna