“Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins.” “Homer Simpson, smiling politely.” So goes the exchange between two icons of mid-90s American culture on the Homerpalooza episode, and it’s safe to say that the Smashing Pumpkins hit their peak of popularity around that time, that’s when I first became a fan after seeing the video for Bullet With Butterfly Wings. When that episode aired, Corgan was 29, younger than I am now, and he’s now older than Homer was when he was trying to understand the appeal of the Pumpkins and their nihilistic alt-rock ilk. So has age mellowed him and his band?
Well, for a start, age doesn’t really come into it for his band, none of whom were around for Homerpalooza because they were all still in school, with drummer Mike Byrne born only a year before Gish was released. They may be young and fresh-faced, but they’ve certainly adapted to the required mood of stony-faced intensity, and it’s the encore before we get even a smile from any of them, never mind any words. But while it’s a shame for nostalgia’s sake that there’s no D’arcy, Jimmy or James up there for my first Smashing Pumpkins gig, this current line-up sound fantastic together.
Oh yes, this night at the Manchester Apollo was my first Pumpkins gig, even though I’ve been a fan since 1995. Why? I don’t really know, the same lack of reason why I’ve never seen Weezer or Foo Fighters despite being fans of them for as long as that. But anyway, the important thing is that I wasn’t disappointed, because Corgan has built up a very talented ‘new’ band that are definitely worthy of their collective name. This ‘The Other Side Of The Kaleidyscope Tour’ is to promote the new Oceania album, which is coming out early next year, so the setlist does feature quite a few new songs.
That’s always a bit of a struggle in a live show, because it’s hard for the crowd to build up much energy and enthusiasm when they’re listening to music they’ve never heard before, so all anyone can do during Quasar, Panopticon, Oceania, Pinwheels, Pale Horse and My Love Is Winter is to stand and listen. However, they do all sound very promising, with Corgan bringing back the dreamy melodies after the disappointingly plodding Zeitgeist, but we’ve had signs of that with the free music coming out from the Teargarden By Kaleidyscope project, and the excellent Lightning Strikes and Owata are played from that.
An interesting thing about the setlist for this tour is that there’s only one song included that was released after 1995 and before 2011, the wonderful For Martha from Adore. Everything else was either from this year (or next year) or from Mellon Collie and earlier. Presumably that says a lot about where Corgan is musically at the moment, although the re-releases of Gish and Siamese Dream might also have played a part. However, even with the earlier stuff, it’s not a particularly straightforward selection of songs, with the likes of Today, Disarm, I Am One, Tonight Tonight and 1979 all presumably left on the OTHER Other Side Of The Kaleidyscope.
There are still some classics thrown in, particularly for the encore of Zero and Bullet With Butterfly Wings, but b-sides and album tracks dominate proceedings. After a tricky opening duo from Oceania, it said a lot that early b-side Starla was greeted like Free Bird. It’s all great stuff though, and Corgan gets to show off his guitar work on a lot of it, particularly a fiery Geek USA and Silverfuck, and there’s a lot of extended riffing and jamming, stretching the show between two hours.
By the encore, when Corgan finally speaks to the crowd, he tries and fails to whip up excitement about the Stone Roses before promising to return next year and “maybe even play some songs that you know,” an announcement that received great cheers. “Oh, you liked that one then,” he joked. “Cheeky bastards.” Sure, a few more recognisable songs might not have gone amiss in amongst the new material and old album tracks, but the setlist worked really well together and the less patient in the crowd were rewarded at the end. And despite his mock-indignation, Corgan did seem genuinely happy after the encore, so hopefully he is able to enjoy it all a lot more than that serious young man in The Simpsons. I certainly loved every minute.