Well, color me impressed. Over the course of an immersive, nearly two-hour Smashing Pumpkins show last night at Petaluma’s Phoenix Theater, the ageless Billy Corgan unreeled a nonstop stream of gauze-soaked distortion, a generously crowd-pleasing handful of the band’s hits—and said barely a word at all to the crowd.
To those who caught the band’s residency at San Francisco’s Fillmore last year, pockmarked by long, self-centered rambles from Corgan and obscure, calm material, the Smashing Pumpkins on stage last night might have seemed like an entirely different band, and that’s for the better. Simply put, the Pumpkins kicked ass, and then kept kicking ass, and didn’t cease kicking ass until the final feedback-laden tones of the long set closer “Gossamer” came to an abrupt halt and the strobe lights finally stopped pulsing. Even the band’s new material sounded great last night, which was almost as strange as being at the Phoenix Theater and seeing hardly any teenagers.
The sold-out crowd, nearly all in their 30s, went crazy for hits like “Today,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Cherub Rock” and a solo version of “Disarm” that had hundreds of camera phones hoisted in the audience and Corgan singing karaoke-style to a backing track. Not that Corgan, the only original member of the group, rested on his laurels. Instead, he culled from the classic rock trick bag with a Hendrix-inspired “Star-Spangled Banner,” played by his teeth, and a foray into Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” followed by a long drum solo by new recruit Mike Byrne punctuated with the obligatory crash of a gigantic gong. For “Ava Adore,” he unleashed pure Stratocaster pyrotechnics; during “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” he gestured in an actual cage of lighting scaffold and two giant windmills; and throughout the set screeched his trademark growl like a bonafide rock star.
All of this—plus cock-rock openers Big City—showed that Corgan’s intentions have always lied in arena rock and not, as the 1990s painted him, as “alternative.” The Smashing Pumpkins’ best moments seem to happen when Corgan reconciles the two. Last night, the nonstop barrage of lighting and fuzz couldn’t have been described as “accessible,” yet the continuous unease seemed to clear a space for the band to actually enjoy playing radio hits they’ve played thousands of times. After the line “No matter where you are / I can still hear you when you scream,” from the Singles soundtrack single “Drown,” the Phoenix crowd erupted in a scream, and if you were watching close enough, you could see Corgan allow himself a sly smile—still, after all these years.
As Rome Burns
A Song for a Son
Bullet With Butterly Wings
My Love Is Winter
That’s the Way (My Love Is)
Stand Inside Your Love
This Just In: Smashing Pumpkins are playing the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma on Wednesday, September 8.
The Phoenix is among the smallest venues that the band is playing on their current tour, which sees them visiting 17,000- and 18,000-capacity stadiums after they leave Petaluma. Founding member Billy Corgan is the only original member in Smashing Pumpkins. (He tends to ramble at Smashing Pumpkins shows.)
Tickets, at $40 a pop, go on sale to the general public this Saturday, 10am, via InTicketing. A 101.7-FM “The Fox” presale happens on Friday at 10am. If you really want to be guaranteed a ticket, lining up outside the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for an old-fashioned cash-transaction hard ticket is recommended. The store opens at 10am.
Billy Corgan made a less-than compelling case yesterday before Congress in support of the Performance Rights Act, which would force radio stations to pay royalties not only to the songwriters of the songs they play but to the performers on those songs as well. It’s a nice thought and all, especially considering stories such as Standing in the Shadows of Motown, but not a very nice thought when considering Billy Corgan, who is a multimillionaire.
Though I myself am a music performer who has been played on the radio, I’m against the Performance Rights Act and I’ll tell you why. It should have been enacted 60 years ago, when the “hit single” came into being and when radio had the prominence to absorb such payments. Corgan states the laws on radio compensation haven’t changed for 80 years. That’s the very reason radio can’t bear the undue burden.
The business model of radio stations has evolved around the long-held and reasonable idea that it’s the record labels’ responsibility to compensate their performers. Radio advertises the record, the public buys it, and the artist gets whatever deal the artist signed with the label for.
If the artist signs a shitty deal (all major label deals are shitty deals), or if the label is stiffing the artist, or—this one’s good—if the digital age comes along and destroys music sales, why go after analog radio? Simple: because people like Corgan can. Because it’s there. He can’t demand money from “sdream75,” an anonymous user who can’t stop uploading torrents of Siamese Dream, but he can go after radio stations, who are one of the few institutions left in the music business doing the relatively right and honorable thing.
The Performance Rights Act would misdirect understandable frustration with the self-cannibalization of the music industry at large toward a valuable—and similarly struggling—friend of the performer. It would absolutely kill small local stations like the KRSH. What we’d be left with is ClearChannel stations with corporate-issued playlists, prerecorded shows streaming from a computer, and DJs who may as well be programmed robots.
Incidentally, Corgan also spoke out a few weeks ago in support of the Ticketmaster / Live Nation merger (he’s managed by Ticketmaster CEO Irving Azoff), which officially makes him a mouthpiece of the devil.