An open letter to Billy Corgan
Self-confessed Pumpkins fanatic DAVID SWAN gives Billy Corgan some home-truths following a disappointing performance at Melbourne’s Hisense Arena last week.
First of all I just want to point out that, as a pretty big fan, I was super psyched for your show.
Right from opener Quasar, the first half of new album Oceania is shimmering, swirling, epic rock. I know you’re proud of it, and so you should be. It’s very, very solid. But did you really have to keep going and play the whole thing? All 60 minutes of it?
I don’t want to sound like your uncle, but being in a multi-platinum, multi-Grammy award winning rock band comes with a certain responsibility. A responsibility to ensure that you’re not playing to your inner-critic, or to all the naysayers, but to the thousands of people whose favourite albums were in the mid-nineties, and whose breakups, marriages and “first times” were soundtracked by your albums.
They didn’t come to see a 2012 album played in full, along with old obscure album tracks and a couple of hits thrown in.
I know you probably saw some fans walking out during the set, especially towards the end. Quite a few, in fact. You see, Billy, for every fan screaming your name and jumping down and singing along to every lyric, no matter how obscure, was another bored fan on their phone or opting to leave altogether. You were too self-conscious in putting together the setlist; too determined to prove the rock critics wrong by playing the album in full; and too faithful to your diehard fans by playing obscure tracks, even b-sides ( XYU, Soot and Stars, Luna), that only they would know.
Your self-described “one of a kind” show wasn’t quite epic by ‘U2 360’ standards, but clearly with more of a budget this would have been the dream. The giant orb that eclipsed the stage, used to its full potential during the ‘Oceania’ portion of the show, was all very theatrical, and seemed like an inspired decision. But the orb dimmed for the second half of the set (for the non- Oceania songs), leaving a distracting blank sphere. At least it played one music video, during Bullet with Butterfly Wings, but come on Billy, surely you know if you’re going to do something, do it properly?
Don’t be too disheartened. Oceania as an album took on an extra level when accompanied by that bizarre visual element. Your Bowie Space Oddity cover was probably the highlight of the night and you clearly had a lot of fun playing it. Your band also truly seems like it’s coming together, and will hopefully stick around.
But playing to a half-empty Hisense Arena to begin with meant the atmosphere only had so much potential to begin with. This was probably a result of doggedly insisting on playing Oceania in full, and a natural effect of you being big in the nineties and not-so big now. I’m sure you’re used to it. Look, kudos for at least touring your new album and not simply relying on a by-the-numbers ‘greatest hits’ show (which you gracelessly pointed out to the audience). It’s just more of a middle ground would’ve been nice.
Good job on the new drummer though, man. Mike Byrne might be not even half your age, but he certainly knows his way around the kit. Anyone that can live up to Jimmy Chamberlin in terms of speed and sheer bombast deserves a tick. Try and get along with him please.
It was also a nice touch coming out to see the crowd after the house lights had gone on, and waving to fan after fan. They will remember that pure moment, long after their memory of the divisive stage performance dies.
Anyway, next time just don’t care so much. You don’t have to play a new album in full for it to be a critical success in its own right. You don’t have to wear normal, ‘average people’ clothes. Fuck it, bring back the dress.
Still yours and smiling politely as always,
Related: Words of wisdom from Billy Corgan