The Smashing Pumpkins, Wolfmother @ Sydney Entertainment Centre (31/07/12)
With a new album Oceania under his belt it feels like this is a consolidation period for Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins. He weathered the storm of indifference to the comeback album Zeitgeist and proved he was still the master of grand themes and dreams by announcing the massive ongoing Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project. He has diverted from that to release Oceania (though it is still part of the aforementioned collection) and his conviction and belief in the songs meant we were to be treated to a full performance of the record before the hits were rolled out.
First up Wolfmother had the usually daunting task of warming up the crowd in the soon to be demolished Entertainment Centre. They already had a large mass of bodies in front of them as they rolled out a best of set that included Woman, Dimension and Joker and the Thief. Their expansion to a five piece with a Delta Rigg providing additional percussion, keyboards and harmonica meant there was more room to stretch songs out with extra jamming, soloing and repeated hammering home of some of Andrew Stockdale’s classic rock riffs. It all sounded great in the arena sized room with Stockdale appearing relaxed and playing up to the caricature of the retro rockisms of the band. At one point mid song he even took the extraordinary step of taking triple j to task over their lack of belief in his band and others and their lack of risk taking. “Left wing conservatives sitting up in their offices on their government paid wages” he railed, explaining that they never paid attention to him and his early demos until Wolfmother started getting hyped and as soon as everyone began to ‘hate’ Wolfmother they stopped playing them. “triple j can go fuck themselves!” was his venom laced message to the station.
It is always a weird feeling when a band arrives on stage and you already know what song they are going to play first. The lack of anticipation was muted but there was still the prospect of whether the sound would be good, the visuals exciting. Corgan has a new stage setup with a massive white orb suspended above the band with the lighting rig surrounding it from floor to ceiling. The giant beach ball was used to project an endless array of images, designs and tripped out animation that for the most part looked cool but it was hard to discern any real meaning or connection to the songs they were accompanying. As for the sound it was loud, and suitably delivered that sonic surge that personifies the sound of The Smashing Pumpkins.
Quasar, the opening track from Oceania was pulverising, an exhilarating collision of tumbling drums and piercing, wailing guitars that announced the band were here to play with intent and conviction. From there on the new album slowly revealed itself over the next hour, shifting between the riff heavy tracks and the moodier, quieter moments that often featured addition synths and loops. My Love Is Winter felt like the moment where it all began to gel with Corgan delivering the melodically anthemic chorus that felt like a return to some of his stronger songwriting moments. One Diamond, One Heart and Pinwheels continued the same vibe with an added electronic nod in the direction of M83 and LCD Soundsystem in the twinkling synth lines.
Though Corgan is The Smashing Pumpkins, the rest of the band fill their roles perfectly. Drummer Mike Byrne nailed everything and played with bombast and subtlety in equal measures and Jeff Schroeder was Corgan’s equal in terms of paint peeling solos and some wonderful textural playing to match.
Once the band hit the huge _Siamese Dream sounding The Chimera and Inkless it felt like we were on the downhill stretch toward the greatest ‘hits’ section with those tracks two of the best of the Oceania section of the evening. It took a while for the crowd to cotton on the first of the non Oceania songs but as soon as Corgan stepped up to the mic it there was a cheer of recognition for Bowie’s Space Oddity that became a glam space rock beast in the hands of the Pumpkins.
From there on the patience of the audience was rewarded with a run through some of the band’s finest moments and a chance for the faithful to scream in unison and relive those seminal moments of 90s rock. X.Y.U allowed that release perfectly though it still sounds like Corgan’s attempt to be as angry and ‘rock’ as possible which made it feel like ‘out of character’ posturing to some extent. The grand beauty and melodrama of Corgan was represented by Disarm and Tonight, Tonight while the crowd went quite rightly into overdrive for Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Cherub Rock and the positivity overload of Today. After two hours we were finally left with the churning epic Zero that allowed Corgan to unleash those bent knee, flailing arm solos to send us home with ringing ears, a satiated sense nostalgia and a mixture of affirmation and cautious optimism for Corgan’s ongoing abilities as a songwriter and musician.