Alternative rock legends fail to impress even their most loyal fans at Brixton Academy, writes Buster Stonham.
Of all the high profile band reunions that have happened in recent years, the reformation of The Smashing Pumpkins in 2006 has gone under the media radar somewhat, despite the band releasing three albums since. Perhaps this is because their most recent re-incarnation features only Billy Corgan from the original line-up. But if ever one man embodied a band it’s Billy Corgan who has always been the imperious driving force behind The Pumpkins. So with a new line-up behind him, Corgan returns to Brixton Academy to show that his band still has something to prove with their new material.
Tonight’s alternative rock vibe is kicked off by the evening’s support act Ringo Deathstarr, who, with their feedback heavy, driving guitars are every bit the reincarnation of Sonic Youth, right down to their 90’s grunge image. The same cannot be said for tonight’s headliners. Gone is the alternative punk look of their early years, but neither are they sporting the leather clad industrial look of their later career. Instead the new line-up look more like bland Topshop models than grunge rock icons.
Unfortunately, the band’s unfamiliar image is reflected in their performance tonight. Opening with ‘Quasar’ from new album Oceania, not scheduled for release until next year, it soon becomes clear that the present incarnation of The Pumpkins is, more than ever, just a vehicle for Corgan’s personal career. As the show progresses from mediocre new material to obscure B-sides, broken up by incomprehensible interludes of flashing lights and thunder sound effects, the audience’s mood turns from anticipation to frustration, and finally to desperation. To make things worse, Corgan makes no attempt to interact with the audience, leaving onlookers confused over what to make of what they’re seeing.
As the show progresses from mediocre new material to obscure B-sides, broken up by incomprehensible interludes of flashing lights and thunder sound effects, the audience’s mood turns from anticipation to frustration, and finally to desperation.
There are some highlights, such as the sing-a-long classic ‘Muzzle’ from third album Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness, which goes some way to ease the growing tension, but moments like these are the exception to the rule. Things certainly pick up towards the end, starting with the anthemic ‘Cherub Rock’ proving that no matter how much Billy Corgan may look like your bald uncle who’s put on a few pounds recently, he can still melt your face with a guitar solo. Following this, the exquisite ‘Tonight Tonight’ provides the only real emotional connection between the band and the crowd and the belting encore of ‘Zero’ and ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ certainly ends things on a high. But, it’s all too little too late, only giving us a taste of what could have been and highlighting the gulf between what the Pumpkins once were and what they are now.
It’s always a brave and admirable move when a band decides to concentrate on showcasing new material rather than taking the easy option of playing their crowd pleasing classics. But there’s a fine line between bravery and self indulgence, and with a two and a quarter hour set made up principally of overly long tracks with extended guitar solos and instrumental sections, this performance certainly falls into the latter category. All this could have been forgiven if the audience were involved with the performance, but with the inaccessible new material and aloof stage presence, this really was a difficult experience to enjoy. All that can be said is that it can’t be a good sign that I had to go home after the gig and listen to their back catalogue to remind myself what an influential, genre defining band The Smashing Pumpkins really were.