Saturday 16/02/08 The Smashing Pumpkins @ The O2 Arena, London
Triumphal returns have been famed since biblical days. But it spoils the fun too if the returnee is just that too damn cock sure of themselves. The Smashing Pumpkins are a super successful band, and The O2 is a super successful arena. But the super hugeness of both of these things are dwarfed in comparison by Billy Corgan’s super-sized ego. Playing well is not a challenge for this reformed Pumpkins line up and it would be easy to decorate the entire two-and-a-half hour set list with pure gold without ever having to play a weak song. Yet for Corgan, tastefully wearing a silver patchwork skirt seemingly stolen from a robot hooker, tonight is about playing what he wants rather than the audience. It takes three uninspired songs from their early days and most recent album Zeitgeist before there is a real sense of the evening getting going with the formidable ‘Tonight Tonight’.
From there it’s onto the song that launched a thousand alt. bands, ‘Mayoniase’. Over 15 years since its inception, it still sounds seminal enough to launch another thousand more bands. Now moving into this mid-section of the set list and being bombarded with hit after hit, it’s almost a return to the glory days. Juxtaposing the energetic new material such as ‘Come on (Let’s Go)’ with the dainty ‘Perfect’ illustrates the diversity of this band when in its full swing. And followed by the shining jewels ‘Today’, ‘Stand Inside Your Love’ and ‘Ava Adore’, it’s a feeling of sheer elation to be a witness to this rock spectacular. The usually dour Corgan even cracks jokes before ‘Drown’, then hits the audience with a surreal yet enticing rendition of Girls Aloud’s ‘Call the Shots’ before a before a heart breaking solo acoustic rendition of ‘1979’. Truly this is the best the Pumpkins have ever been.
Except this isn’t really the Pumpkins, and its hard to not notice the stark contrast between the original members in their casual attire compared with new bassist Ginger Reyes and new guitarist Jeff Schroeder’s bright red uniformed barbs. No, this is still Corgan’s show as it always has been, and having got the formalities of the hits out of the way, Corgan moves on to perform the ego boosters. And while good to hear outings for ‘The Everlasting Gaze’ and rarity ‘Cash Car Star’, the weakness of ‘Daydream’ and ‘Wound’ at the end of the set is confounded only by the epic pointlessness of ‘United States’ – easily the weakest track on Zeitgeist and as close to the Pumpkins’ good material as man is to the moon.
A final snub comes in the choice of encore. Having endured 10 minutes of guitar wankery and feedback nonsense, an expectant audience hopes of so far unplayed gems like ‘Zero’ or ‘Cherub Rock’. Instead this melodrama is concluded with ‘Sugar Kisses’ as a tribute to Echo and the Bunnymen, leaving fans mixed in their feelings to what they have witnessed tonight.
Such a big gig as this was only ever going to go Corgan’s way. And looking back at the set list written down this was an evening of anthems. But as with most the new material from these new Pumpkins, something just doesn’t fit right about the night. On reflection there can only be one final question: who wanted to relive the glory days more – 20,000 fans or Billy Corgan? I’m almost certain the answer to that is the man at the end of the spotlight