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- Le Grand Rex, París »
- Smashing Pumpkins »
It’s not the Smashing Pumpkins really though, is it? Without James, or D’Arcy, or even Melissa? The whisperings are that this is Zwan mark II. It’s going to be Billy Corgan and his hired guns tarnishing the legacy of one of the most beloved alternative bands of the ‘90s. The songs might sound the same, but the heart? The soul? Well, that’s gone forever, right?
The sold-out crowd at the Grand Rex in Paris don’t seem to think so. Opener ‘United States’ dispels any worries immediately. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s absolutely crushing. Think ‘Silverfuck’ meets ‘Zero’_. When it finishes there’s no doubt remaining anywhere. There’s only applause, and cheers, and fans exchanging grins of sheer delight. _This _is what we wanted.
It was always going to be an important show for the Pumpkins. Two new band members (three if we’re counting the statuesque keyboardist who appears at intervals throughout the set) and an album’s worth of untested material: the potential for failure was high. Fortunately they pull it off in style. Of the new songs, ‘Starz’ and ‘Bleeding the Orchid’ stand out. Forthcoming single ‘Tarantula’ is ferocious (like Muse being beaten to death with screaming guitars). Best of all, though, is non-album track ‘Gossamer’, a 20-minute epic which gives Billy Corgan and new guitarist Jeff Schroeder a chance to provide the sort of haunting atmospherics which induce shivers.
Of course, as exciting as it is to hear the new material – which generally forgoes Machina-era heaviness for early-‘90s fuzziness – the biggest cheers are reserved for the hits. And when a band can play ‘Cherub Rock’, ‘1979’, and ‘Tonight Tonight’ in succession you start to realise just how impressive their back catalogue truly is. Perhaps not wishing to take any risks in disappointing on such a make-or-break night, a series of unexpected gems are offered up too. So we get ‘Hummer’, and we get ‘Home’, and the eternally underappreciated ‘Shame’ is reworked to sound like it belongs on Pisces Iscariot rather than Adore. There are even acoustic versions of ‘Rocket’ and ’33’ thrown in too; the latter especially standing as one of the highlights in a set bursting with them.
What of Jeff Schroeder and Ginger Reyes, then? We all know about Jimmy Chamberlain’s drums and Billy Corgan’s guitar. What do the new faces bring to the table? Musically: professionalism and accomplished playing. Also though, and strangely so given the circumstances, they bring a curious sense of heart to the group, too. Were they disinterested session musicians then there would be a problem. As it is they come across as two people who just so happen to have been given the opportunity of a lifetime. You get the impression they care about this, that they know the expectations upon them and don’t want to disappoint anybody. And really, that’s enough. To deny them their chance to shine because of nostalgia isn’t really fair. They deserve better than that. Jeff, Ginger, and keyboard player Lisa Harriton all turn in virtually flawless performances in a live debut which lasts for three hours. That’s impressive. The fact that the music itself still sounds as strong as ever – if not (whisper it) better – is genuinely exciting.
The problem with the latest incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins, then, is that ultimately it’s_ our _problem. Sure, it would be nice to see James and D’Arcy back. Of course it would. But what we have to think about is that maybe they don’t _want _to be back? Or maybe Billy has decided touring together would only bring up old tensions and problems? It’s like when two of your closest friends have been in a relationship together for a number of years and then one day decide to separate: you’re left feeling confused, and disappointed, and when you’re introduced to their new partners yeah, you’re suspicious as hell of them. In truth, though? That’s just the way it goes sometimes. Situations change.
At the beginning of the night the Grand Rex is packed out with hardcore Pumpkins fans who have made the trip from around the globe to witness this reunion. These are the people who have been raised on the original foursome – Billy, Jimmy, D’Arcy, James. This was the band they fell in love with all those years ago.
When the house lights come up some three hours later, there isn’t a disappointed face to be seen.
Forget the doubts, the cynicism, the nostalgia.
Everything you wanted to believe is true.
The Smashing Pumpkins are back.
Photograph by Alex Boyd
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