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Jeff Moehlis: Billy Corgan Treats Lucky Few to a Show for the Ages
After Thursday night’s phenomenal show by Billy Corgan and The Spirits in the Sky at tiny Muddy Waters Cafe in Santa Barbara, Corgan was casually chatting with fans outside. About their current six-show mini-tour, he said, “This might go down as super-legendary, or it could go down as, ‘What was that? They did what?’”
I’d put my money on the shows becoming super-legendary. Corgan is joined on guitar by Dave Navarro from Jane’s Addiction and, at one point, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, plus ‘60s rockers Mark Tulin from The Electric Prunes on bass and Mark Weitz from Strawberry Alarm Clock on keyboards. The other ultra-talented band members are Ysanne Spevack on violin and viola, Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin, purple-haired Linda Strawberry on vocals, and Kerry Brown and 19-year-old newcomer Mike Byrne on drums.
All of this in tiny venues, in front of audiences of ultra-fans — such as a woman who flew in from Boston for the show, or another who drove down from San Francisco.
Notably, this was Corgan playing what he wanted to play, unshackled from the expectations that might accompany a Smashing Pumpkins concert.
The Muddy Waters show kicked off with a smoking cover of “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine,” the 1965 first single by proto-punk garage-rock band The Seeds led by frontman Sky Saxon, who collaborated with Corgan in 2008 and died the same day as Michael Jackson. This was fitting, since Spirits in the Sky’s first performance was at a tribute concert for Saxon in July.
This was followed by a series of acoustic-guitar-driven new Corgan songs: “Circular Change” featuring beautiful violin and flute, “Emerald Green is the Colour” — a more psychedelic song with Navarro playing electric guitar with Middle-Eastern-tinged effects, “West Coast” which was dedicated to Morgan Fairchild, whom Corgan described as “the hottest 60 year old I’ve ever seen,” and “Widow Wake My Mind,” with a rhythm that reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s song “Kashmir” and a sing-along chorus. Next was “Morning Dew,” described by Corgan as “a song popularized by the Grateful Dead” and featuring some trippy organ by Weitz. The first set closed with “The Fellowship,” a crowd favorite with lyrics asking “Are you with us or against us?” The audience was clearly with Corgan.
After a break from the packed, super hot venue, Corgan, Spevack and Dippold returned to play an acoustic mini-set of Anne Briggs’ “The Time Has Come,” the English-folk-sounding “A Stitch in Time,” the immediately engaging “Caroline, Yes” with lyrics including “you blow my mind, Caroline,” and the impossibly pretty “A Song for a Son.”
Then the hurricane hit, with the rest of the band returning and Corgan and Navarro switching to electric guitars. The crowd went absolutely nuts during “The Trip” and “Astral Planes,” the latter having a Middle Eastern sound that was off the charts in both power and precision.
Next up was a tasty cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale,” with blended vocals by Corgan and Strawberry and a great distorted guitar solo with manic string bends by Corgan at the end.
Then was, to me, the highlight of the evening, a mind-blowing, frenetic cover of “Lucifer Sam,” a Syd Barrett-penned song off Pink Floyd’s first album with a massive descending riff milked to the fullest by the band. What can I say? This is one that will stick with me forever.
The encore was a powerful cover of Quicksilver Messenger Service’s “Long Haired Lady,” which started with phased guitar and ended as an all-out rocker.
Corgan was in good spirits throughout the evening, joking about hypothetical twitterers who will ask, “Why didn’t Billy play (Pearl Jam’s) ‘Alive’ and ‘Jeremy’s Spoken’?” He and the rest of the band were clearly having fun, as were the ecstatic, lucky fans who were able to get tickets.
Perhaps the shows on this mini-tour really are destined to end up becoming “super-legendary”?
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