Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 5:34 am | Fair 50º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Pumpkins Smash It Up in Santa Barbara

Billy Corgan-fronted alt rock band plays old and new songs at the Lobero

Between songs at the sold-out Smashing Pumpkins concert Saturday at the Lobero Theatre, guitarist/singer/frontman/“El Capitan” Billy Corgan declared to tumultuous applause, “I like Santa Barbara!” He then won more points with the already adoring crowd by joking that the band must be getting more successful, since the audiences were “getting more attractive.”

It was almost exactly a year after a concert by the Corgan-fronted band Spirits In The Sky at tiny Santa Barbara coffee shop Muddy Waters. In both cases, the concerts could have easily sold out much larger places, but to our benefit — at least those of us who were lucky enough to get tickets — Corgan seems to like more intimate venues.

In this case, though, “intimacy” came with an intense stadium-level light show, plus two large windmills with Gaudi-esque mirror fragments on the blades. I noticed that one couple near the front put on sunglasses to combat the flashing lights.

Pumpkins purists might lament that Corgan is the only remaining member from the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1990s alt-rock heyday. But the current band — rounded out by Jeff Schroeder on guitar, newcomer Nicole Fiorentino on bass and 20-year-old Mike Byrne (who also played with Spirits in the Sky) on drums — packs a serious punch.

The Lobero show started strong with the trippy Middle Eastern-influenced “Astral Planes,” a cool new song that Corgan also played at his Muddy Waters show. The song was officially released several months ago as part of the band’s Teargarden by Kaleidyscope project, in which the songs are released online shortly after they are finished.

Other new songs included “Freak” and the epic “A Song for a Son” — both of which had been played in a very different acoustic arrangements at Muddy Waters — and the brand-new “My Love Is Winter.”

But it was the band’s old songs that really got the audience pumping. 

A crowd favorite was “Today,” an ironic song whose seemingly optimistic lyrics mask a suicidal undercurrent. This is an important song in the Pumpkins’ canon, as it is one that helped bring them mainstream recognition.

Another very well-received Pumpkin “oldie” was “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” although when Corgan paused to let the audience sing the chorus “despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage,” he wasn’t satisfied with the result, joking that “you guys don’t even know the song.”

Opening act Bad City played an energetic set of hard rock
Opening act Bad City played an energetic set of hard rock. (L. Paul Mann photo)

And, in arguably the concert’s highlight, the band “reignited the alternative rock revolution” by launching into “Cherub Rock,” the rockin’ lead track off the breakthrough 1993 album Siamese Dream.

The concert also included Corgan playing a Jimi Hendrix-esque version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” complete with him playing the guitar with his teeth. This morphed into Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” which gave Byrne a chance to show off his amazing drumming skills. His compact drum solo ended in a flourish with drumsticks flying into the air and Byrne hitting the large gong behind his kit.

(I’m happy to report that when Byrne threw his battered drumsticks into the audience at the end of the show, I managed to catch one I’ll add this to my quirky rock memorabilia collection that includes Paul Kantner’s guitar pick and a package of “Gonzo Meat” beef jerky from Ted Nugent.)

The encore started with “Disarm,” with Corgan singing intensely to the recorded backing track, which was oddly like Pumpkins karaoke. After the aforementioned “Freak,” Corgan thanked the sponsoring radio station KJEE, then joked, “Does KJEE play Collective Soul?” — a band that gained popularity in the wake of the rise of more critically acclaimed bands such as Smashing Pumpkins.

He and Schroeder good-naturedly played the opening of that band’s radio-friendly “Shine.” Corgan then asked, “Do they (KJEE) play classic (Black) Sabbath?” before riffing the opening of the song “Black Sabbath” from their pioneering first album. Hmm, if they need a song to cover, this would be a good choice. In the end, at the end, they closed with the thrashy “Zero.”

The evening began with an energetic performance by Chicago-based Bad City, whose sound ranges from glammy pop metal to heavy riffage-based “do ya wanna rock?”-style hard rock. This is a band whose first record just came out about a week ago, but with opening slots with Smashing Pumpkins and later this month with Slash, they are in a good position to help keep the rock-and-roll flame alive for a new generation.

Smashing Pumpkins Setlist

Astral Planes
Ava Adore
Drown
As Rome Burns
A Song for a Son
Today
Eye
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
United States with Star Spangled Banner and Moby Dick interludes
My Love Is Winter Perfect
Cherub Rock
That’s the Way (My Love Is)
Tonight, Tonight
Stand Inside Your Love
Tarantula

Encore

Disarm
Freak
Zero

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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