Wildly Popular Smashing Pumpkins Hosts Atypically Low-Key Show
NEW YORK — IF the angst permeating nearly every song of the Smashing Pumpkins' huge-selling double CD ''Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'' weren't pronounced enough, all one had to do was look at lead singer Billy Corgan as he took the stage at the Academy for the first of three sold-out shows. Wearing a knit cap and plaid pajamas while launching into ''Tonight, Tonight,'' he looked like a child so overwhelmed by the world that he wanted to crawl into bed and put his head under the covers.
Actually, with the Top 10 success of their wildly ambitious new album, which is heavily orchestrated like earlier works, Corgan and the Pumpkins pretty much own the music world these days. Not that you would know it from this show. No mega-tour for this group. No special effects, unless you count a pair of giant illuminated daisies. Bare bones lighting. Performing in a club when they could easily sell out Madison Square Garden.
Playing at the Academy was certainly a sentimental gesture: ''Hi, we're the Smashing Pumpkins,'' Corgan announced matter-of-factly 90 minutes into the show. ''We used to play here a long time ago, before they started that Lollapalooza thing.'' An extremely complicated ticketing system involving vouchers, designed to thwart scalping for these ultrahot shows, made getting into the club something akin to Maxwell Smart's entering CONTROL.
With 28 songs on ''Mellon Collie,'' it's no surprise that the show consisted primarily of new material, with only a handful of older songs. Serving as their own opening act, the group first performed a 45-minute set that was largely acoustic, featuring most of the ''Mellon Collie'' ballads, which seemed ready-made for MTV's ''Unplugged'' series. As with Nirvana, it's easy to overlook the beauty in the Pumpkin's melodies, so here the lack of sonic bombast was welcome.
The longer second part of the show featured the band in full-volume electric mode. Corgan has developed his whine into a perfectly expressive rock vocal instrument, and with the supremely dense lyrical content of his new material, there was plenty of opportunity to hear it. The band (James Iha, guitar; D'arcy, bass; Jimmy Chamberlin, drums; and Jonathan Molvoin on keyboards) charged through the songs in furious fashion, lending the music a raw energy that often surpassed the recorded versions. Most of the arrangements stayed the same, with even the lengthy piano intro reproduced.
The band had its moments of brattiness, with D'arcy saying at one point, ''I'd like to take this moment to say 'hello' to all the moms and dads in the balcony'' (where anyone who didn't want to mosh was happily ensconced), and Corgan beating his mike stand senseless and rubbing his guitar strings against a speaker.