Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair at The Broward Center

billy corgan

I have a weird relationship with Billy Corgan. He made some of the most brilliant, honest and emotional music of the 90s without falling into most of the era's genre traps. The Smashing Pumpkins always sounded like The Smashing Pumpkins, no matter where that took them. That much I can say without hesitation. Mellon Collie is still one of my all time favorite albums, no matter what anyone says. Past that, though, it gets strange. Some of the music he's put out in the 21st century I kinda like. Some, I hate. And then there's his eccentricities which, you know, he's a human being, so that's his thing. And maybe it's exactly these complications that prevent me from putting him on some pedestal even though some of his music has felt so extremely personal to me, that make me respect him regardless.

I say all this as a frame of reference that sort of brings together a running theme that I've brought up often on here about how the 90s were a weird time where I was depressed and experienced a musical cultural explosion from a distance. It's a thing that I think haunts me because I wish I could go back in time and see these bands then and be part of this thing that felt like it was meant specifically for me and was exactly what I needed. So, on Sunday night, I finally saw The Smashing Pumpkins live and I didn't go back in time, but I might have gotten something else - something more grounded - out of it. Honestly, I don't know. Let's see where this takes us. I imagine this will be a very stream of consciousness type post.

ft. lauderdale

Let's begin with Liz Phair, who opened the show. She's an artist who I've always wanted to get into, to really love, but have never been able to. I can say that I am glad she exists and everything she represents about women in music, in rock, in life are things I've pretty much always been passionate about. Having daughters now, it's only heightened all of this because while they are far from ready for her lyrics, when the time comes, they need this point of view. At one point, she talked about how great she felt to see young women in music who were now not held to labels that she had to fight against. Anyway, at the show, seeing her with just an acoustic and sometimes electric guitar, I really got a new appreciation for her. I always felt her voice was lacking before. On Sunday, watching her naked confessions set to music, two things materialized: 1. She's a highly underrated guitar player. Seriously. Not flashy, but the more I fiddle around with guitars the more I have come to appreciate just the simple act of playing complex and maybe not even that complex chord changes in an actual musical way. The fullness of her playing was really something. And 2. her voice is just fine. She has a certain understated range that can seem a bit strained or oddly disaffected, but now I think that's kind of the point. I don't honestly know, but she made me think of Dylan and it wasn't the last time this thought would come up that night. All I know is I went a bit beyond just being glad for her existence and now I need to reevaluate her catalog. She ended the night with a cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U"  joined by some of the Pumpkins that was pretty faithful to Sinead O'Connor's version and was pretty moving. A fitting tribute.

So then Billy Corgan appeared in a suit and hat, looking like an old blues man, and played some songs alone and acoustic and I was a little confused. There was an air of a late career walking into the sunset thing going on that was somehow more poignant due to his voice being inconsistent. And I use that word intentionally. Corgan's voice has always been an acquired taste, that again, made me think of Dylan. I don't say it as a bad thing. I think he's always had a range where he can achieve things by shear fearlessness that I think more classically "good" singers don't even come close to. But, even at his "whiniest" it was always consistent and you felt like he was in control of it. On Sunday, there were moments were it felt like that wasn't the case. There were cracks and strains that felt like they were out of his hands and more a sign of age than anything else. The thing is, as the night progressed, and I thought more of Dylan's latter day growl (the new band) it just made sense for Corgan to assume this role for Gen X freaks and ghouls.

As the show went on and he played a good portion acoustically alone and with Jeff Schroeder, there were moments where I wished the full band would come out and the geek rock passion would be unleashed in overwhelming catharsis. But then there were moments, like when Liz Phair came out and harmonized with him on "Thirty-Three" that were quite moving. When this older Corgan sings "And for a moment I lose myself/Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world/I've journeyed here and there and back again/But in the same old haunts I still find my friends," it has a new weight to it and his friends, our friends, are the songs themselves. Much like they were for me back when I first heard them. So maybe it's a different type of catharsis: a subdued and mature one.

Once the whole band came out, we were told that the following would be the part of the show where they played most of one album. Our selection would be Siamese Dream, which I do love, but I was little disappointed it wouldn't be Mellon Collie. This section did include a slowed down "Rocket" that I liked but again, made me long for the past. Also, no "Cherub Rock" or "Hummer" means I call bullshit. Of course, that regretful nostalgia was replaced by something else when they played a few Adore era songs, complete with drum machine, even though Jimmy Chamberlain was there. I didn't care for those electronic type songs at the time, though honestly, a couple of them that night I think I may even appreciate a little more. But it still seems like a wasted opportunity to not rework them with live drums, especially considering every other song played was reworked into something else anyway. I'm not sure why these had to be the exceptions that were presented exactly as they were on the album.

ft. lauderdale

But once that bit was over came what was, by far, the highlight of the night for me. I've mentioned before how to this day, no matter how much it's been played, "1979" still gives me chills. Well it still did, even though his voice was way off. It was a pretty straightforward performance of the song, but it was a moment of crowd energy taking it to another level. It was the only time the whole crowd was really all in, it seemed. For an artist with a vast and varied career, that's a big deal I think. There was a part of me that felt this was the moment that would erase a little bit of my 90s regret nostalgia syndrome. That was probably too much to ask, but in a way that did happen. But not how I thought. I think maybe seeing and experiencing that single moment where everyone was connected through this one song, even though most seemed very far removed from the freaks and ghouls, gave me a new picture of maturity and of what it means to be an outsider. It was a picture that relates to Billy's suit and hat and to the idea of being a real geek or not or a real punk or not or a real anything or not. I'm not sure it's as simple as "we grew up" or we aren't outsiders anymore, but something. Maybe that there really is no "us" and "them" and the drunks dancing to this just because it was a hit song have as much claim to it as those of us that were affected by this anthem on a deep level. Maybe it's not worth thinking too much about or trying to put into words because it's not about words. So I won't.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear them play "Lily (My One and Only)" from Mellon Collie, as it's always been a favorite. And while there were 3 more songs and an encore after this, this was really the final song of the night as far as I'm concerned. I mean, come on, it ends with "good bye," it's just perfect. Instead, the theme that was hinted on earlier was sort of brought back with a cover of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that felt unnecessary and a bit obvious. It was fine, I guess, but man that song has just been played out for so long now that you almost wind up respecting the balls to cover it again. Almost. The one encore was The Rolling Stones' "Angie" which, again, is a song I like, but felt unnecessary. It's his show and all, but to me a good encore would have been something like "By Starlight" off Mellon Collie. Of course if I had my way the whole show would have just been that album start to finish.

So I don't know. I guess I'll always have a bit of that 90s regret nostalgia and it'll be different for certain bands from the era. I'll just have to deal with the fact that I missed the Pumpkins when it would have mattered most to me. But I do have to say, like it or not, I think Billy has found a really great way to transform these songs into something that is still relevant to him. And that's good, but he could use some editing, maybe (said the guy that just posted this rambling thing).

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