How many ways can one define 'excitement'? That was the mood the night of July 7th, when Billy Corgan revisited St. Louis--his first live show since playing with the Smashing Pumpkins at the Saavis Center in 1997.
The opening band, Doris Henson has had a couple big breaks lately to put them on the map, starting with the Trail of the Dead tour earlier this year and culminating with the Billy Corgan tour. Named after somebody’s aunt (if I’ve got the story straight), this Kansas City-based band, “From just down the road,” as their lively lead singer, Matthew Dunahoo puts it, is headed for big things.
“We’re very proud that Billy Corgan asked us to be a part of the tour,” said the impish, Salvation Army-tie-wearing Dunehoo (he confessed onstage that’s where he got it, we’re not being snobs). “In fact, we all pooped our pants! The invitation came out of nowhere. Our pants our clean now.”
It might seem like a stretch from the aggressive pop-punk of Trail of the Dead to the alternative-retro-dance vibe that Corgan currently has going on, but really, Doris fits in just fine because they touch on all of it, touring on their second album, Give Me All Your Money [DeSoto Records]. The audience, clearly there for Corgan, gave Doris Henson a little bit of trouble at first, but soon quickly warmed to them. With the big, splashy Pumpkin-esque guitar in songs like their second of the set, “A Dark Time for the Light Side of the Earth,” they quickly absconded any potential labels of dullness. By the time they closed with their inspiring and energetic tune, “The Most,” they were downright adored. Check out our interview on this site.
Next up was London-based band, The Crimea—the big surprise of the night. Surprising because live, this band sounds nothing like their new CD, Tragedy Rocks [Warner Bros.]. That’s not a good, or a bad, thing. On CD, the band sounds like The Clash if they were playing pop instead of punk-ska. Live, lead singer Davey Macmanus comes off as far more dramatic and intense. Seen live, The Crimea is a dark, lush-sounding band, full of wild, big guitar and LSD overtones. They’re a Goth’s dream.
It’s too bad that live shows don’t get the lyrical content across, though, because Tragedy Rocks is worth picking up, if only for the amusement factor of the lyrics. Songs like their, “Lottery Winners On Acid,” (If she likes the black stuff / I like the black stuff too / If she gets a disease / I want a disease / If she goes tripping / I go falling over) and “Howling at the Moon”: (On a scale of one to ten / let’s pretend that life’s a six or seven are really enjoyable.)
After a wait that felt like forever, it was time for Billy Corgan. On the empty stage stood computers, percussive instruments and keyboards, all on long steely, curved spider legs that looked more apropos to a War of the Worlds movie set. Spinning lights made the shadows of these sci-fi spiders actually move on the back panels, during what can only be described as creepy, off-kilter, country music playing in the background.
With his slumped posture and the shiny bald head that we’re now painfully used to, Corgan walked onstage dressed in black, accompanied by a three-piece band known as “The Fellowship of Broken Toys,” an impressive collection of talent featuring drummer Matt Walker (Filter, Smashing Pumpkins), guitarist Brian Liesegang (Filter, NIN) and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist, Linda Strawberry (Zwan).
Touring on his first-ever solo CD, TheFutureEmbrace, [Warner Bros.], it’s interesting and sort of contradictory that Corgan has dipped so heavily into the past, working each song on a techno (and some cases disco) dance beat and filling the songs with lyrics of great oldies from all genres, choruses from, “In the Name of Love,” “I Want You,” and “To Love Somebody.” Anyone there and hoping he’d pull a couple Pumpkins oldies out was sorely disappointed, although Corgan did once taunt the crowd with the first few guitar notes of the classic, “Today,” before merging it into a cacophonous swirl of otherworldly sound.
With this team behind him and the absurdly beautiful and expansive light show panels behind him, Corgan could have played “Happy Birthday” and the audience would have gone ape-shit. A giant snakeskin drapery hung over one of the most beautiful and elaborate light screens ever seen in music, rainbows and pulsating images, designs and pictures throbbed and streaked across the screen in an LSD flashback of the greatest proportions.
From the first note of “Now and Then” that Corgan hit on guitar, the audience went nuts. The new material on TheFutureEmbrace is mellower, sexier, dreamier, and more dance-oriented than anything the Pumpkins or Zwan ever churned out, and it’s clear that Corgan wants a distinctly separate feeling from his work with his most famous (and soon to be reuniting) band. As they played, the band struck artful poses against the backdrop of the light panels, Corgan always playing the no-BS frontman, up there only to do his job.
At least six songs went by before Corgan even said hello, in fact. But then he saw a St. Louis Rams banner and got funny: “Does Georgia Frontiere still own the Rams? She’s kind of hot. There’s something about three or four hundred million that turns me on.”
Later in the show, Corgan said, “When we originally planned this tour, there were no dates for here. I said, ‘What about St. Louis?’” Everyone cheered. He continued, “So a month ago, I get a phone call and they say, ‘Those tickets aren’t selling in St. Louis. They’ve only got classic rock there, and that radio station hybrid of classic and active rock. No alternative.’ So I said, ‘Dang it. Why’d I want to go to St. Louis? No one’s gonna show up for the show!’” He motioned to the nearly sold-out Pageant venue. “…and here you are!”
With arms outstretched, Billy Corgan encouraged the audience to join him in the song, “We Can Change the World,” which felt especially relevant and inspiring on the day America learned of the London bombing. Then, at 11 p.m. he said goodnight.
Returning with a two-song encore, Corgan and the Broken Toys finally cranked it up for the only songs of the evening that really rocked, a bluesy wail that melted into electronic fury, and a lively rendition of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll)” behind a backdrop of flames and explosions. This energy was much needed for the car ride home as a wake-up from the dreaminess. But then, if attendees were looking for ass-kicking energy, they found it in the two opening bands.
And maybe that’s exactly how Billy Corgan wanted it.