November 7th, 2008 11:11am

One Last Trip To Hell

The Smashing Pumpkins @ United Palace 11/6/2008 (Black Sunshine)

Roctopus / Everybody Come Clap Your Hands / Tarantula / G.L.O.W. / Siva / Eye / Mayonaise / Tonight, Tonight / Speed Kills / Transformer / Superchrist / United States / Once Upon A Time / Again, Again, Again (The Crux) / The Rose March / Today / Bullet With Butterfly Wings / The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning / Heavy Metal Machine (horrible new version) / Glass’ Theme / Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun // We Only Come Out At Night / Everything Is Beautiful

The Smashing Pumpkins “Superchrist”

At the end of this concert, Billy Corgan put himself in the mind of his audience and wondered aloud: “Did I pay for this shit?” He was, of course, mocking us, but that was very much the consensus opinion of the few thousand bitter, heartbroken fans who exited the United Palace theater as if on a death march. Really, how else were people supposed to feel about a two and a half hour show that mostly emphasized new material, generally avoided old classics, and included at least 40 minutes of formless prog-metal dirges and artless, atonal drones?

I want to make something clear: I don’t mind the Smashing Pumpkins playing new songs. That is totally fine, as they are a living band who still put out records, and it is their prerogative to perform recent material. In fact, some of the new tunes ended up being highlights of this show — “G.L.O.W.” is a good, catchy rocker, and “Superchrist” is by far the most successful and enjoyable product of the band’s recent fixation on over-the-top prog metal. I can’t say I love “The Rose March” or “The Crux,” but they are nice enough, and I don’t think anyone was bothered to hear them in the acoustic mini-set, though, you know, I think most everyone would’ve preferred to hear, say, “Thirty-Three” or “Muzzle” or “To Sheila” or…you know, the list goes on and on.

These are the big problems with this concert:

1) Not enough non-hit oldies. Yes, we got to see them play “Tonight, Tonight,” “Today,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and “Siva,” but that amounts to a very small chunk of the actual set time, and the versions were somewhat rote. “Mayonaise” was the only song in the show that really qualified as a major fan-favorite, which is pretty ridiculous when you look at setlists from other legs of their tour in which the band leaned hard on a variety of classics that would thrill casual and hardcore fans alike. The band has not performed in New York City for nine years, and made New York fans wait a year and a half for a concert following the group’s reformation. It’s rather unfair of them to finally make the time to come to the biggest city in the country and kinda dick us over, especially when a good chunk of the audience were people like myself and my friend Bryan who had never had the opportunity to see a Smashing Pumpkins show before despite being fans for over fifteen years.

2) The new version of “Heavy Metal Machine” and their cover of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” are just flat-out awful. “Heavy Metal Machine,” which is a pretty good tune in its original incarnation from Machina, has been transformed into a chugging, tuneless, seemingly endless dirge that excises virtually every appealing element of the song. “Set The Controls…” starts out as a vaguely intriguing take on the Pink Floyd song, but ends up becoming an interminable bore that marries the absolute worst of prog theatrics with the most tedious elements of art-noise. Both are cases of Corgan abandoning his strengths and embracing his most questionable impulses. These are the sort of things that may be fun to play in a rehearsal room, but translate poorly in front of an audience. Corgan is convinced that what he’s doing in these selections is art, but the problem is, it’s not at all successful art. It’s tacky and boring and not aesthetically or technically interesting. It’s just self-indulgent, and lacking in showmanship or tact. I cannot overstate just how much these two songs ruined this show — if they had simply not performed them, the show would’ve been just sorta okay. If they had omitted them and replaced them with a few songs regularly performed in previous legs of the tour such as “Starla,” “Drown,” “Where Boys Fear To Tread,” “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” “Hummer,” or “Set The Ray To Jerry,” the show could’ve actually been pretty good.

3) Now, it’s bad enough to subject your audience to about 40 minutes of abrasive, deliberately off-putting music, but it’s even more uncool to come back for an encore that mocks them for not being 100% with you, and feeling disappointed for not hearing more of what they expected to hear from a show billed as a 20th anniversary concert. In conventional show biz logic, if you’re going to go that far, you should at least leave the audience with a crowd-pleaser. In Billy Corgan logic, you come out and perform one of the lesser songs from your best-selling album, and then finish off with a song that mixes disingenuous hippy-dippy “everyone is beautiful!” lyrics with improvised sarcastic rants that outright diss the city you’re playing in, mock the fans for paying to see your band, and tell your visibly disappointed audience that you’ll see them in hell. It was full-on douche-tastic passive-aggression. It’s as if he set out to do this heel turn, and purposefully alienate as much of the audience as possible. Well, it worked. Believe me, unless you’ve witnessed other shows on this tour, it’s unlikely you’ve seen a more defeated audience exit from a rock show.

So here’s the thing: This is the first of a two-night stand, and tonight will be a totally different concert, with no repeated songs. Since this is exactly the same setlist as the first night of a similar deal in Toronto earlier this week, we are almost certain to see this setlist tonight. It’s not perfect, but it’s much closer to what I’d want to see in terms of song selection. Let’s just hope he doesn’t fuck this one up too, okay?

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