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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Serge
Foire aux Vins, Colmar, France, August 19th, 2007
Billy Corgan
Billy Corgan
I need to confess that my career in rock and roll (as a simple listener) has been put between parentheses from, say the mid-eighties until the late nineties, a period where I’ve been much more into jazz. That’s why, even if I had heard about the Smashing Pumpkins of course, I couldn’t claim that I knew them. Even the name of ‘Billy Corgan’ didn’t really ring a bell to me – Who? Billy Cobham? Are you sure he’s playing with the Pumpkins, Arthur? -, so I had to trust my son when he told me that I should go see them at the Foire aux Vins. “They play hard but not always” was his teaser. Well, indeed, not always…
So, here we are again in the coquille, surrounded by 7000 guys and girls, most dressed in black, which is a bit scary as black is now really out of fashion, except among the fans of hard rock and its numerous variants. So it ought to be ‘hard’ tonight. There’s a guest band for a start, a funny bunch of locals called Los Disidentes del Sucio Motel (how, err, Spanish is that?), and god they are… err, hard. Guitars almost on the knees, Ray-Bans, black shirts - white ties… And their music, extremely noisy, all songs sounding like rehashes of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, only louder and faster. I wrote 'humorous pneumatic drills'. Now, they had a brainwave, a guy dressed up as a sheriff patrolling the stage and checking that the band played loud and fast enough every two minutes. Yes, that was quite funny. Anyway, after their song ‘Pirrrattts and sunglasseezzz’ (in English in the original), a faster copy of something by Blue Oyster Cult I think - or was it Steppenwolf? Bad Co? Arthur says 'Queens of the Stone Age' - they are stopped by the organisers who still have to prepare the stage for the Pumpkins. Smart decision. I ask Arthur how this kind of music is named; he answers ‘dad, it’s a mix of hardcore, metal and hard rock’. Okay… The local press calls it ‘stoner’. Alright, alright! I’m feeling more and more like Alfred Barnard visiting Islay for the first time, or maybe rather Zululand.
But it’s time for the Smashing Pumpkins. From what I gather, the band used to be very successful in the early nineties, selling something like 16 million CD’s in the US alone, but internal problems (and, of course, drugs) led to several changes of line-ups, especially the girls at the bass. There has been the rather famous Melissa auf der Maur at some point… And then the band was disbanded in 2000, only to be reunited early this year by singer, guitarist and leader Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, all other former members having turned the offer down. The new band performed live for the first time since 2000 on May 22, 2007, in Paris, and all tickets have sold in a flash. Yet, the coquille is only two-third full tonight, but it’s true that we’re very far from Paris… Now, I’ve also read that the band pulled mixed feelings when they decided to sell four different versions of their new album Zeitgeist through three different networks on one side (iTunes, Target and Best Buy), each getting a different bonus track, and all other networks on the other side, all getting only the ‘official’ twelve-track version. Which meant that die-hard Pumpkins fans ‘had’ to buy the album four times (any resemblance with any whisky company is purely coincidental). Well, one shouldn’t be puzzled with the rise of illegal music downloading after that kind of move…

Anyway, on the stage are Billy ‘Yul Brynner’ Corgan (guitar, lead vocals and lider maximo), Jimmy Chamberlin (very excellent drummer I must say), Jeff Schroeder (in charge of the apocalyptic rhythm and solo guitars), Ginger Reyes (aka Ginger Sling, girl – and bass) and Lisa Harriton (keyboards – and girl). And there’s a sixth member, consisting in the hundreds of spotlights that sometimes make the whole set look like a fireworks show accompanied with music rather than the contrary. The good thing is that it’s easier to take notes as the hall is sometimes lit as if it was daylight, but the band is too goddam loud for me to even think of reading the tasting notes in the latest issue of Whisky Magazine I’ve brought in my pocket just in case.

So, they are all playing the five or six first songs extremely loud and heavy - I insist - except for the keyboards that are much less to the front than on the records (yes I’ve listened to some). Billy Corgan has a nice voice I must say, which he sometimes pushes to the limits. I’m thinking of Billy Idol, well.... Corgan is also a very good guitar player and likes to quote several other bands, including Pink Floyd in Umma Gumma if I’m not mistaken. He also does the Star-Spangled Banner thing, not ala Hendrix that is but now, it is to be wondered why so many American artistes seem to enjoy making their international audiences boo and hiss their national anthem. Is that some sort of self-mortification? Or does it simply sell? Corgan also likes to make his guitars sound like whales, which is always a hit. Not simply rock and roll postures, he’s really good at all that.

But sincerely and just between us, why the hell are the Pumpkins playing so loud? Now, good news, since the Chemical Brothers, I’ve got my set of earplugs in my pocket (yeah, next to Whisky Magazine) and believe me, they didn’t stay in my pocket for long, but our foolhardy neighbours had to leave it to simple cigarette filters, which proves that plain cigarettes can be really harmful to your health. On stage, after the apocalypse of St. Billy, that is to say the six first songs, the latter suddenly picks up an acoustic guitar and starts to sing a very nice ballad, with only Lisa Harriton’s keyboard in the background. I think it’s called ‘On my own (not worth asking)’. Really pretty! And then another excellent and slightly folkish ballad, only voice and guitar… And then another one, with the full band this time. A bit dark and sort of haunting, nice. But we’re soon back to much heavier businesses, all guitars handled like Tommy guns again, including the diminutive Ginger Reyes’ bass. Are they getting better or am I getting used to the Pumpkins’ elephantine sound? There are several other very loud songs, and then I ask Arthur how this genre is called. He answers ‘… ea… y … ar… o… ee…’. Bloody earplugs.

It’s already the encore (you say they have been playing for one hour and a half, really?). Just the piano, no guitars, no drums. Lisa Harriton starts to play… Too early for Billy Corgan, who orders her to start it all again. Gosh, I hope he won’t fire his brand new keyboardist right after the show! It’s another ballad, she plays it very well, but leaves her keyboards when the second song from the encore starts, while the rest of the band is back. Wait, there’s kind of a heavy (of course) larsen somewhere… What is it? Billy Corgan jumps onto the podium where the keyboards are located. Dammit, she forgot to shut them down when she left! Please, Billy, don’t fire her, she’s been great tonight!

The band starts the very last song of the gig, it’s called ‘Muzzle’.

“I knew exactly where I was and I knew the meaning of it all and I knew the distance to the sun and I knew the echo that is love and I knew the secrets in your spires and I knew the emptiness of youth and I knew the solitude of heart and I knew the murmurs of the soul.” I’m not far from thinking that this is the best song of the show. Too bad, it’s also really the last. The band leaves, only Corgan stays on stage, saluting the cheering crowd for at least ten minutes. Okay, maybe five. Time to remove my earplugs, now only half-deaf, for exchanging a few words with my enthusiastic progeny. ‘So, Arthur, was that a mix of hardcore, metal and hard rock as well?’
‘… ot e...ac… ly, dad, … was …ust … mashing pumpkins!!!’
Mashing some pumpkins? That idea never occurred to me but maybe I should pass it to some friendly brewers next time I fly to Scotland! - Serge (including the crappy photographs)

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