THE SMASHING PUMPKINS London Wembley Arena 22 July 2013
Tonite Reprise – Tonight Tonight – Cherub Rock – Space Oddity – XYU – Disarm – Quasar (Mary Had A Little Lamb) – Pale Horse – Pinwheels – Oceania – 33 – One Diamond, One Heart – Ava Adore – Bullet – Today – Zero – Stand Inside Your Love – United States – The Celestials - Porcelaina
In the half-empty Wembley Arena on a baking Monday night, The Smashing Pumpkins perform to around 6,000 people and an air of general apathy. After previous shows at 1-2,000 capacity regional venues, appearing at what was once the largest indoor venue in the UK is a bold move, and The Pumpkins (or The Smashers, or whatever their fans call them), are a Brixton-Academy-squeezed-into-Wembley-Arena type band touring to support their latest record “Oceania” which came out a year ago.
Billy and The Band open with a half hour of largely nostalgic rock from the last millenia : though their thord song is a ponderously slow take upon Bowie's “Space Oddity” that places the Pumpkins as egotistical administrators of self-pitying rock compared to Bowie himself. As a gig, it is very much a band of two halves ; at one point a competent Pumpkins covers band with the original singer that whips up a storm of angry noise somewhat unconvincingly, and the other, a new band that performs more restrained, thoughtful electronic rock for the second quarter of the show. Behind them, as Billy and the band pound out on vintage synths songs most of the audience do not yet know, huge screens show the kind of abstract meaningless imagery that all empty rock bands have as a standard part of their presentation these days : computer graphics of teeth, skulls, an octopus, a gold Buddha, that kind of thing. But it doesn't communicate anything, or add anything, merely light and colour, signifying nothing.
Aside from when they also manage to twist “XYU” into a ten minute version of “Mary Had A Little Lamb” - and no, I am not joking - there's little from 2007's “Zeitgeist” : the first mark of a lack of confidence from any band is when they forget to play much from their comeback record. There's also holes in the bands work tonight and the audience itself seems to last enjoy itself about 25 minutes before the band finish, as if the crowd are holding on for a big climatic rock ending of the hits that simply never arrived : ending the last half hour of the show with two ten minute Pink Floyd-style space jams that hide slight songs, and an acoustic track off the new record – is the kind of move that might make the band feel relevant, and edgy, by not pandering to fans, but to the audience, who file out slowly over a half hour stretch of 10.15 to 10.45 with an air of tired disappointment, much like one bands joking suggestion to play for so long that eventually everyone goes home. A suggestion that Guns N Roses take seriously, when they finish at 1.30 and there are only 300 people in the 4,500 capacity Hammersmith Apollo.
In the 25 years since The Smashing Pumpkins first appeared, everything has changed. The band of current employees, which has the ignomious glory of being the second most stable Pumpkins lineup (no-one has left since 2010), is a band, yet at the same time, clearly is the Billy Corgan show with yet another female bassist (their fourth), and a drummer who wasn't born when the band first played a show. I'm not one for being nostalgic about past lineups ; if I were, the only bands I would listen to would be The Beatles and U2. But this is a degree of deception, where The Smashing Pumpkins has become the trading name of Billy Corgan's Rock Music, and where the players, whilst talented are replacable engine parts who will inevitably become bored or seek some kind of more lucrative employment and career prospects as The Smashing Pumpkins ship sails on : in the meantime, the audience themselves, we grow older with children and mortgages or rent, in sometime insecure, zero-hours, easy-to-sack McJobs, a depressed economy, a failing future, and somehow we are expected to still do this. Rock on.