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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Pumpkins, Hole Unleash Frustrations

December 19, 1991|RICHARD CROMELIN

When Smashing Pumpkins' singer-guitarist Billy Corgan referred to himself as "a frustrated Midwestern youth" at the Whisky on Tuesday, he adopted a slightly mocking edge, as if to deflate the notion that his band's brand of rock springs from that cliched soil.

But it was hard to hear the Chicago quartet's music as anything other than an explosive release of pressure, a direct, intensely physical expression of the confusion and anger that remain the fuel of rock 'n' roll.

The Pumpkins came into the Whisky as the new underground find of the year, and the club was packed on the first of the two-night stand. While the Pumpkins' album "Gish" plays some delicate sensibilities against rocking impulses, the band on stage is mostly muscle. Corgan's voice is as thin, light and brittle as a sheet of dried paper, twanging and rasping like a lower-octane Neil Young, but the band really makes its case with stormy, extended guitar exchanges.

The psychedelic-tinged excursions stirred the Whisky audience into stage-diving action, though the pace wasn't really punk-charged. Corgan and guitarist James Iha might be this generations version of Television's Verlaine and Lloyd, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was a driving, exacting force as he kept everything pulled taut while coming down hard on what seemed like every possible fraction of the beats. They pretty much took this thing as far as it can go, with sublime results.

Smashing Pumpkins was preceded by smashing guitars, courtesy of Hole. The tortured, transfixing L.A. group's pairing with the headliners should have made this a bill to remember, but the audience was primed for Pumpkin and didn't take to Courtney Love's powerful howls of anguish.

Hole ended its set in a tantrum, as Love ordered the band to halt and hurled her guitar to the ground. Guitarist Eric Erlandson finished things off by demolishing his instrument with a few impressive swings. Frustrated Midwestern youth, meet frustrated California youth.

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