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Great Pumpkins

July 17, 2007|Richard Cromelin | Times Staff Writer

San Francisco — ONLY half of the band's original members are in the reconstituted Smashing Pumpkins, and the group's new album doesn't sound a lot like its old ones, but a capacity crowd got the full-spectrum Pumpkins experience -- challenging, indulgent, celestial, meandering -- at the Fillmore Auditorium here, where the predominant alt-rock band of the 1990s played its first West Coast concert since 2000 on Sunday.

The end of the seven-year hiatus came in the form of a three-hour show packed with the kind of dynamics -- if not the dramatics -- associated with singer-guitarist Billy Corgan, who peppered the set with Pumpkins staples, including "Today," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Disarm," yet never allowed nostalgia to become the point. There were too many new songs and Pumpkins obscurities for that, and the musicians played everything with an enveloping, epic force that demanded full and immediate attention.

Leaving guitarist James Iha and bassist D'arcy Wretzky behind, Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin are the only holdovers, a creative core that continued to work together on other projects, including Zwan and the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex, after the Pumpkins disbanded amid personal tensions in 2000. But a different dynamic clearly kicks in when the Pumpkins are revived, and while the new album, "Zeitgeist" -- which they recorded together before hiring guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes and keyboardist Lisa Harriton as their new bandmates -- may not feature their most eloquent songwriting, its metal-edged rock power links it to the Pumpkins' past while turning the music in a new direction.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 21, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Pumpkins date: A review of the Smashing Pumpkins' San Francisco concert in Tuesday's Calendar section said the band would play in San Diego on Sept. 9. The correct date is Sept. 19.

Though the Chicago-based group was always identified with independent or alternative rock, there was a lot of mainstream and progressive music in its makeup, and Corgan clearly still loves the grandeur of arena rock. Pushed by Chamberlin's distinctive, assertive drumming, he spent much of Sunday's set unfurling long solos -- some lyrical, some slashing and ragged.

But he also values rock's spirit of experimentation, and there were times when the band seemed to be saluting the musical liberation that was generated in this shrine of psychedelia during the Summer of Love, which is now getting a big run on its 40th anniversary. Corgan and company dropped in a bit of the Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," and during the encore he and Schroeder interlocked on a stratospheric spiral, while Harriton inserted some Doors-like keyboard lines.

With the emphasis firmly on the music, Corgan seemed less interested in playing the messianic misfit rock hero, a role he occupied the first time around and one that's been assumed by such prominent members of the younger generation as Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. Strikingly tall, head shaved, dressed in white with dark bands on his long sleeves, Corgan looked like a Dr. Seuss version of Nosferatu, and most of his few remarks were offhand and jokey.

"Welcome to our band practice," he said with a laugh after a momentary onstage glitch. Later, possibly noting the crowd's response to the new album, he sarcastically thanked "the seven of you who have actually bought it."

Actually, a bit more of that petulance, or any kind of vivid emotion, would have been welcome. This new lineup might have musical possibilities, but it doesn't have much chemistry or personality onstage yet, and there was very little interaction among the players. Corgan and Chamberlin, positioned close together and united by the lighting and their white outfits, seemed to dwarf their new partners, who filled their roles without asserting themselves or challenging the status quo. That's one reason that things tended to get repetitive, despite the fairly varied repertoire.

The sold-out series of 11 Fillmore shows, which ends Aug. 1, is the band's second U.S. residency following a run in North Carolina. A full-fledged tour starts soon. No Los Angeles shows have been announced, though there are open dates before and after their Sept. 9 concert in San Diego.

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