Anniversary concert tours are traditionally about celebrating history and waxing nostalgic with loyal fans. But the Smashing Pumpkins don't put much stock in tradition, even less in nostalgia.
So on the group's 20th anniversary tour, which reached Los Angeles this week for shows Tuesday and Wednesday at the Gibson Amphitheatre, founding members Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin are emphasizing provocation over celebration, with set lists devoted as much or more to new and outside material and extended jams than the group's hits.
"These past 20 years (not that I've been a fan for that long) of music have been awesome," wrote one commentator on the Pumpkins' fan forum after the group's New York show last month, "and we're looking forward to another 20. But out of the 25 songs that are played or so, give us 2 or 3 that would make us -- the true fans -- have a nostalgic, or 'mellon collie' moment."
That's the kind of response that has prompted some onstage rants from Corgan and more caustic feedback from the Pumpkin faithful.
"When we played in New York," Corgan, 41, said Monday in Hollywood, relaxing backstage after a TV show taping, "people were freaking out and screaming and yelling," yet New York Times rock critic Jon Pareles gave them a good review, "because we're still dangerous and we're still relevant on some intrinsic musical level that can't even be defined."
The veteran Chicago band has booked many two-night stands on this tour, crafting distinct sets for each show -- labeled "Black Sunshine" the first night, "White Crosses" the second -- in part so that those who catch both nights won't be subjected to major repetition of the material.
But it's also designed to keep the musicians' focus ahead rather than in their rear-view mirror. "If you spend 80% of your time talking about how great the past was, where are you living?" Chamberlin said.
Another result of that viewpoint is Smashing Pumpkins' decision to dole out new songs and videos in a variety of places -- the song "G.L.O.W." as a new Guitar Hero audio and MySpace video download, its four-song "American Gothic" EP issued earlier this year only as a download.
"I think our generation has shown that they are really not interested in buying music," Corgan said Monday. "If you start with our generation and [move] forward, I think it's not looking very good for the future. Right now the music business continues to survive on the Paul McCartney tour.
"There's a built-in business that continues to go on for the Elton Johns of the world, who are very solid artists. And there are plenty of people who still want to go out and see Fleetwood Mac. But when those people go out of circulation, I think it's going to be a very different business."
And Corgan, who's never been much of an optimist, isn't especially upbeat about how that difference will play out.
"You no longer have [institutions] to tell you what has more value," he said.