Smashing Pumpkins at the Wang Theatre, November 15, 2008
"Times make you bolder/Even children get older/And I'm getting older too," sang Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan Saturday night during his acoustic cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic "Landslide." Even though he didn't write those lines, they couldn't have summed up the night better: he is older, and bolder, too - bold enough to fill the vast majority of a two-hour-plus set with unreleased material and drastic reworkings of more-familiar hits.
HA! The Pumpkins' "Sound of Silence" featured squealing solo action and muscular bass drums.
And I mean drastic. "Suffer," a low-key psychedelic oddity from their 1991 debut Gish, was here turned into an almost Afrobeat grotesquerie. The second of a two-night stand in Boston, with no overlap from the previous night, the Saturday show started off with a few of Corgan's better-known tunes only to drift off into la-la land at around the halfway point. He began the Siamese Dream hit "Disarm" with the admonishment that "hopefully this song you'll actually like" - an odd statement to make before a screaming, cheering capacity crowd, and a clear indication that after this one, the hits were over.
Corgan was an oddity in the alternative-rock sweepstakes of the early '90s: insecure, openly ambitious, and thin-skinned at a time when most emerging artists were none of those things. He was equally adept at pilfering '70s soft rock for acoustic gold and '80s metal for mile-a-minute shred workouts. At the Wang he was a typically dramatic presence, with his towering gangly frame and his long pale fingers in their endless spidery guitar noodling. "As Rome Burns" and an almost unrecognizable cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" were impressive, with squealing solo action and muscular double bass-drum battery, but they were also shapeless as songs - and Corgan's nasally whine becomes more grating and insufferable as he ups the metal quotient.
At the end, as the band clamored through a long noise rave-up of "I Am One II," Corgan petulantly sang, "We break every rule, we do as we please, and we say what we want." We, meanwhile, all patiently waited for his tantrum to end for the night.
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