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July 13, 2010

Concert review: Smashing Pumpkins at Rams Head Live

billy corgan and the smashing pumpkinsHalfway through the Smashing Pumpkins' show at Rams Head Live last night, singer Billy Corgan asked the crowd what year it was.

"1979," the audience shouted, begging for the band's 1996 hit. It was not to be.

"Yeah, it sure ain't 1993," Corgan replied.

Corgan refuses to be labeled a relic, and last night's intimate club date was no hit parade. The '90s alt-rock pioneers never actually played "1979," though they did do "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" and "Tonight."

The show, which lasted more than two hours, was advertised as a tour through the Pumpkins' catalog, and that's what the band delivered. It was not a concert for the casual Pumpkins listener -- it was a performance for true fans ...

Here's a link to a photo gallery from the show.

The Pumpkins offered songs from nearly every album, starting with the lackluster new "Astral Planes." It was not the best way to get things rolling. The four players found their footing with the second song, "Ava Adore," settling into a dark, heavy groove.

With his shaved head and half-soft, half-searing voice, Corgan looks and sounds just like he did when the band broke out nearly 20 years ago. He's the only original member still touring with the group.

At the tender age of 20, drummer Mike Byrne was probably still in diapers when the Pumpkins released 1991's "Gish." Last night Byrne handled the sticks with skill, though he did rush several songs. Sporting a thick headband, he could have been the karate kid. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino had the low end on lock, and guitarist Jeff Schroeder offered solid fills and the occasional solo.

smashing pumpkins front man billy corganMake no mistake, it was still Corgan's show, and he snatched every opportunity to wail on his guitar, at times overpowering the rest of the band. It was a night of guitar worship, with fans bowing at the altar of The Bald One. Corgan was loving it. Early on, he stood with arms outstretched, assuming a benevolent, Jesus-like pose, facing his adoring fans.

Angst-ridden '90s tracks like "Cherub Rock" were just as biting and prescient now as they were when they first came out. One of Corgan's biggest strengths is his ability to be angry and vulnerable in the same breath, and that ability was on full display last night. Many of the newer songs, such as "A Song for a Son," lacked the same spark and momentum.

Something must have been in the air, because the crowd was feeling feisty. A few guys in the back were hurling obscenities and weird, funny heckles, and when Corgan paused in the middle of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," the audience started booing. Guess they didn't want the tune to end. (It didn't.)

After playing "Perfect," Corgan and Schroeder started noodling around, teasing Jimi Hendrix songs  and talking about the guitar legend. A fan near the front chucked a bottle or cup of water at the stage, aimed at Schroeder. Schroeder responded with a stream of insults, challenging the fan to come up on stage and fight him.

Keeping true with the night's theme, the Pumpkins' final encore was the epic, 18-minute song "Gossamer." The unreleased track began with sizzling guitar riffs, dissolved into a plodding stew and foamed up into a shred fest before Corgan finally put it to bed. The average Smashing Pumpkins fan were left scratching their heads while the hard core Pumpkin-heads were loving every guitar lick.

The show started at 9:53 p.m. and ended at 12:04 a.m.

Set list:

1. Astral Planes (new song)
2. Ava Adore ("Adore")
3. Hummer ("Siamese Dream")
4. A Song for a Son ("Teargarden by Kaleidyscope")
5. Today ("Siamese Dream")
6. Bleeding the Orchid ("Zeitgeist")
7. Eye ("Lost Highway" soundtrack)
8. Stand Inside Your Love ("Machina/The Machines of God")
9. Bullet With Butterfly Wings ("Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness")
10. United States ("Zeitgeist")
11. Widow Wake My Mind ("Teargarden by Kaleidyscope")
12. Perfect ("Adore")
13. Cherub Rock ("Siamese Dream")
14. That's the Way (My Love Is) ("Zeitgeist")
15. Owata (new song)
16. Tarantula ("Zeitgeist")
17. Tonight ("Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness")


Freak ("Teargarden by Kaleidyscope")
Moby Dick tease -> Gossamer (unreleased)

(Baltimore Sun photos by Josh Sisk)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:08 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Concert reviews


It's always easy to say new material is lacking, but I don't think "Song for a Son" lacked anything. Im glad Billy didnt let the water incident ruin the show. I believe they broke into Cherub Rock after the dust settled. Great Show.

Awesome show. Terrible, terrible audience. From the douchbags screaming for "DISARM, DISARM!!!" between every song (and then after the first note or two asking his buddy if it in fact was Disarm), the dudes who kept clapping (off beat) at the weirdest times, the water thrower, etc...I was getting pretty frustrated. But the band muscled through anyway and put on a great show.

I can't believe the non-reaction to the Moby Dick tease and the Gossamer closer too....but I had a blast.

Nice review, Sam.

I wonder if he'd sell fewer tickets if he were billed as "Billy Corgan." I'd rather see a set of those electronica songs from the Billy Corgan album than a Smashing Pumpkins revival act. Dude shoulda released that last SP album as a Billy Corgan album, toured with the fill-in band, & played old SP songs as a bonus for fans. The world is a vampire.

"...hard core Pumpkin-heads were loving every guitar lick."

3 songs from SD and nothing from "Gish"?! Glad this old-school Pumpkin (first saw them in '92) fan didn't waste my time with this show/setlist. Not saying it was or wasn't a good show, but appears that it was hardly a "a tour through the Pumpkins' catalog."

Also, Corgan had a full head of hair well after they broke out and toured behind Siamese Dream.

B+ show. Not great, but it's awesome to see Billy's rock and roll roots in a small club like this. I went to my first SP show 19 years ago at The Whiskey in LA and this show reminded me of that. Not a lot of effects, not a lot of other bs, just rock. I was wondering throughout the show however if this where Billy will be for the rest of his career. Unless he releases another Siamese Dream, I just can't see 10k-15k showing up to see them.

That being said, the crowd was really hostile. I was really kinda surprised by that. Some dbag was standing next to me shouting something about Lebron and Billy.

A few other notes. The drummer needs to learn that just because he can, doesn't mean that he should, the bass player should be a little more interactive with the crowd, and the sound sucked.

Sam, I was standing right behind you for the first part of the show and was wondering what you thought of the sound?

@Dave the wave -- I couched that with "The Pumpkins offered songs from nearly every album," the key word being "nearly." Also, I know about Corgan's hair. That's why I said "nearly" 20 years ago. Rock criticism is all about the 'nearlys.' That way I'm safe from nit-pickers.

@Eutaw Street Historian -- Thanks for saying hi. Geez! The sound in Rams Head Live varies wildly, depending on where you're standing. The sound is louder upstairs near the railing or closer to the stage than it is by the back bar, where we were. I just like standing near the back because the sight lines aren't bad and I'm not in the crush of the crowd. It's almost impossible to write in my little notepad down front. I did that at Preakness and it was a catastrophe.

The show was well worth the price of admission. Pumpkins were stellar, Bad City & Kill Hannah were a great bonus. The water thrower was one of the few moshing d**ks & 2 security guys ended up taking the bum away about 3 songs later. Three songs too late in my opinion. Nicole & Michael were actually out in the crowd during Kill Hannah and were very friendly, signing anything presented to them. Great, great show !!!

I've seen the Pumpkins twice and I do have to give it to Billy for playing a setlist of songs only true fans would know. I'm a casual fan and really only know the hits so I didn't try to go knowing this is what he does.

But you have to agree when you see your absolute favorite band live, you love it when they play the deep tracks. I'm sure diehard Pupkins fans love this kind of show

I thought the show was great! I've been a fan since Siamese Dream (and loved Gish) and was surprised Gish wasn't represented, but I thought Billy Corgan did an excellent job of proving why, as well as being known for his lyrics, production, and baldness, he is oft regarded as one of the great living guitarists. I've seen the Pumpkins before and never experienced a treat like that last Gossamer/jam session.

I was also surprised at the amount of people being dbags at a show that, let's face it, wasn't cheap and wasn't really intended for the drop-in fan. Maybe I've just become an old lady now, but getting drunk, hurling insults (and bottles) and crowdsurfing (before falling on your head, ouch) is about as cool as Justin Bieber. ;)

I would have been thrilled to hear Disarm, though.

@Lionel -- Interesting that they waited so long to eject him. I wonder if he was one of the kids who insisted on bouncing up and down like a Pogo stick right next to me and the rest of the dudes in the back row. He landed on my feet a couple times before rushing up front.

Also, I knew it was going to be one of those crowds when, out in the hallway before the show, some dude stuck out his elbow and nailed me in the shoulder as he walked by, just for the heck of it. Owie!

Wasn't trying to nit-pick Sessa. Don't mind me - I'm just bitter that I didn't go!

I was mesmorized by Corgan's talent and he sounds just the same. Sadly his guitar wsa turned up way to loud that it was actually drowning out the drums and his own vocals. He seemed very frustrated that and made two remarks to one of the techs and hardly anything was done. I adore the Smashing Pumpkins i only wish the sound booth would have stopped chewing gum and realize that the fans were having a hard time hearing the song. It seemed he gave up trying to fix the issue and just went nuts on his guitar. Amazing. My ears are still ringing..

I cant wait to see them again, just not at that venue.

They did play from just should have been one of the first 20 in line for the sound check ;-) Sound was great from where I was standing also. Great show overall but definitely wasn't digging the opening acts. SP put them to shame (unintentionally)

:D Awesome show! It was my first concert ever....and i got to be in the sound check, where the Pumpkins played some new material that sounded good to me as well as Tristessa. During the main show the crowd was kind of a drag, especially during the bits where they should've been more interactive...was it really that hard to sing along with the chorus to Bullet? I think my favorite part of the show last night was Eye...or getting his autograph. Definitely dig the new members and their on stage chemistry...its not tense, and I'm glad to see Mike Byrne can indeed handle the drums very well, but i agree that he should scale back a bit. On the topic of Bad City and Kill Hannah, I wasn't too into Bad City's music...but they had a pretty awesome and energetic stage presence so they were enjoyable for me. I liked Kill Hannah's sound but they were less entertaining to watch...until the last song. Fantastic show.

In 2 words....religious experience

Billy is truly a unique and great artist. His work will continue to resonate for years to come. He was at the top of his game at the ram.

I must say though, bad city were laughable at best and kill hannah were a waste of time. Why do we need to stand through these utterly crappy and meaningless bands every time Billy tours? Oh well, if that's part of the price to see him perform, it's a small price.

I wasn't very impressed with this performance. The two openers were terrible - Bad City seemed to rip off every lick and chorus from Def Leppard and thought it was funny or ironic. It's neither. Kill Hannah was a snooze fest.

As for the Pumpkins, I've been a fan since Siamese Dream but never got to see the original lineup. Between Billy's lame pseudo-political one liners ("My name is Dick Cheney") and the droning new material, I found myself bored quickly. I commented to another die-hard Pumpkins friend at the show that Billy knows exactly how to kill an audience, but chose not to.

I also don't really agree that this was a show for true fans. The band seemed to plow through familiar material with the care and attention of a jet through a pigeon. I would've appreciated a few more Mellon Collie tracks than to be beaten over the head with an 18-minute jammy mess. As an old-school fan, I was let down.

I was stuck next to some f'ing tool by the back bar who kept shouting obscenities and remarks that I guess he thought were witty. He was a rectum dropping, as were his two buddies. I finally had to tell him to shut his pie-hole or I'd help him find his way out. One more word outta him and I was gonna break his nose and wipe the blood on his Rogaine-needing head. He and his crew finally left the show a song or two later. Anus blossoms...

That aside - the show was really great. Afterward, the crew tore down the set in record time, and were cool enough to hand out picks off the stage and set lists to eager fans. I saw some really happy folks leave the stage area after the show and that was a bonus. That made the whole club-gig experience a good one for me.

I saw Jeff poke his head out briefly to greet some fans after the show. That was cool of him.

All in all, it was a great time, but I certainly was shocked at how many cro-magnon douche-bags in baseball hats there are in Baltimore these days. That town needs and enema.

yo, moron! Astral Planes is part of Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.

Sam, you sound like a complete douche bag. Terrible review.

@gyang333 and roberto villarreal -- Thanks for the feedback. It's people like you that make the Internet what it is.

Stop complaining about the Smashing Pumpkins not playing all old school hits. Billy has the right to play under the name and he is going in his own direction. It is amazing how many fans just latch on to their favorite songs and don't appreciate the other material. This tour is definitely for the die hard and true pumpkins fans. Everyone else just wastes their money and expects something else, which will never happen, but Billy appreciates your donation. Keep showing up and wasting your money casual SP fans.

All-in-all, it was pretty worth it. Let me just let out a bit of steam about some arbitrary stuff that went on.

First, the openers; On paper, Bad City is pretty much what you get if The Darkness consumed the decomposing remains of Bon Jovi and later **** out My Chemical Romance. However, they do present a great amount of energy and pacing with their stage performance. They are fun, but only when you really try to not take them too seriously. Not sure if the same goes for Kill Hannah, which I have to say that while the band and musicians did the best they can, it cant save the fact that the lead singer seems to be nothing more than a whiny Rob Smith wannabe wuss-bucket. Stop trying to sing like Perry Farrel, pluck the feathers off your hair, and find a career that can preserve any remaining traces your reputation.

Second, the "bros"; This was what most of the audience that night consisted of. Throughout the Pumpkin's whole set, I can count at least 15-20 people just standing there, crossing their arms, with a dead, frowning stare. There have also been series of moronic heckling, song requests, and awkward attempts at song participation. Two highlights of moments like those would be when one guy threw an open bottle of water at Jeff, and when one guy tried to crowd surf only to later fall on his head. I mean... is this what people want to pay 50 bucks for? To make an ass out of themselves and ruin a show in the most spiteful matter they can do? You guys are better off paying the same to run across an active freeway while blindfolded.

But it's the execution and the content of the show that will always matter, and the newborn breed of Pumpkins really worked well together. Nicole was very beautiful and talented, and the chemistry is really easily seen when playing with Billy. Mike pretty much caught me by surprise like none other. He should NEVER be judged simply why what you hear in the studio. See him live, and you'll under stand just how much of a punch he packs with the drums at his youthful age. His fills are powerful, energetic, and hardly a stand out when he blends in with the music played.

Of course, you should all know by now the talents of Jeff and Billy. They seem to make a better connection together lately, working together as an actual band rather than a touring act. Even better, Billy doesn't really hog the spotlight as much as before, he lets Jeff do half of the solos played and insures that it's really now a band and not a solo act like it was.

The setlist was a crowd-pleaser, even though I though they kinda played it safe with this one. Majority consisted of their biggest hits, along with their new material, plus a few Zeitgeist songs and HUMMER (yeah, still obsessed with that song). I wish I can hear more new stuff, and maybe a few surprises (still praying they play Ruby one day) but I doubt the lame crowd would handle it anyway.

Thanks Billy, even with the way the crowd was, Baltimore has waited a loooong time for a non-festival performance from you, and you made it worth it.

I don't understand all of the people who are thinking this was a deep cuts show, or songs from the vault, or lesser known material from their catalog.

They played 7 songs off their greatest hits CD (Ava Adore, Today, SIYL, BWBW, Perfect, Cherub, Tonight), which amounts to 37% of the set. Throw in the post-greatest hits singles like Tarantula and That's the Way and you're at 47% of the show was "singles". Then they played 4 songs of their latest EP which is to be expected when a band is touring in support of a new basically now 68% of the show is singles or new album. Historically, that's a pretty high percentage for this group, who in the past has been well-known for shows full of deep cuts and fan favorites.

I can't believe the general consensus is that Corgan is missing the mark by not playing enough hits. Poor guy, he can't win 'em all I suppose.

Oh, and I really don't understand the complaining about lack of 1979 or Disarm....reeealllly? Those songs may be classics, but even non-fans have to be tired of hearing them a bazillion times on the radio. The mighty SP has much better material to offer, and they indeed have. End of rant.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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