Concert Review by Jeroen Savelkouls
Date: June 20th, 2013
Venue: Live Music Hall
City & Country: Cologne, Germany
Tour: Shamrocks and Shenanigans 2013 Tour
Personnel: Billy Corgan, Jeff Schroeder, Nicole Fiorentino and Mike Byrne
Duration: ca. 2h15m
No orb, no video projections, and limited lighting showed up for their first show of the European leg of the Shamrocks and Shenanigans tour. The Smashing Pumpkins largely ignored periphery visual distractions and focused on a tight gig and balanced set list; these ingredients were more than enough on Thursday evening to convince the crowd of approximately 2,000 in the extremely hot Live Music Hall (LMH) in Cologne (Germany) that this band is still relevant.
It was not the first time singer and lead guitarist Billy Corgan played in this venue. The Live Music Hall was also his stage of choice for one of his solo shows in 2005. During the last visit of the Pumpkins to Cologne two years ago, however, the band preferred the much larger Palladium. Considering that 4,000 tickets back then didn’t sell, it seemed like a wise decision to scale down their ambition. This time around they found themselves playing in a full house which is beneficial to both the band and audience.
The doors opened at 7pm. At that time just enough people were there to occupy the first two rows, but right before supporting act NO started their show the hall quickly filled up. NO is six piece guitar band from Echo Park, Los Angeles, often compared to The National. They are touring in Europe since June 15 and will be playing during the next few weeks in Tilburg (the Netherlands), Gent (Belgium), and Paris (France). Their gig in Cologne is the only one which sees the band opening for the Pumpkins.
NO turned out to be a very energetic band and its musicians obviously enjoyed their time on stage very much. With their radio friendly pop/rock songs the ensemble around lead singer Bradley Hanan Carter swiftly won over the crowd. They played ten songs of their debut EP, Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Here Forever, to be released as their first proper album later this year. Afterwards, Carter handed out coupons with codes for downloading a couple of their songs for free. Commercially, maybe not the smartest thing to do (or perhaps their EP is sold out), but it did generate a lot of good will.
Shortly after 9pm, it was the Smashing Pumpkins’ turn. With the reissue of The Aeroplane Flies High box set to appear next month and announcements on Twitter and Facebook about ‘surprises’, many were curious which gems the band would dig up from their back catalogue. And could we expect new material, too? One song on the set list Corgan already gave away in a tweet a few days before the show was the second to last Adore (1998) track “Blank Page”.
Like many of their recent performances, the band started out with “Quasar” and “Panopticon”, the first two tracks of the 2012 album, Oceania. The songs were played tight and fast; approximately as they were released on the studio album. Corgan, dressed in a shirt with picture of wrestler, The Sheikh, seemed a bit disgruntled about the sound (and a guy throwing empty beer cans at the stage), but in the first few rows such nuances were difficult to distinguish. It was annoying to hear the singer’s voice often drowned out by the music. That made it hard to follow along with the lyrics; especially the newer songs that not everyone seemed to know that well.
The same went for the third song of the evening, “Starz”, which was played in a slightly different way than the version on Zeitgeist (2007). Subsequently, the vocals on “Rocket”, “Space Oddity”, “XYU”, “Disarm”, and “Tonight, Tonight” (including the ‘reprise’ version) turned out to be less of an issue since most of the crowd yelled along with Corgan. With the first notes of “Rocket” the crowd lost any hesitation it might have had and the band seemed a bit more relaxed. The David Bowie cover, “Space Oddity”, turned out almost as popular as some of the bands own classics; apparently, the musical love between the Pumpkins boss and the 66 year old British singer is shared by their fans.
Next, a few songs off Oceania – “Pinwheels”, the title track, “Oceania”, and “Pale Horse” – were followed by fan-favorite “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “Ava Adore”, and “One Diamond One Heart”. At around two thirds of the set list, the band thought it time to deliver on a promise; for the first time since November 12th, 2000, they played “Blank Page”. With Corgan behind his Mellotron and the beautiful backing vocals of bass guitarist Nicole Fiorentino, the song developed from a fragile ballad to a rocker; this was definitely one the high points of the evening.
The first real surprise of the evening followed immediately after: “The Imploding Voice” off the 2000 album MACHINA/the Machines of God. Although maybe not the most well-known song among casual fans, this fast and loud version turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. The same went, of course, for “Zero” (with an new intro), “Stand Inside Your Love”, and to a lesser degree, for the last song of the main set, “United States” (without the Star Spangled Banner in the middle section). Concluding with two encores, the evening ended with the Led Zeppelin song, “The Immigrant Song”, “Today”, and “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” off the Mellon Collie & the Infinite Sadness (1995) album.
The biggest surprise of this show turned out to be that there were no real surprises. Since 2011 the set lists developed slowly into their present form, without any radical changes; apart from a few songs and two covers – of which one is been on rotation for quite some time now.There was not much new to see or hear in the Live Music Hall. Considering the absence of sophisticated visual elements like they had on their recent US tour, ‘Cologne’ was very much a basic show; but if basic is always this good, I’d settle for it any day.
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Tonite Reprise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-lBBdH6hLU
Tonight, Tonight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2Zq8MRE5WA
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Ava Adore http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1d30bPK_8w
One Diamond, One Heart
The Imploding Voice http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC6ysi2jEdA
Stand Inside Your Love
The Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin cover)
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans