Smashing Pumpkins w/ Marilyn Manson.
Jones Beach Amphitheater, July 31, 2015
A few thoughts before I begin considering this is my first foray into reviewing a concert:
- I ventured into this experience feeling as though I was walking into my personal experience with the death throes of my youth and the alternative/grunge scene that formed the soundtrack and pretty much the entire foundation of my formative years.
- On the way down the woman and I had a somewhat spirited discussion/disagreement about Billy Corgan and his attitude towards music and his fans. You can read the quotes elsewhere, but he’s basically stated that if you only cared about his old stuff and didn’t know the new stuff, well, you can shove it. My thought was that I kind of dig the fact that he’s super egotistical and defensive and edgy and all that jazz. I do think he is one of the more underrated musical geniuses of all time and I don’t need PC pandering all the time. Her thought was that he’s a dick. More on that later.
- I’ve never walked into a venue with strong simultaneous conflicting feelings of judgment (of the amusing amalgamation/caricatures of fans) and incredible excitement and anticipation.
Manson – I gotta start off by saying that I really don’t know a ton of Manson besides the big hits. There was a lot of hard stuff and a lot of anger. I think that the sound levels were a tad off because while the musicians were on point, you couldn’t hear his voice all that well much of the time. That being said, the crowd was pumped and the energy was contagious.
Because the line for beer was 150 Lawngeyelanders deep, we didn’t get to our seats until what setlist.fm says was the sixth song. Sweet Dreams began as we sat down and the crowd let out an excited cheer. This led me to believe that many people, like myself, were only pumped for the hits. He pulls off a pretty good moody/angsty version of the song. The Dope Show was, well pretty dope (sorry) and Antichrist Superstar was a theatrical experience. The Beautiful People was the only song that I knew all the words to and it was sharp, energetic and pretty sick. I think the most surprising thing was the fact that he’s actually got a really good singing voice when he uses it melodically and not in a screaming, rasping manner.
I have to say this about Mr. Manson. He’s a smart guy. It’s obviously a show but he knows what he’s doing and he plays the part that made the Antichrist Superstar an anti-hero to a generation of disaffected youths. From prancing around on stilts with a mic shaped like a knife and burning bibles to portraying a dead preacher collapsed on top of a pulpit and lacing song interludes with expletives eloquently directed towards god and Jesus, he knows how to pick at the emotional scabs of the rebellious, disenchanted outcast set that forms his still somehow extant fan base. I’ve heard pretty poor reviews about his stage presence, energy, etc. but I actually believe that he excelled at this aspect of his craft.
Anyways, I wasn’t there for Manson. His set was simply a pregame for me to get a couple tallboys of Bud heavy ($13 a piece!) in me before the Pumpkins started.
THE PUMPKINS – Like any seasoned concert-goer, I checked out the setlists from the previous few weeks of the tour (everybody probably does this, but I’m an elitist concert snob…so whatever). It struck me as somewhat odd that the setlist doesn’t change. There’s been a few different iterations and a couple exceptions throughout the tour, but for at least the last couple of weeks they’ve played the same songs in the same order, so I knew what to expect and what to expect it.
“Cherub Rock” is the perfect show to open a concert. It hooked the crowd right away. Billy’s voice is a little less melodic in real life and a little more “whiny” than the produced album version but it works. “LET ME OUT” the crowd screamed in unison as the band cruised to a fantastic solo straight off of Siamese Dream. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” raged on and as expected, “still just a rat in a cage” was probably the strongest crowd input of the night. The violin from “Tonight Tonight” gave me a gut punch of nostalgia and finished off a fantastic opening triumvirate of old school 90’s hits.
While I would have rather heard “Perfect” from Adore, “Ava Adore” was about as ‘sexy’ as Billy Corgan can ever possibly be and was a decent choice to bridge the gap between old school and their new album. To those that don’t follow Billy (we’re on first name terms by the way), it might have been a surprise that he dedicated “Drum & Fife” to U.S. troops. Side note: the song and the video were created as a statement on the after-effects of war. Music videos may be a lost art form, but it’s worth a watch.
Corgan then announced they were going to play another song off of their new album and he sarcastically remarked about the fact that saying “NEW YORK CITY” brought more applause than a comment about the new album. I gave the new album quite a few listens and think that “One and All” has a really cool 90’s alternative riff to it. Either way, it was a bit moody, droning and boring and was a bit of a down moment in the show. The energy just wasn’t too high. However, they picked back up with the high energy “Everlasting Gaze” and the eternal 90’s staple “Zero”.
“The Crying Tree of Mercury” is a really nice song, but I knew that “Mayonaise” was next in the queue so I was consumed by anticipation and wasn’t paying full attention. Like many pumpkins fans, Mayo is my favorite SP song (which is odd that so many love it, considering it wasn’t a single). I’ve been waiting about 20 years to hear it and I even remarked to the woman that I’ve never been more excited to see a song live before. From start to finish Billy and co. rocked out; from the beautiful intro and outro, to the distorted, angsty, accidental self-narrative, it had feeling. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t incorporate the song’s inventive feedback “breaks” but for me it was still an emotional rollercoaster. The intro and outro solos were a tad more “jazzy” than I would expect but that added a nice intrigue. I’m not gonna lie, I had tears in my eyes by the time Billy exclaimed “I just want to be me, when I can.”
“Disarm” and “Landslide” were both beautiful acoustic performances by Billy and “1979” (I’m assuming their most popular song, especially to lay-fans), brought the crowd to its metaphorical feet. But back to the “Billy’s a dick” conversation. As “Run2me” started, droves of fans left their seats near the stage. I can see why Corgan’s disenchanted and irritated by fans. It’s actually a good song and they performed it admirably even with the mass of fans turning their backs to go get a beer, hit the head, have a smoke, whatever they felt the need to do.
They ended the show with a trio of “Through the Eyes of Ruby” (not one of my favorites, but well done musically), “Stand Inside Your Love” (one of their more underrated songs, in my opinion) and “United States”. I have to be honest, I’ve never heard that song before. It had a powerful droning distorted riff and the drums were Jimmy-esque. Interesting song to end a concert, considering most bands end the show with a callback to their earlier fans or at least a sing-along type crowd-pleaser.
Overall impression – Corgan, Chamberlin and crew are professional musicians at the top of their respective games. Every song was tight, sharp and on point. They were all incredibly close to the album versions but with enough slight improv/variation to make it exciting. Strictly musically speaking, it was one of the best concerts that I have ever seen. As I closed my eyes, shook my fist in the air and banged my head to every beat and note and Corgan wail I was happily transported back to my youthful days as a (not good) guitarist and alternative, cargos and band t-shirt wearing teenager.
Unfortunately, there has to be a “however” in there. Despite the pleasure that the sonic assault evoked in me, throughout the show I had a nagging, disheartening feeling that they were just there for the check. The identical setlists, the rapid-fire, businesslike transitions between songs, the increased tempo and the minimal banter from Corgan…it really just seemed too mechanical.
In the end…100% worth it! It was an incredible concert at an exceptional venue. Some bands put on a “show” (Manson) and some bands simply play exceptional music. As long as you know what you’re about to see, the Pumpkins are a musical sight to behold. Also – they’re still relevant. I don’t care what the woman says, the 90’s will never die.