Pumpkins'Smashing Success
Chicago rockers' psychedelic slant is a hit at Warfield

BY MICHAEL SNYDER - San Fransisco Chronicle - 10/20/93

(Sent to us by Dave Asselin)

October has already been a great month for Smashing Pumpkins. Halloween mischief will come later. Right now, Smashing Pumpkins - the Chicago rock band featuring trippy singer, guitarist and songwriter Billy Corgan - is busting out as a major force in modern rock with a hit album, "Siamese Dream." and an SRO American tour.

Arty, fey and flat-out retro in their psychedelia, the Pumpkins - Corgan, guitarist James Iha, bassist D'Arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin - were given the requisite heroes' welcome on Monday night for the first of two sold-out shows at the Warfield. Smashing Pumpkins is the buzz-band of the moment, and a horde of MTV-weaned thrashers pushed and pummeled one another in the pit by the stage. They used the buzzy opening chord from Corgan's guitar as a call to arms - and legs.

"Siamese Dream," the band's second album and its first for mega-label Virgin, must have pulled the trigger. The album, released in late July, entered the Billboard pop album chart at No. 10 with a bullet. It's still bouncing around the Top 30 and is approaching the one million mark in sales. Without the benefit of a hit single, Smashing Pumpkins is a smash on the strength of glowing reviews and alternative -market outlets - college radio, MTV and that old standby, word of mouth.

Sounds Like History

All of the fervor is a bit unlikely. Corgan's dramatic ballad "Disarm" and his melancholy David Bowie tribute "Spaceboy" are straightforward numbers in the mode of stately, Beatles-derived chamber pop. Yet, much of Smashing Pumpkins' music has the amorphous shape of guitar driven acid-rock from 25 years ago. The ache, confusion and deep instrumental textures of the songs are depressive and hypnotic. Casey Kasem wouldn't know what to do with any of it.

Smashing Pumpkins' popularity is, in large part, a product of the angst and alienation that are the province of the young. The band repaid the fans at the Warfield with a freewheeling 90-minute show that also gave Corgan a chance to flex his oddball sense of humor.

Corgan was the center of attention despite the startling white-blond visage of Wretzky - an alabaster figure in T-shirt and jeans. With his Hendrix-style guitar playing, his strained and pained warbling, and his gawky, geeky Pee-wee Herman presence, Corgan is the quartet's guiding Lava light. He was a fractured master of ceremonies Monday. His untucked Op Art shirt flapped over earth-tone pants as be recounted some whimsical rules for living.

"Pave the earth, eat red meat and drop acid," he said before plunging into a gritty Pumpkin tune. The crowd, in on the joke, whooped it up.

Self-aware and self-mocking, Corgan's lyrics to "Cherub Rock" gleefully trash the music business fixation on alternative rock. Meanwhile, the band bangs out a hypnotic dose of mid-tempo neo-psychedelic music, complete with fuzz-tone guitar riffs.

Ballad about Suicide

Corgan's untutored vocals, breathy at the softer moments that suddenly chase away the distortion and dislocation of a heavy-rock groove, are frequently emotive and brutal. "Today" concerns a suicide attempt. It's downright pretty as rock ballads go. Still, Corgan manages to convey the exhilaration and tragic release he seeks.

The set focused on songs from "Siamese Dream": a dreamy Spaceboy"; a vicious, near-"speedcore" run through "Geek USA"; a torrid take on "Quiet"; and the thundering "Silverf- - -." bisected by quiet, disturbed passages with Corgan bleating "I gave my life away and I feel no pain!" A feedback-swathed encore version of "Drown," the Pumpkins' contribution to the "Singles" movie sound track, brought the show to a climax.

Returning for the encore. Corgan tried to calm the frantic moshers. "Relax" he said. "Just be groovy. Aren't you all on LSD? This is San Francisco, isn't it?" The band then went on a spaced-out instrumental excursion that took a page from the Grateful Dead handbook. They ended with the coup de grace: A snatch of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" segued into "The Star-Spangled Banner," which paid respects by aping the Jimi Hendrix interpretation.

-For all of his introspective evaluations, that Corgan sure is a card.

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