The Smashing Pumpkins remind everyone why they are still one of the best bands in the world

It was a sunny Saturday and spirits were high. The venue itself was a bit of trek to get to but walking through the gate you got a sense that it was a mini festival. Large robot sculptures, an inflatable gate to hell, food trucks and walls of porta-loos. Standard festival stuff. The venue itself was like an abandoned aircraft hanger. Some of the sheet metal on the walls looked like they were holding on with nothing but hopes and dreams. But it all added to the vibe.

First band, Battlesnake, were great. Heavy rock, big on the riffs. A bit metal but enough solos and hair whips to keep it fun. Best way I can describe them is imagine a bunch of catholic priests from the 70's formed a death metal band. It was cool! They have an album coming out soon, so expect to hear and see more from them.

One thing I wasn’t expecting to see was a wrestling ring among the food trucks. On paper it seemed like an odd paring, however, seeing it in the flesh, it made more sense. All the bands on the night have an element of glam and theatre to them. So, the more I thought about it the more the wrestling made sense. It’s hard rock theatre! It’s just a shame that the pre match banter was a bit weak. Australia vs the USA, there was plenty of opportunities for the visitors to make jokes about the Aussies wrestling with crocodiles, or being from a bush league. Aussies could have poked fun at the yanks for being all show and no talent, or weak as their beer. I’ll admit this is low hanging fruit, but I’m not expecting Tolstoy; it’s wrestling. Instead, we got Mercurio. Now Murcurio, the character, is supposed to be Italian. And as such, going for the cliché, is supposed to be a womaniser. It’s not the most imaginative character profile, but I’ll go with it. And he’s trying to be a bad boy. He’s clearly the villain in this match. So you’d expect him to be blowing kisses at every woman he sees, trying to steal your girlfriend and making jokes about sleeping with his opponents mum. You’d think! Instead he decided to say “I only like beautiful women, but I only see ugly ones here”. Slow clap. Isn’t this stuff scripted?! I can see what he was trying to do, but I think we can all agree this was a primary school level joke at best. His Aussie opponent wasn’t much better. It’s hard to play along to the illusion of these matches when neither wrestler is giving you much. It would have been a much greater payoff seeing Mercurio getting his face smashed in if he set up his pretty boy character a bit better. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the last time we saw Mercurio and his final appearance didn’t go any better. Another USA wrestler commented about Sydney being a shit hole, which I think he was expecting us to be pissed off about. Backfired when we all cheered. Someone should have told him. But then he came back with “…that was until I came to Melbourne!” Swing and a miss. Thankfully the commentators either by design or by choice, didn’t let any many other wrestlers talk much. But overall most people, including myself loved the wrestling! The body slams were great and got the crowd cheering. At close range those moves had an extra bite compared to watching wrestling on a screen. It all added to the festival vibe of the gig.

Speaking of wrestlers, Amy Taylor from Amyl and The Sniffers was carried on-stage atop of one of the their shoulders. Great entrance and good use of props. The wrestler then introduced them on mic with command and presence in his voice. He really amped up everyone and didn’t make any blunders. High five to him! When he left, Amy took charge. They drew huge roars from the crowd. People have been frothing over Amyl and The Sniffers for a while now and it doesn’t have any signs of waning. It’s exciting when you can feel that kind of fever pitch excitement for a band. They ripped through a set of ear shredding rock. Heavier sound than their early club shows I had seen. More metal sounding than punk. Maybe it was the mix, maybe it’s just the band evolving. Either way, it fit the bill and they had everyone glued to the stage.

A bit of a wander and there were some nice bar set ups in the venue. Comfy seats and cool décor. I appreciate the attention to detail in the setting up of this gig. They clearly knew their audience and it made for a relaxed and enjoyable experience. Hell even the lines for food, though long, got through people really quickly. No complicated menus to decipher and food was good quality. Never had to wait to use the loo either. A+ all round.

It was dark outside when Jane's Addiction came on stage, which meant the light show could be brought up a few notches. If you’re familiar with their recorded music you’re only getting one perspective of the band. Their live show is a completely different beast. This felt like a classic Jane's Addiction show. They didn’t stack the end of the set with the most mainstream songs and hey didn’t play the songs note for note perfect to the record. They did the type of show that they’ve been famous for. Perry Farrell’s vocals do something magical live where the timbre of his voice sits in this range where it pierces through the wall of sound from the stage and soars around the room. Obviously, there’s a tonne of effects on it, but it's the marriage of his delivery with those effects that make it sounds like a well tuned instrument. He’s not relying on the effects, he’s playing them like an extension of his voice. No Dave Navaro on guitar, which I was sad about, but he’s unfortunately unwell with prolonged symptoms of COVID 19. Replacing him was Josh Klinghoffer who you may remember for being in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for a hot minute. Which co-incidentally, was the name of the album that Dave Navaro played on when he was in the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It can get confusing. Though I was hanging out to see Dave, Josh certainly knows what he’s doing and the extended jams were amazing. In fact, Jane's Addiction felt somewhere between a shoegaze band, with their reverb drenched and washy sound, and powerful stadium rock. The sound wrapped around you and often the line between one song ending and another starting were blurred so much that it felt like one big ride.

An aspect of the show that I wasn’t expecting was the addition of dancers. To give you a visual they were a cross between Vegas showgirls, burlesque or cabaret. They were also quite acrobatic. There were steel frames at the sides of the stage where they performed contortions a couple of times during the show. Their talent was unquestionable, however their relevance was. I’d heard about Jane's Addiction adding dancers or other types of sideshows to their act. Fire breathers being one or aerial acrobats hanging from hooks through the skin on their back. Not sure if it’s always been part of their show but having the dancers tonight just felt weird. The women were just part of the decorations. Objectifying. Like a car ad with a women in a swimsuit sitting on the hood. And it was particularly jarring coming after Amyl and The Sniffers where Amy is ruling the stage. Maybe it’s out of tradition that Jane's Addiction have dancers, maybe it had more relevance back in the day but definitely felt out of place in 2023.

If I thought the light show was good for Jane's Addiction, it was about to go nuclear for The Smashing Pumpkins. Billy Corgan isn’t one to shy away from theatrics. Emerging from the smoke, dressed in a black and robe with mystical symbols painted on his forehead. With the lights emanating from the stage it was like watching a Japanese anime. They walked on stage to their song Atum, from their latest album of the same name. An instrumental it gave gravitas to their entrance. They then exploded into new rock anthem, Empires, also from the album, before hitting us with the big hits, Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Today. People lost. Their. Minds. The band were tight and limber. Billy’s voice soared like you imagine it always has and the band swaggered and punched in all the right places. No amps on stage, giving a very clean look which added to the visual. However, that meant being up close to the front you didn’t get the stage sound smacking you in the face. Good on one hand, my ears thank me, but downside is that you’re a little bit behind the speakers, so there’s a little bit of a dead zone. So I’d imagine it sounded much better about 10 metre back from where I was.

The set wasn’t all hits and wasn’t all new stuff. But covered a lot of great music and was (pardon the pun) a smashing set! No one would have predicted they’d play They Only Come Out At Night, a gentle lullaby from their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness album. No one would have predicted they would play Eye, a song written for the David Lynch's film, Lost Highway. But they were there. And they kicked ass! Other surprises included a cover of Talking Heads, Once In A Lifetime which was dark and heavy. Sounded like a long lost Pumkins track. Very imaginative rendition. Mid set the band stripped back to just Billy Corgan and James Iha on acoustics where James sang shortened cover of The Church’s, Under The Milky Way, which I hope they record in full cause it was mesmerising.

The chit chat from James and Billy and even the chicken salt rap (google the video) were really endearing. It felt like the band were having a great time on tour and were all getting along. The band is no stranger to drama and after a few false starts reforming the band since breaking up in 2000, it felt like they had found their feet and were hitting their stride.

There were great moments where the band extended out their songs or changed them up slightly. In one song the band reduced to just Billy, James and Jimmy and for a moment it felt like you were watching the old band back in the 90s. Which is nice but this isn’t that band and this isn’t the 90s. No matter how many low-rise flares you wear! Jeff Shroeder, has been in the band for over a decade now and though not part of the classic lineup, is now an integral part of the group. Having three guitarists means billy can put his down and be a bit more performative with the audience and the mic. And Jeff and James get plenty of time to shred and wail. One cool thing I saw James do was play a toy space gun! He had it sitting in a bucket on his mic stand and would pick it up and holding it close to his guitar pickups pull the trigger. The toy’s space sounds would then play through his guitar! It was cool! Expect your local $2 shop to be cleared out of them by Monday.

They played one song off their previous album, Solara which is an absolute banger and a half. I would have loved if they played a few more from that album, considering it was the beginning of this new era for the band. Though not many in the audience I think knew it. All the better for me, as no one was singing along to it!

Towards the end they played another song from the new album, Beguiled, and our old mate Mercurio returned! He was preceded by one of the women wrestlers who was doing a bit of a dance. He came on wearing an Amyl and The Sniffers tee, which he then took off and wiped his bum with. That went down as well as you expect it did. And if he was looking at me, he would have seen me smack my forehead in disbelief. He then went up to the other wrestler and picked a fight with her. We were all glad when she body slammed him. But really it was an odd act in the middle of the Pumpkins song.

They ended with Silverfuck, which is a long song anyway, but they spread out the instrumental and jam bits even further. It was awesome. And they left the stage smouldering.

You could feel a comfort and confidence in their presence on-stage. The band has already carved out their name in history, and they don’t have to prove their greatness to the world anymore. And you can feel that on stage. They continue now only for their own and their fans enjoyment. That’s something really special and I think they were very aware of. They thanked the fans for coming out but to be honest we should be thanking them for pushing through two decades of misfires to finally get here. There’s a huge amount of tenacity from Billy Corgan to keep pushing on with the band when many would have given up. Thankfully we are all rewarded for it now, as the band are red hot and giving some of the best performances of their careers. It’s such a huge thrill for old fans to see their favourite band kick arse again, but it’s also an amazing time for the legion of new, young fans who didn’t get to see them in the 90s and are now being treated to them back with their A-game.

Words by Johnny Rock
Photography by Halo1469