Wolfmother are on a mini comeback trail of sorts. After a lukewarm reaction to sophomore album Cosmic Egg, Andrew Stockdale and his new company of merry men are previewing songs off their forthcoming album in their support slot for the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as their set at Splendour in the Grass. What has become clear, upon watching their set, is that Wolfmother aren’t half the band they used to be. I should rephrase that: the band has grown from a three-piece to a five-piece, but their energy and relevance were distinctly lacking. Perhaps it’s due to playing in the sterile environment that is the rarely used Hisense Arena, or the more likely scenario is that Andrew Stockdale has lost all sense of reality, becoming almost a parody of his former self. Songs like Woman and Dimension used to be performed to rapturous applause; tonight they were played to a deafening silence, and for a band that used to play with enough energy to run a small town, their lifeless performance was more than disappointing. “Thanks Melbourne, you’ve been so much better than Sydney” was the only tangent that Stockdale allowed himself to take, unlike his now infamous rant at triple j from their Sydney performance.
Whilst not officially announced, tonight’s performance by the Smashing Pumpkins was widely tipped to the leads of Perth and Sydney by having the band perform their latest opus Oceania in its entirety, followed by a set of back-catalogue classics spanning their two-decade career. So as Billy Corgan introduced album opener Quasar with a Frankenstein-like keyboard sequence, the bellowing drums from Mike Byrne and guitars from Jeff Schoeder launched the song into the stratosphere. As a giant balloon with lighting projections shining across it dominated the stage, Corgan maintained the music as Panopticon followed the set opener in equally grand style. The album was played in sequential order with many of the songs shining brighter in the live setting, with Chimera and Glissandra examples of this.
The cornerstone of the first set, however, was the title track Oceania, which twists and turns through its many facets and time signatures to create one of the more important pieces of music the Pumpkins have written in the last 10 years. The choice of playing Oceania in its entirety may have been a questionable one, as a steady stream of fans didn’t hesitate to make necessary pit stops between songs, but when you’ve had 20 plus years in the game like Corgan has, you’ve earned the right to call the shots.
As Wildflower closed out the performance of Oceania, with Byrne joining the front-of-stage action on one of three keyboards in use, the crowd began to ready itself for the back catalogue to get an airing. An initially lounge version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity turned into a bombastic Pumpkins’ epic, before the heavier number X.Y.U. saw the first mosh appear as Corgan delivered his renowned shriek into the microphone, while strobe lights were flashed left and right across the stage. The familiar bells of Disarm played out before Corgan and Co entered the fray, for what was, to that point, the loudest sing-a-long of the night. Tonight, Tonight was performed with all the magic that you experienced the first time you heard it, while Bullet with Butterfly Wings contained the same amount of venom that it did when it was performed 15 years ago.
A humble Melbourne winter’s night doesn’t strike as the kind of night where you witness a once-in-18-years event, but that’s exactly what happened tonight. “This hasn’t been played by the Smashing Pumpkins for 18 years! Not that you bloody deserve it! It’s from the Siamese Dream album, I hope you find a place in your heart to enjoy it, if you have one,” Corgan declares in typically bleak fashion. The first chords to Luna were played out to the audience, who seemed to be standing dumbstruck at such a rarity being played in their presence, and while it certainly didn’t garnish the biggest crowd reaction of the night, it’s airing was a definite success. A resounding version of Today rounded out the set, before the inevitable chants of encore filled the auditorium.
If one song were to represent a band more than Zero represents the Smashing Pumpkins, then I’m yet to hear it. This quintessential Pumpkins’ favourite began the encore in devastating fashion, with the opening riffs seeing fervent action amongst the mosh, and when the mid-song vocals stepped up, the audience had no hesitation in giving their fair share. A revamped version of Ava Adore took a moment or two to sink in, but once the audience became familiar with it, they bore witness to Corgan, showing he hasn’t lost any of his talents, ripping out a mega solo seemingly at will.
“We would like to thank you for listening to us play our new album in full, it’s a great honour, while other bands are playing their old album,” Corgan tells us, no doubt in relation to recent comments made regarding Pavement’s recent tours. “I’m great by the way, I just wanted you to know that,” he says in a tongue-in-cheek manner, before the classic intro to Cherub Rock rings out, which appropriately ends up being the set highlight.
Once again, Billy Corgan has shown that he still has the goods, whilst we shouldn’t forget the efforts put in by the rest of the band: Byrne was busy behind the kit all night, Schroeder didn’t put a step wrong all night, and Nicole Fiorentino’s bass work, particularly during Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Ava Adore, was top notch. But Billy Corgan IS the Smashing Pumpkins, just as much as the Smashing Pumpkins are Billy Corgan. Notwithstanding his comments stating that the band could go on without him should he wish to become simply their songwriter, Corgan is every part of the Smashing Pumpkins and more. In every way, the Pumpkins delivered tonight. They took a huge risk in playing over an hour of new music before the “hits” were played, but rewards are only earned by taking such risks, and there lies Corgan, once again, at the top of the tree.