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LIVE REPORT: Smashing Pumpkins
Marc Burrows , December 10th, 2014 14:11

Marc Burrows heads down to Koko in London where Billy Corgan et al. are joined by Marilyn Manson

Photo by Eleonora Collini

Another year and another regeneration of the Smashing Pumpkins rolls into town (this is Pumpkins version 2.3 by our reckoning) with a new album to promote, the punchy Monuments To An Elegy, and new low-end muscle in the form of drummer Brad Wilk from Rage Against The Machine and bassist Mark Stoermer from The Killers.

Anyone paying attention for the last quarter-century will know that a Smashing Pumpkins gig can go either way, with much depending on the whims of capricious baldy band-leader Billy Corgan. Sometimes he'll give you the 90s mega-hits, sometimes he'll stubbornly stick to new or yet-to-be-released material. Sometimes he'll indulge the weirder bits of his 300+ (and growing) songbook, sometimes he'll ignore all of it. Back in the 90s gigs varied massively night-by-night, with completely different sets prone to 30-minute improvisations and on-the-spot reworkings. These days things tend to be a little more settled, especially when Corgan's dealing with hired hands without access to a decade of muscle-memory and onstage chemistry. Still, tour-by-tour you never quite know what you're getting, and in truth Corgan is usually better when he gives you the set he thinks you need, as opposed to the one he thinks you want, even if it leaves the more casual observer a bit unsatisfied.

Tonight we get new-album-to-promote Pumpkins, frontloading the set with five of the eight tracks that make up the as-yet-unreleased Monuments… record. It's sharp and immediate stuff too with no guitar solos and no extended jams, you can see why Wilk has been brought in: his muscular, unfussy drumming suits the newer material, where his predecessors had a jazzier, more complex approach. Opener 'One And All' does a nice job of setting the scene, though it's the moody 'Drum + Fife' and the propelling 'Monuments' that come over best. Between these, Corgan weaves well-curated classics; we get the dreamy, sonic pop of Siamese Dream's 'Hummer', and a grungey take on 'Tonight Tonight' which the Wilk/Stoermer engine, alongside long-term guitarist Jeff Schroeder, supports nicely. Elsewhere 'Zero', 'Bullet With Butterfly Wings' and 'Stand Inside Your Love' all feel in keeping with the newer, more streamlined take on the band while scratching that "90s classics" itch which will have tempted much of tonight's crowd to fork out a verging-on-preposterous £60 for a ticket.

But playing the hits, and road-testing newies does not a good Pumpkins gig make, and whenever he's taken this route in the past Corgan has never seemed as engaged as you'd hope; if not exactly phoning-it-in, certainly dithering around with the voicemail. Thankfully tonight the more creative Corgan is in evidence, and we get spacey jams on overlooked oldies 'Glass And The Ghost Children' and 'Drown' as well as a deconstructed roar through 1993's 'Silverfuck', as reinterpreted by Judas Priest. The current line up doesn't quite have the deftness of the one which toured 2012's Oceania record, but there's a primitive rock thrill to these performances, cemented on a weirdo cyber-metal take on Bowie's 1975 pop smasher, 'Fame'.

The real fun is to be had in the encore though, as surprise guest Marilyn Manson leads the band through his own new single -one of his best in some time- meaning presumably the 'God Of Fuck' (does he still call himself that?) has been forgiven for that time he and Trent Reznor destroyed a plaster bust of Billy Corgan in a video. There's certainly no ill-feeling tonight, as Manson leans over and plants a sweaty kiss on Corgan's bald dome, meaning that through a closing, rapturously received duet on the Pumpkins 'Ava Adore' he's sporting a shiny black lipstick ring on the side of his head. A good time seemingly had by all.