Zwan pushes the pulse.
Review and Photos by Tony Bonyata"Reborn, reborn, reborn!," Billy Corgan brayed over and over within minutes of stepping onstage during the first of three sold out shows at the Double Door. And with the not-too-recent demise of his former band, The Smashing Pumpkins, still fresh in everyone's mind, last night's performance with Zwan - Corgan's newest rock ensemble, was, in fact, a sort of rebirth. Sort of.
Assuming his same roles from The Pumpkins as vocalist, songwriter and guitarist with Zwan, it's almost impossible not to draw immediate comparisons between Corgan's new band and his former one. Throw in the frenetic, powerhouse drumming of fellow former Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlin and the similarities just keep coming. And if that's not enough they've even recently recruited the talents of another female bass player to step in for D'Arcy (and later Pumpkin, Melissa Auf Der Maur). In fact, the thirteen new songs and two covers performed last night, for all practical purposes, were nothing more or nothing less than new Smashing Pumpkins material. Billy can play musical chairs with his playmates, but the song - his songs - remains the same.
Making his first hometown appearance with his first official band since the Pumpkins, the lanky Corgan, clad in tight black attire and cleanly shaved pate, seemed almost despondent, with just a hint of finite sadness through a good portion of the show. Maybe it was just an off night, but other than a few smiles and a brief joke about 'people over 21 giving the best head' it appeared that he may have had doubts as to the future of this band. With tattered shirts, grubby trousers and a $1.99 truck stop hat, the remaining members of Zwan - the now-stockier Chamberlin, bassist Paz Lenchantin (from A Perfect Circle), along with guitarists Matt Sweeney (Skunk / Chavez) and David Pajo (Slint / Papa M) - all appeared as if they just got off a 10 hour shift at the filling station. The raw, untapped sound that they pumped through the P.A.s at maximum levels seemed to have also followed them from the garage to the stage.
Even though half of the bandmembers are still the same, and that the songs may smack ever-so-slightly of Gish-meets-Machina, what has changed is the sound of the band as a collective whole. Gone are the massive multi-layered walls of sonic dissonance from former Pumpkins' James Iha, as well as bassist D'Arcy's menacing Black Sabbath-like sludge. In exchange, Zwan has opted for a more direct, stripped-down rock approach, filled with feverous, orgasmic polyrhythms from Chamberlin, not to mention plenty o' leads from the three guitarists. While many of the guitar leads were inspired and captivating, there were nearly as many moments where they either came off too fast and flashy, as in their drastically urgent reworking of Robert Johnson's "Dust My Broom," or too slow and noodling, as in portions of "Jesus, I," which also managed to tuck in a brief medley of Bob Marley's "Exodus." When the band was firing on all cylinders, though, on songs such as "Rivers We Can't Cross" and a punked-up version of The Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night" any self-indulgences from the band were soon forgiven.
Despite any short-comings in comparisons to his previous band, however, Corgan still proved that as a songwriter he's as prolific and talented as ever. Numbers such as the sweeping "Settle Down," which saw Corgan's unique nasally voice take flight mid-song, "Endless Summer," "Baby Let's Rock" and the upbeat alt-anthem "Yeah" reminded the packed house why they were there in the first place.
It may be too early to tell if Zwan is truly Corgan's Phoenix rising from the ashes of The Smashing Pumpkins, but with a promising enough performance such as this show in Chicago, he may well be on his way to a resurrection.
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