Nostalgia is wonderful to wallow in. Just for a while, a night, a few hours reliving something to remind yourself life has changed. Peeling away the layers to its comfort. It’s right there where you left it and when you need it most. Emotions are heightened, its noises are sharper and atmosphere visceral. It’s like walking backwards, scary at first, but a relief when you arrive in the familiar. Music has this quality. And for anyone who has lived through the 90s there is plenty of bands reforming, dusting off classic albums anniversary tours. It’s nice to get the older crowd out, and I include myself here. Dust off your old band t-shirt, have a few week-night beers, forget about work/wrinkles/kids/middle-age spread.
Last night we went to see one of G’s favourite bands of all time, the Smashing Pumpkins at Wembley Arena. He loves them, whereas I’m a slow-burn fan. As a teenager MTV was my gateway drug for music and the Pumpkins were on repeat for most of the 90s. Glassy-eyed I’ve absorbed the visuals of the band longingly from afar.
Next month, the band will release their new album ‘Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun’ – the first to feature founding Pumpkins members Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin since 2000. The crowd is heaving but not sold out by the time the prompt start-time is adhered to. Corgan takes to the stage – a lone figure in metallic platform boots, a half-skirt half-suit costume – all theatrics with his trade mark bald head, porcelain skin and eye liner. The ensemble, is not to hide but to emphasise the width and height of his 6ft2 frame. Behind him plays a montage of his childhood, sepia photos still-frame and home-video footage, child Corgan with his dimples – over laced with scrawling art slogans.
The video imagery was clever, but also left me wondering what artistic ego fantasy Corgan is playing out. He plays both the creepy looming 6ft Devil and the God-like protector of a virginal 1920s showgirl. As well as the 12ft St Billy Idol illuminated in fairy lights being paraded through the crowd mid-way through. A coincidence on the icy blonde on screen and the one missing from the stage, an obvious swipe or a clever inter-play on the missing D’arcy?
The three hour show was knowing and so referential about its own place in the value of nostalgia and served as a meander through Corgan’s own life as an artist and creator. He’s in character all night. James Iha is pretty chatty in comparison to Corgan’s silence. Crucially both are undoubtedly skilled musicians, their guitar solos more than prove this. Whatever I thought of him before, I realise Billy Corgan is the clever showman. Reported to be rather egotistical, a bit of a control freak with complicated relationships with ex-bandmates. After all it took him years to get the band back together. And let’s just skim over that time he set up a pro-wrestling company.
But this wasn’t just reliving the past, it went above that into pure theatrics. With vaudeville video intros by Mark McGrath, special guests and cover songs; Landslide with Amalie Bruun and a sprawling version of Stairway to Heaven. It took the revival concept and pushed it into something polished. Corgan seems to step outside of his comfort zone when he isn’t holding his guitar as a crutch, even managing some dance moves (and even some smiles) – which might have been a bit ‘dad-dance’. The cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity when he appears in a metallic hooded outfit was as hilarious as it was surreal, but was also fun in a show way which lifts the show way above plan old references to the past incarnations of the band.
With a set-list of 33 tracks Tonight, Tonight, Zero, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979, Today – all the classic sing-along anthems had their place. The crowd, whether old fans or new all fused in the upswing of a familiar chorus, ‘despite all my rage I am still just a rat in cage’. I bet there are a few hung-over middle managers sweating it out in their office cubicles today. A bittersweet return to the emotional joy of youth. Even if just for a night, nostalgia is a nice place to visit.