Kalabasa Calling: The Smashing Pumpkins, soon to be live in Manila

Karl R. de Mesa

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90s kids rejoice as one of the best alternative bands the world has ever heard (and seen) finally comes to Manila after almost 25 years

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS. Photo courtesy of Louie Barretto

MANILA, Philippines – I used to have fights about The Smashing Pumpkins back in the day.

“Back in the day” pertains to the time when bassist D’Arcy was still a svelte ice queen, Billy Corgan still had hair and the double disc tour de force that would later become Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was still a twinkle in the eyes of the Pumpkins. 

You see, many were turned off by the crass, callous way Corgan treated his band mates; how the words “megalomania” and “dictator” were often uttered in the same breath as the head Pumpkin’s name.

Which was, to say, often. 

Critics hated his “mosquito whine of a voice” as much as his unattainable and almost gauche punk dreams, even as their albums ranked high in any definitive Best of the 90s list. On many a guitar mag’s same list, these albums were hailed as template and psalm of how to use the axe as litmus paper and saturating element. 

What I argued was that Corgan’s creative dictatorship was well worth it — even justified — if the kind of music that would result was this good… this awesome (gosh darn it — this meaningful).

Because the Pumpkins’ sound was still the mating call of the alternative nation’s melody-loving, guitar geek-driven and post-punk quiet to loud to smithereens dynamic, I had an army of fans who agreed with me. 

We beat the Pumpkins naysayers down with our copies of Pisces Iscariot (an LP of B-sides that held more quality than any Pearl Jam album post-Vitalogy), the singles off the Batman and Robin soundtrack, or, for the truly stubborn, the boxed set of The Aeroplane Flies High (a collector’s item heavy enough to be a door stop). 

Hey, I was a teen of the 90s and all that emotion and confusion found a haven in grunge and Corgan’s anthemic ambition. The first thing I ever learned on guitar was the deceptively simple “Disarm,” whose psychokiller meets Hallmark card lyrics cut me to my isaw-devouring pimply core. 

So when the double disc album was finally released, I felt righteously vindicated. Chest-thumping proud of Corgan and Iha, working under their producer The Flood’s watchful gaze to turn out some of the most inventive riffs ever to be put on record. 

Then Adore came about with its Baroque electronica flavors and everything started imploding.            

And now, after the break-up, years of Corgan’s confusing maelstrom of inept musical and artistic moves, a book of poems, getting linked to Tila Tequila and Jessica Simpson, Zwan, a spat with A APerfect Circle and the overcompensating embarrassment of Zeitgeist… 

…the Pumpkins are finally coming to play Manila.    

On August 7, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, made possible by Little Asia and co-presented by Russian Standard Vodka, we’re going to see just how much Corgan’s new band stacks up against the ashes of the original Chicago line-up, and the slew of replacement members he’s crammed in there to make his eventual 44-track opus: Teargarden by Kaleidyscope.

You can fault Corgan for his fascist ways and his long running angst about his fans and critics (“I deserve you, you don’t deserve me,” he said in a press interview) but you can’t ever say he hasn’t stuck to his creative guns. 

Or his ambition. Their latest LP, Oceania (Martha’s Records), is part of that aforementioned monstrous compendium. Released this year, it is for me a rare return to form for a band who used to sell out arenas because of the sheer, huge attack of their sound. 

The Pumpkins finally sound like a band who’s relaxed and enthused and not at all concerned about topping themselves or alluding to phases of their career.

You can hear it in the fist at the heavens rockers that are “Quasar” and “The Chimera.” How they evoke the lofty heights of their sophomore LP Siamese Dream as well as the post-Pumpkins break-up project Zwan, gorgeous guitar work and all.   

So there: singer and guitar god of the alternative nation Billy Corgan is still able to make good rock songs.

I could just cry while applauding. 

Has Corgan finally found the young Turks he can work with? Who’re strong enough not to be intimated by the bald Pumpkin in his late 40s? Looks like it.

In any case, 22-year-old Mike Byrne (drums), Veruca Salt’s Nicole Fiorentino (bass) and Korean-American Jeff Schroeder (guitars) do sound like they contributed mightily to the new LP, that they’re not just a temp backing band.

The new guys make this SP sound hungry again. 

Oceania’s still way too happy to be a total and conclusively SP album for my taste. But here’s the old alternite credo in the complex: gritty “Panopticon” and the beautifully overwrought “Glissandra.”

The grunge tree has started to bloom again sans nostalgia and it’s actually looking quite new, shiny in a post-noughties glow, with an aesthetic of futurism.

CATCH THE BAND ON August 7 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. Photo courtesy of Louie Barretto

Since the Pumpkins site has announced that half of the show will be Oceania played in full, I’m sure those new to the band will appreciate this forward-looking take on a live show. 

Kids who came to them through the Machina albums of the noughties and those of us old folks who grew up with them will, am sure, rejoice that the second hour is devoted to previous material. 

Me now, am just glad I don’t have to fly out to see the Pumpkins. Mr. Corgan, I’ll still pass on “Gossamer” though. – Rappler.com       


Karl R. de Mesa is a journalist and the author of Damaged People — Tales of the Gothic-Punk (UP Press) and News of the Shaman (Visprint), nominated for the Reader’s Choice Awards 2012. He also plays guitar for drone metal group Gonzo Army, and the hardcore punk band, Kimura. For ticket prices and seating details of the Smashing Pumpkins’ Manila concert, log on to www.ticketnet.com.ph.


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