Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" has been a setlist staple on this fall's Smashing Pumpkins 20th Anniversary Tour. But Floyd's influence was actually quite easy to spot throughout Billy Corgan and Co.'s tinnitus-inducing 25-song set at the Fox Theatre last night in St. Louis. The show was awash in epic '70s-glam-prog eccentricities, including the use of at least five auxiliary band members (two horns, two keyboard players, percussionist, etc.), a handful of new songs that ranged from swirling psychedelic mood pieces ("I Am One Pt. 2") to tender ballads ("A Song for a Son") to ambitious covers (the aforementioned cover).
Even though Corgan and other members of the band were fighting off colds, the band was still able to blaze through the lengthy two-plus hour set, even if some of the extended experimental noise guitar interludes may have been lost on the crowd. It's almost as if Corgan was testing the audience at times, hitting a string of familiar favorites only to then slide back into long sections of feedback-laden super-jams that were sonically dense and at times euphoric and beautiful -- but sent most of the crowd from standing and head-bobbing to sitting and nodding off by the set's end.
This isn't to say that the show didn't have some seriously impressive spurts - and this is most definitely not to say that the band didn't sound good. The latest incarnation of the Pumpkins sounded proficient, air-tight, agile and capable of attacking pretty much any part of the band's diverse back-catalog. As the band opened with two newer songs ("Tarantula" from last year's Zeitgeist and the new single "G.L.O.W.") a dusky auburn backdrop of warm L.E.D. light signaled that night had fallen and Billy Corgan was about to spew some sonic evil in the general direction of the anxious crowd.
A blistering, hyper-speed rendition of "Siva" from the band's first album, Gish, was an early highlight that included the first of many extended feedback interludes. Next was a very tasty full-band version of "Eye," originally an electronic, drum-machine based single featured on the Lost Highway soundtrack. With live drums and more thickly orchestrated arrangement, the song really took on a new life and showed once again that Corgan might be a genius, but he's always better when backed by Jimmy Chamberlain's uber-tasteful drumming.
Newer material like the epic, echo-drenched ballad "A Song for a Son" and the oh-so-diabolical, Black Sabbath influenced rocker "Superchrist" saw the band at its most energetic. Both really showed off the skills of guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who handled some well-placed leads and added layers of blessed-out ear candy via interesting implementation of delay and echo effects. Bassist Ginger Reyes and keyboardist Lisa Harrington also added a fresh dimension to the current lineup's approach, with well-executed backup harmonies on "Tonight, Tonight" and "Eye."
The set hit its peak intensity at about the half-way point, when the band launched into a string of crowd favs ("Disarm," "Mellon Collie," "Soma," "Cherub Rock," and "Zero"). Though plagued by a cold Corgan seemed to almost - gasp -- be having fun as he toyed with the crowd. He made up a ridiculous story about how he wrote "Disarm" at 6 a.m. one morning under the Arch while stranded in St. Louis, and played off a mistake at the beginning of "Cherub Rock" by leading the band into a hilarious lounge version of the tune that he then commented, "sounded like Blind Melon."
But even with these moments of light-hearted banter, great sound and an honestly very solid setlist, the show still felt a little forced and stale by the end. The long sections of feedback and psychedelic '70s flourishes were interesting to a point, but could have been supplemented by more of the band's back catalog -- or even some of the more straightforward rockers from Zeitgeist, which the band basically ignored altogether.
The promising thing about this show is that the new Pumpkins songs did actually sound great and the Pink Floyd-inspired sonic direction is an interesting one for the band. Here's to hoping those kind of challenging and epic soundscapes will find their way onto the Pumpkins' next album and that Corgan will be able to keep this truly formidable lineup together.
A Song for a Son
I Am One Pt. 2
Heavy Metal Machine
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Cherub Rock (false start)
Cherub Rock (lounge)
As Rome Burns
Little Red Riding Hood
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (Pink Floyd)