Since disbanding one of the most significant bands of the 1990s, it’s evident that Billy Corgan has had just one thing on his mind: continuing to make great music.
Exactly why Corgan needed to end one era and begin another is unclear. But the resulting project, Zwan, is standing on its own, even under the shadow of the Smashing Pumpkins.
A small number of fans were able to catch Zwan at one of their limited club shows earlier this year, but many more curious Smashing Pumpkins fans saw Zwan for the first time at the Q101 Jamboree in Tinley Park, Illinois. Zwan played to their first large audience, and the fans’ two-year wait was well worth it.
Night began to fall at the day-long festival as Zwan took the stage to a loud ovation. Corgan entered last, wearing a thick turtleneck and Savino-style cap. The band quickly organized and started the first song, “Lyric”.
The unique three guitar onslaught seemed to fill every inch of air, and Zwan slowly turned the fans’ anticipation and question into exhilaration and confidence. The next song, “Cast a Stone”, was surprisingly upbeat and showcased fellow Smashing Pumpkins holdover, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s hard-driving buildups reminded the crowd that there was more to the success of the Smashing Pumpkins—and now Zwan—than Billy Corgan.
As Zwan’s sound was unveiled, it seemed silly that critics emphasized the difference between Corgan’s bands. The Pumpkins’ signature dissonance and extended jamming were absent, but Corgan’s songwriting and style were the same. Like the Pumpkins, Zwan featured heavy wall-of-sound guitars, beautiful vocal melodies and powerful crescendos that knocked out the audience. Zwan is simply more efficient than the Pumpkins, packing all of these elements into four-minute songs.
Zwan introduced several solid new songs in its one-hour set. There’s no doubt that when they release an album, hit singles will emerge. Smashing Pumpkins fans need not worry, however—Zwan isn’t a pop band. They just play great rock and roll that is undeniably addictive. Even on first listen, thousands of fans could sense the power in it.
The show continued with the extended buildups of “The World Goes Round” and the trancelike “For Your Love”. “Endless Summer” and “Settle Down” followed, wherein Corgan’s melodies floated above the title wave of Jimmy Chamberlain’s beats.
The band often paused between songs for an appreciative Billy Corgan to thank the crowd. After “Settle Down”, Corgan addressed the unseasonably brisk evening: “It’s too cold to talk”, Corgan conceded, and turned his attention back to the music.
An interesting surprise followed when Corgan invited Mary Ann Faithful to join the band. Faithful fronted Zwan for an atmospheric and pulsating version of Roberta Flack’s “The First Time (Ever I Saw Your Face)”. Though some of the crowd didn’t know who the middle-aged blonde was, Faithful kept pace with the band and exited with a smile.
Before finishing the ten-song set, Corgan introduced the rest of the band. Joining Corgan and Chamberlain were Matt Sweeney (Chavez), David Pajo (Slint, Tortoise) and Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle). The entire band played well, but often lacked a visible connection and confidence. Pajo and Lenchantin particularly looked surprised to be in front of such a large crowd. They often looked to Corgan for direction and cues. Aside from this questionable body language, the band was flawless.
The night closed with “Jesus, I”, a take on a 19th century hymn, “Glorious” and “A New Poetry”. To its last note, Corgan’s voice held up extremely well. All of Zwan’s songs fit Corgan’s voice, even when he let loose with his traditional yelps and howls. Corgan was under control like any serious artist.
The happy, powerful and charismatic Billy Corgan on stage was what the crowd came to see. That Zwan played ten extremely good songs was a bonus. Once Zwan releases an album that hits the airwaves, however, Zwan will be well-known for their great songs.