Smashing Pumpkins

Greg M. Schwartz

As Smashing Pumpkins prepare for the fourth night of their historic 12-show residency at rock’s most hallowed hall, questions abound. What will be the effect of its two new members, and can version 2.0 match the legendary intensity of the original?

Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins

City: San Francisco, CA
Venue: The Fillmore
Date: 2007-07-19

Anticipation is high inside the Fillmore, as Smashing Pumpkins prepare to take the stage for the fourth night of their historic 12-show residency at rock’s most hallowed hall. The '90s alt-rockers have only just returned to the music scene, and big questions abound. Can Smashing Pumpkins really exist without its original bassist and second guitarist? What will the effect of its two new members be? How will the songs from the new album hold up live? Can Smashing Pumpkins 2.0 match the legendary intensity that won the original group its devoted following? The stark cover of Zeitgeist, the band’s first new album in seven years, depicts a sinking Statue of Liberty -- a declaration of the new incarnation’s more political direction -- and the lyrics to songs such as “Doomsday Clock” and “United States” follow suit. Whether the album contains any true classics remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that it represents a return to the scintillating guitar-driven rock that helped the band sell millions of albums in its heyday. Smashing Pumpkins' appearance at the Fillmore also marks a special homecoming, for it was at the height of their glory that the group re-opened the classic venue on April 27, 1994. (It had previously undergone a five-year silence in the wake of damage from the 1989 San Francisco earthquake). It’s 13 years later, and there’s a buzz in the air as the lights go down. Before we can release our bated breath, singer/guitarist/Head Pumpkin Billy Corgan emerges all by his lonesome with an acoustic guitar. He starts to play a tune that sounds a bit like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” -- which Corgan has in fact recorded -- but turns out to be “The Leaving Lament”. Two more acoustic numbers follow, and, while they're pleasing enough, the crowd is getting antsy. Corgan must sense this, as he grabs his electric guitar and leads the quickly emerging band into the majestic “Tonight, Tonight” from 1995's multi-platinum smash Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Suddenly, it feels like the mid-'90s, and the crowd comes to life. The futuristic lighting rig that adorns the room also snaps into action, and it’s as if the Fillmore’s psychedelic circuit is suddenly lit. The band tears into "Tarantula", the hard-rocking single from Zeitgeist, and it's here that the full power of the Pumpkins is first felt. The newbies -- second guitarist Jeff Schroeder and bassist Ginger Reyes -- prove themselves capable, but the sound seems slightly muddy, and things aren’t quite clicking. Fan favorite "Zero" gets things fully rocking though, as the band tears through some of its meanest '90s riffs. Corgan even lets Schroeder take some of the solos, and he in turn shows that he can tear it up. But alas, the song is too brief to really get the momentum going. A couple of unfamiliar tunes follow, and it seems the jury is still out on Pumpkins 2.0. But then Corgan pulls out "Drown", and everything falls into place. For many of the band's Gen-X fans, the gorgeous psychedelic epic from 1992's Singles soundtrack was the first Smashing Pumpkins song they ever heard. The opening notes bring a noticeable increase in excitement: the studio version is a true masterpiece, but here the song reaches new heights. By the second verse, the band is picking up the tempo, as Reyes and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin fall into a steady groove. The song soars, and it suddenly becomes clear that Reyes is not just a pretty face -- she can really play the bass. The guitars step up as well, and Corgan dips into the Jimi Hendrix feedback bag that's always made "Drown" a standout track. The band is warmed up now, and it’s full steam ahead into another Mellon Collie smash, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”. The Pumpkins tear into the hard-edged rocker with the same intensity they put into "Drown", and the energy continues to build as Corgan lets old venom fly. "Bullet" proves itself to be a true classic -- when Corgan sings, "Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage," the line feels raw and new, as if it were fresh from a new album. The momentum continues to build as the band launches into a monster rendition of Zeitgeist’s “Doomsday Clock”. The Chamberlin/Reyes rhythm section continues to evolve, and it becomes evident that the studio version fails to fully capture the song’s heavy groove. The heavy rhythm and foreboding lyrics offer a platform for some cathartic, bluesy jamming, as Corgan makes it clear that the future isn’t looking so hot: “This doomsday clock ticking in my heart / These lonely days when will they ever stop? / We gotta dig in / Gas masks on / Wait in the sunshine, all bug-eyed / If this is living? / Sakes alive! Well then they can't win / No one survives." The live version blows away the recorded one -- "Doomsday Clock" is indeed a keeper. After a lengthy jam, Corgan brings things back down with an acoustic rendition of "For God and Country". He follows shortly thereafter with a stellar performance of "1979". Corgan is a king of fully electrified rock 'n roll, but his solo take on "1979" reminds us that he's a master songsmith as well. The acoustic interlude is soon left behind, and the band returns, launching into "United States", Zeitgeist's epic centerpiece. Some critics have declared the song too bombastic, but, as with "Doomsday Clock", the live rendition is far more powerful. The opening vibe conjures Black Sabbath's "War Pigs", and when Corgan sings of "revolution blues," there’s no doubt he's trying to re-conjure the spirit of that anti-war classic. The vibe is re-enforced by psychedelic feedback that conjures another 1969 anti-war classic, Jimi Hendrix’s “Machine Gun”. The last verse gives way to a monstrous jam that again far outshines the recorded version, landing with a fury that absolutely mesmerizes the audience. Chamberlin is a wrecking machine on the drums, Reyes is holding down a tight low end, and Corgan is wailing on top. The effect is breathtaking. It's now beyond doubt that the new Smashing Pumpkins are a force to be reckoned with. Chamberlin and Reyes lay down a low end on "That’s the Way" that almost achieves the intensity of "Doomsday" and "United States", while Corgan and Schroeder soar on guitar. The jam shows once again that Corgan's new songs are capable of rocking just as hard as the classics. There’s been little banter from Corgan up to this point -- a surprise, since the first couple shows on the tour yielded a number of amusing clips on YouTube. While Corgan is more focused tonight, he finally comes out of his shell a bit, jokingly introducing the next song as the tune that won "American Idol" for him. With that, he leads the band into a triumphant reading of “Today”, the smash hit from 1993’s Siamese Dream that sent the Smashing Pumpkins to multi-platinum status. There’s nothing for it: the Smashing Pumpkins are back and as good as ever. And how sweet it is.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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