Smashing Pumpkins | Santa Barbara | Review | Pics

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Smashing Pumpkins :: 09.04.10 :: Lobero Theatre :: Santa Barbara, CA


There was surreal mash up of cultures at the historic Lobero Theatre last Saturday night. The tiny 680-seat theater is the oldest continuously operating performance hall in California. The venue was founded in 1873 and is a state landmark with a rich history of stage, screen, and musical performances. Today, the Lobero is run much the same way as it was 100 years ago, but by a non-profit organization. The usher staff is composed mostly of retired, well-dressed volunteers who maintain antiquated rules of etiquette. Patrons are personally seated only during breaks in a performance. The crowd is expected to stay in their rather small, stodgy old seats for the entire performance. Wealthy, mostly elderly patrons rewarded for their support of the non-profit theatre with season tickets seem to be happy with the old school etiquette. The system usually works for most types of performances booked at the theatre, like live jazz bands and folk singers, but every once in awhile a rock band is booked to play the intimate space and all hell breaks loose. My Morning Jacket played a marathon four concerts at the venue several years ago and fans were dancing in the aisles and on their seats all night long.

Bad City by L. Paul Mann
So, the announcement that Smashing Pumpkins would be playing the little venue came as a great surprise to most rock fans. The opening act for the September 4th show quickly established the mood of the evening and showed a readiness to unleash a rocking barrage of music on unsuspecting fans. Bad City, a young new band of rockers from Chicago with their first album released just a few weeks ago, exploded onstage. Handpicked by Head Pumpkin Billy Corgan to open the show, the group is composed of energetic teenage rockers with a collective old soul. Sounding like a veteran hair band from the 80s, the band launched a traditional rock assault on the audience. Led by charismatic lead singer Josh Serek, the band joked and laughed with the audience between songs. Serek, the last member to join the group, actually hails from Temecula, and his sleepy Southern California wine town seems to be spawning an inordinate amount of successful rockers of late. Other members of the band also bantered back and forth with the crowd. One guy asked "if the people sitting in the front were there for the Kenny G light jazz," playing into the evening's mash-up between irreverent rock and the world of old school manners. Bad City boasts a double guitar threat in Max Perenchio and Tom Schleiter battling in a six-string war on many songs. Most of the band members were solid back-up singers as well. Serek quipped on the last song of their solid set that as long as the band's members are alive, rock and roll will never die. Considering how young they are that means rock has a good long road ahead.

Billy Corgan and his new Pumpkins sauntered onstage after intermission and continued the light banter about the restrictive, reticent atmosphere. Fresh from their performance, the Saturday before as headliners for the Sunset Strip Music Festival [see review & pics here] in front of over 30,000 people, the band looked surprisingly relaxed and engaged in the tiny venue. With most of their sound and lighting equipment crammed onto the small stage, the band immediately began to assault the audience with a wall of exploding audio and visual stimulation. The blinding lights and strobes of all shapes and sizes actually forced some fans to don sunglasses.

Billy Corgan by L. Paul Mann
In the lighting chaos, Corgan screamed and wailed in his trademark voice and attacked his guitar like a madman. The new Pumpkins, looking surprisingly like the old Pumpkins, followed his lead in a frenzy of sound. The new members include Jeff Schroeder on guitar, who gave Corgan a run for his money in guitar battle throughout the set. Nicole Fiorentino is a veteran rock bass player who has played with numerous bands including Veruca Salt. Young drumming prodigy Michael Byrne rounds out the new lineup.

Mixing old songs with new, the Pumpkins tore through a nearly two-hour set. Opening with a Middle Eastern tinged new song titled "Astral Plane," the band quickly established that they could live up to their historic pedigree. Other new songs included "Freak," "A Song for a Son" and "My Love Is Winter." But it was the old classics that got the crowd excited and out of their tiny, wooden seats. "Today" had fans screaming with anticipation. An awkward moment came when the band played the classic "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." As he has done countless times, Corgan paused and pointed at the audience to sing the familiar chorus - "Despite all my rage/ I am still just a rat in a cage" - but a seemingly clueless Santa Barbara audience stood silent and bewildered like the proverbial deer in the Pumpkins' headlights. The feisty Corgan, however, showing just how relaxed he was onstage, didn’t get flustered and sarcastically took a moment to teach the audience the lyrics. He began with an ironic, slow annunciation of the chorus, slowly speeding it up until he devolved into a guitar wailing and screaming frenzy.

By the time the band launched into the 1993 hit "Cherub," the crowd had fully come alive, sensing their good fortune at being invited to Corgan's little party at the Lobero. That classic song devolved into a salute to the sixties - a sound that Corgan has admired and incorporated into his recent side project Spirit in the Sky - first playing a Hendrix jam of the "Star Spangled Banner," then morphing into the beginning of Led Zeppelin’s "Heartbreaker." This evolved into a classic drum solo, giving Byrne a chance to showcase his incredible talents. The band returned to play a searing encore to the main set. Finally, after three more tunes and more friendly chatter, Corgan thanked the crowd for attending the event and the sleepy ushers slowly drew back the exit curtains. It was truly a surreal scene perhaps only possible in Santa Barbara

Setlist
Astral Planes, Ava Adore, Drown, As Rome Burns, A Song for a Son, Today, Eye, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, United States (with Star Spangled Banner and Moby Dick interludes), My Love Is Winter Perfect, Cherub Rock, That’s the Way (My Love Is), Tonight, Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love, Tarantula
E: Disarm, Freak, Zero

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[Published on: 9/8/10]

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