POP MUSIC REVIEW : The Zen Calm of Smashing Pumpkins’
In one of his “Ficciones,” Jorge Luis Borges postulates a contemporary Frenchman whose life’s ambition is to write “Don Quixote"--not just copy it, but write the whole thing anew. But since 20th-Century Paris is not 16th-Century Castile, the Frenchman’s text, even though it’s word for word the same, is extremely different from the original. Context is everything: That’s the postmodern condition.
So even though the Chicago-based Smashing Pumpkins put on a show at English Acid on Wednesday that might have been a smash at the Fillmore 22 years ago, the band isn’t quite another rehashed power-pop band. The Pumpkins are something else: a great ‘60s band that just happens to exist in the ‘90s instead, politically correct, and as informed by Nirvana as by Blue Cheer and the Cream.
Very serene, these guys, no hair-flipping, no posing, no playing to the pit, just setting up a droning, modal groove and jamming--or what sounds like jamming: The show was basically a note-perfect rendition of the Pumpkins’ brilliant debut “Gish"--then gazing like Buddhas into the frenzied slam-pit that they’d created.
The drummer is very strong, in a tribal Doors sort of way; the bassist is tight and funky. But the focus of the band is singer Billy Corgan, pretty and focused in an unaffected, boy-genius-era-Dylan sort of way, nasal-voiced and with a keen melodic ear, whose aura of Zen calm can persuade you that you’re sitting on a blanket on the grass with some friends rather than swaying in a sweaty West Hollywood club.