Jul 12, 2010

Smashing Pumpkins - Ram's Head Live

By Bob Suehs

www.rocknrollexperience.com

SMASHING PUMPKINS / KILL HANNAH / BAD CITY

July 12, 2010

Ram's Head Live

Baltimore, MD

When Billy Pumpkin (That's what Courtney Love called him & it's stuck in my brain, sorry!) announced that the Smashing Pumpkins were doing a handful o' smaller shows in intimate venues it was a given that most of these shows would be instant sell outs because Billy Corigan hasn't played smaller venues in quite a while, so for all the Smashing Pumpkins fans out there, it was an unexpected treat to have the chance to see the band in a small, sweaty club as opposed to arenas & very large venues where there was little fan interaction.

The Pumpkins made each stop on this tour special because the first 20 people in line each night were treated to a rare surprise...they were allowed to come into the venue early for soundcheck where the band played a handful o' new songs. I arrived early enough at the Baltimore show to hear the entire soundcheck & it sounded decent, the band played 4 or 5 songs, all new material. Interesting sidenote is that the band did not sign any autographs or take pics with the handful o' fans during the soundcheck, this was simply a little thank you for the fans who waited in line to get the best spot in the crowd or were lucky enough to win a radio contest!

The doors were set to open at 7 PM but as with all things rock n roll, that time was set back around 30 minutes & doors opened around 7:30 PM. On a funny side note, it's why I often say I operate on "Rock N Roll Time" because when it comes to rock n roll, nothing is ever on time!

The theme for this tour was "Chicago" based bands meaning all bands on the bill were from Chicago & the first band on the bill was Chi-town's own Bad City.

I've heard some of Bad City's material online so I decided I would watch their set as a fan since this was my first time ever seeing the band & although they had limited stage space due to all the Pumpkins gear onstage, Bad City rocked hard! Bad City's singer took the stage with a tattered flag in hand & his presence & demeanor was a weird mix of Sebastian Bach meets Iggy Pop; he had dyed blonde shoulder length hair, was shirtless for most of the bands set & made his presence known throughout the bands entire set!

Musically, the band was ok...part of what made the bands set questionable for me at times was the lack of sound; Bad City had limited sound & the overall mix made it hard to hear all the instruments at times & the thing that urked me the most was the trend of the evening; the bands on this bill DID NOT play their best songs! "Call Paul Stanley" was the song that made me really like Bad City when I heard it online & that was the song they did not play this night; if any of the Bad City members read this review, "Call Paul Stanley" is a kick ass rock n roll song, please play it next time!

The show was totally sold out, but there were plenty of scalpers outside trying to sell tix at cut prices & I heard fans saying they got tix for $25 a piece which was a great deal considering tix for this concert were $50 by the time you added the service charge! That's another point I will address as well....I saw Courtney Love's new HOLE (go ahead & laugh at that line, I am!) a few weeks ago & ticket prices were the same price as Smashing Pumpkins, $45 + service charge, & with HOLE it was a stripped down, no frills, nothing special kinda show so I don't see where HOLE got off charging that price, however, with Smashing Pumpkins, they carried a large stage show, there's a crap load o' lights, 2 large windmills that adorn both sides of the stage and move randomly, & for it being a small club show, Smashing Pumpkins brought a large, arena rock styled show with them, so for that alone I can see why the ticket price was high; they are carrying a large production with them on the road & they have a large crew, but with HOLE....you pay $45 essentially to see Courtney fall apart onstage & ramble for 50 minutes!

Right before KILL HANNAH took the stage I got in place so I could catch the guys up close, take some decent pics & have some fun.

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Kill Hannah opened with their ambient intro that I've seen them do many times over the past few years & basically it's just the players of the band setting the stage with an artsy musical interlude that's played under the cover of darkness with all the light coming from their instruments which are covered with shooting lasers & mounted lights, which help make an ambient backdrop for lead singer Mat to come out rockin!

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The very first thing I noticed about the band was that they have a brand new drummer! I didn't get a chance to track down Mat & ask him what happened to Elias, but I'll say that the bands new drummer kicks ass & he's a great new addition to the band!

Mat was sporting some sorta feathers in the back of his hair, which you can see in the pics I posted, & look closely at the bottom of the pic I posted in this review, the white Gibson guitar has a funny little message in green tape if you look closely!

The Kill Hannah set list this night was:

Intro

The Chase

Nerve Gas

Strobelights

Black Poison Blood

Kennedy

Lips Like Morphine

Interesting stage banter from Mat included him addressing all the fun times the band had at the club Fletcher's in Fells Point & how he loved the smell of fresh baked bread that was always in the air in that area due to a local bread bakery that was directly across the street!

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Mat dedicated "Kennedy" to all the fans who had always seen the band when they played the Towson area & the bands last song of the night was "Lips Like Morphine" which came off very strong, but this particular crowd was a Smashing Pumpkins crowd so they seemed indifferent to Kill Hannah which was sad because Kill Hannah played their hearts out & killed it!!

Probably my personal highlight of the Kill Hannah set was when Mat recognized me up front taking pics & to explain that is simple, Rock N Roll Experience has been supporting Kill Hannah for years, I've personally interviewed Mat a few times over the years & Mat came over to me during their set & took 2 pics of the crowd with my camera, I posted the pics in this review...if I had known it was going to happen beforehand I would have changed the camera setting because I was in the middle of utilizing the clubs natural lights & had no flash on so that's why the 2 pics Mat took were fuzzy, but they were taken by Mat so that's pretty cool!

Now that the opening acts were complete, the main stage area was cleared out, the full lighting rigs were uncovered & you could fully understand what the stage set up was all about; it's best to describe it as Alice in Wonderland meets Terminator...there were 2 large windmills on each side of the stage & at first I thought the windmills were large metal flowers...if you looked at the stage in terms of art & creativity, for a small club, this was the most interesting stage set up I've seen in quite some time on a small stage!

At times, the large flood lights directly behind the band made it feel like the band were playing on a football field; to really get the full experience of this show you needed to be back from the stage a bit to appreciate the overall light show & stage props.

Also of note, Smashing Pumpkins had the most complex mixing board I've ever seen a band use at this venue...computers EVERYWHERE, onstage, offstage, they definitely put some serious $$ into the production of this show/tour & the sound was clear as a bell too I might add!

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Before I get into my review of the Pumpkins set I want to explain why my pics of the band are not the best; Billy did not allow press into the barricade area, he demanded that all approved photographers were to take pics from a distance, so myself & 6 other people were told we could take pics anywhere we wanted so long as it was near the soundboard area, so that explains why my Pumpkins pics are all from a distance, but all things considered, I think my pics still sum up what the show was like! The Pumpkins had a strict NO CAMERA policy at this show too!

Billy Corigan took the stage in a button up styled jacket that made him look like a sea captain, & I won't even try to recall the bands set list because they played some songs I didn't even know scattered with a few hits & jams.

Billy had the center of the stage & was a tall, lurch-like, bald frontman that played killer guitar solo's, Nicole held down stage right looking cute in her black tanktop & skin tight 2 toned jeans & boots, while the bands drummer sported an 80's ninja bandana the entire show & the guitarist on stage left looked like a young Thurston Howell from Gilligans Island meets John Cusack, but don't let his mild looks fool you, the man can shred!

"Eye" which was featured on the Lost Highway soundtrack was a nice surprise in the set, but the obvious songs that got the crowd moving were "Cherub Rock", "Today", "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" & "Tonight, Tonight" & for me, sadly, the band did not play "Zero" which was the one song I was looking forward to hearing the most!

When Billy took time to introduce the band he called new bassist Nicole "Nikki" & Nicole said to Billy, "What am I, a cheerleader? My name is Nicole." & Billy re-introduced her as "Nicole". I first saw Nicole play bass for another Chicago act, Veruca Salt, when the band did a tour in support of their "IV" record & Nicole adds alot to the Pumpkins live show...she's a fiery, raven haired, rock n roll bass player who adds a good balance of beauty & the beast to the live show when you compare her to Billy onstage. At the end of Billy's band introduction he declared, "And I'm Dick Chaney!"

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Billy played cream colored Fender Strat's for most of the night & each guitar had a different emblem on the bottom, one had an obvious "Devo" styled hat, the other designs I couldn't make out from where I was, then there was a black Strat that Billy played for a few songs that had a male character on it, then he played a large bodied wood grain Gibson for one song that had no stickers on it & he used a capo with this guitar.

During a break in the set Billy addressed the "YouTube" video where he walked offstage after the crowd booed him for playing a Ukulele & at one point Billy asked the crowd if they wanted to see him do a Uke solo & the crowd started to chant Uke!, Uke!, but Billy laughed it off & said he wouldn't have a repeat of that incident!

Another weird moment in the set was where a fan tossed a bottle of water towards Billy & his guitar player...Billy laughed it off, but his touring guitarist didn't laugh it off, he actually challenged the fan to get onstage & try that again! The fan was addressed as a "Pussy" & they made fun of his bad bowl styled hair cut & the fan was challenged a few times to get onstage and asked to try that stunt again, but the fan backed down!

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It's funny when you see Billy Corigan onstage...he's not the coolest guy in the room & that's an understatement! Billy dresses sensibly, his pants were probably pulled up higher than anyone else in the room, he had on loose fitting slacks held up by a solid colored belt & a long sleeved shirt with stripes; it was what you might picture Kurt Cobain's father wearing, it looked very Old-man like & Billy hunches over alot while onstage too, but fashion & stature aside, all that matters really is the musicianship that Billy has because he owned the stage this particular night, this was the first time I'd ever seen Smashing Pumpkins live & I was pleasantly surprised to see & hear just how much Billy & the band jams!

Billy's guitar solo's are heartfelt, juicy & distorted...he's the bastard child that bridges Iron Maiden with The Cure!

Another highlight for me was the snippets of classic rock covers played; Billy made a comment that "Bigger IS Better" when it comes to guitars & then he tossed out the name Jimi Hendrix & this led into a slurry of Hendrix riffs which included "Purple Haze" & "Little Wing" & then Billy played a minute of "Moby Dick" by Led Zeppelin & the band joined Billy with this minute long cover about 15 seconds in.

Before Billy walked offstage for the last time of the night he made it a point to sign a few autographs for fans while onstage & like that, 2+ hours had came to an end, The Smashing Pumpkins 7/12/10 Baltimore show, probably the most hyped concert for 2010 in the state of Maryland....it was said, done & over!

At the end of the night the crowd looked tired & I was impressed with how fast the bands road crew were able to pack up a stage full of gear because they were packed up rather fast for all the crap they had to pack up! The ever so hyped Smashing Pumpkins show at Ram's Head Live in Baltimore was history, nothing more than a footnote for the people who attended to be able to say, "I was at the Pumpkins club show in Baltimore!" & for what it's worth, the show did live up to it's hype, Billy & company delivered a set that was just a tad over 2 hours & Billy Corigan IS an important figure in 90's rock, he's one of the architects in that era, a man who created the soundtrack to many people's lives & from what I heard of the new material played, Billy Pumpkin's still got alot to offer the music world some 20+ years into his career!