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Smashing Pumpkins raise moolah, rock casbah

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Billy Corgan leads the Smashing Pumpkins on Tuesday night at Chicago's Metro. (Tom Cruze/Sun-Times)

It's a summer for hyped '90s reunions. Pavement was decent at the Pitchfork fest. Next week we'll be suffering through the wholly unnecessary reunion of Soundgarden at Lollapalooza. But will we ever see the Smashing Pumpkins whole again?

Asking those four to reunite is likely as hopeless as expecting the Smiths to put aside all their litigation and bile for one more clunky run through "Reel Around the Fountain." But watching lil' Billy Corgan and his new mates tear through its catalog Tuesday night in a last-minute benefit show made a decent case for a trumpeted return of the rage and the rat cage.

The focus wasn't supposed to be on the band, not directly. This was a benefit show for a great cause. Proceeds from the concert's raffled tickets support the Matthew Leone Fund, part of the nonprofit Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to musicians facing illness or disability.

Leone is the bassist for local band Madina Lake. On June 29, he stopped to help a woman being attacked in an alleged domestic violence situation, and in so doing Leone was allegedly beaten by the woman's attacker. Leone underwent emergency brain surgery, in which a third of his skull was removed to alleviate swelling. He's currently stable, and the suspect in the attack is awaiting a court hearing. Like many working musicians, Leone is without insurance to cover his medical costs.

7-27 cruze pumpkins 9.jpgThe event even attracted the attention of Gov. Pat Quinn, who appeared before the Pumpkins set to read a proclamation, naming Tuesday as Matthew Leone Day in the state of Illinois and calling Leone "a true American hero." He also presented a check to the fund.

Matthew's twin brother, Nathan, was on hand to accept the accolades. The Leone parents were in the balcony. "There are absolutely not enough words in the English language, or any language, to express our gratitude for this and everything you've done," Nathan told the sold-out crowd. "The statement you've all made against domestic violence and violence in general will change the world for the better." Metro owner Joe Shanahan choked up.

Then the Smashing Pumpkins returned to the Metro stage -- for the first time since the original quartet said goodbye here in 2000.

It sure ain't the same band, literally and figuratively. Only Corgan remains, surrounded by three young pups. New guitarist Jeff Schroeder didn't step up and demand anyone's attention, though he has a prickly way of crawling over and around the melody, adding superfluous but sweetly unsettling sounds (think Robert Quine's guitar parts on Matthew Sweet's "Altered Beast"). Bassist Nicole Fiorentino is a fembot clipped directly from a Robert Palmer video, all legs and blank expression, but she ably holds down the band's big bottom end. Drummer Mike Byrne, 20, replaced the only remaining original member, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, late last year, and he punished the skins accordingly, acquitting himself in a brief drum solo at the tortured end of "United States."

Competency they have, and that's fine for their continuing journey through clubland, passing out in Tampa and apologizing to New York City. But watching Corgan -- who's still sometimes interesting to watch -- rant and vent and rave and rage in 2010, a year that thus far craves more outlets for ranting and venting and such, instills a hunger for some good ol' mid-'90s grind. Imagine someone throwing a pot of money at the four original Pumpkins for a one-off, with a big stage production and an audience in costumes. Lady Gaga would take notes. Soundgarden would give up. All those vampiric lyrics -- "True Blood" would be a sponsor. It would be useless, self-indulgent and beautiful, which pretty much sums up the band's legacy.

Tuesday, though, there was a bit of beauty before the inevitable self-indulgence. Corgan's still in a striped shirt that doesn't really fit, still standing on tippy-toe to squawk into the microphone. He'd sometimes take a drink of water, then spit a little onto the floor. He let the crowd sing most of "Today." He played with his teeth during "Ava Adore" and finished his first act by revolting against "United States," rubbing his guitar strings on his monitors for maximum feedback, knocking mike stands over, all the while controlling his newbies with the flick of a finger in the air.

If he'd left that on the stage and walked off, we'd still be talking about this show 10 years from now. But of course it went on. "Many more to come," he threatened in "A Song for a Son." The band debuted an unspectacular ballad, "Blessed Mother," with an aboriginal rhythm and an easygoing, almost Robbie Robertson mosey. By midnight, they'd hit all the highlights -- "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "Tonight, Tonight," a really great "Owata" -- and an encore of "1979" (with opening band Kill Hannah and various Metro staffers on stage) and "Gossamer."

But this was about Leone, after all, and it looks like he got some deserved help. In addition to the raffle-ticket crowd, various Pumpkins items were auctioned -- $1,600 for a set of collectible LPs, $2,500 for a signed poster, $4,000 for a backstage meet-and-greet with Corgan and, between encores, one of the guitars Corgan played was liberated for $10,000.

But this is America. If we have that kind of money for good causes, I know we have it for silly ones, too. Someone please start the Grant Park reunion fund and find D'arcy.

UPDATE: In a statement released Thursday, the Pumpkins' PR folks say more than $80,000 was raised for the Leone fund.

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Your comment about Soundgarden is unnecessary, and it reveals that you are a snide -- but worse, sloppy -- writer.

This is probably the worst write up about this show that I've read. Way to take an amazing benefit and completely miss the point. You're a terrible journalist if you can even call yourself that and you should be fired.

I don't understand how you can refer to a charity show as self-indulgence...
Also the band members are hardly "newbies" - Schroeder has been in the band since 2007, and the bassist has been in several bands beforehand, while, and Byrne has been in the band for a year at least; Hardly making him a newbie...
Also, why go on about the old members? The only one worth talking about is Chamberlin, but D'arcy?? She's hardly relevant to the show.

I am going to disagree with the other responses and say that it was a fine article.

Obviously, the most important aspect of the show is that it is benefiting a musician in need. You do a good job of covering that and reeling yourself back in at the end before you get too off course. At the same time, the fact that the Pumpkins are back in their home town at the Metro for the first time in 10 years is certainly an important reunion that cannot be ignored. Neither is the fact that Corgan is the lone remaining member. Granted, I would not call any of the members “new” other than the bassist. However, in the eyes of local fans these faces likely do look a bit strange to those who grew up on the original four.

I would not have ended the article talking about Darcy, she wasn't that great of a musician to begin with, but the Pumpkins playing at the Metro is inevitably going to resurface feelings of nostalgia.

I would not call the entire performance self-indulgent (Corgan seems to be letting his guitar do most of the talking these days, which is fantastic), but United States and Gossamer are certainly self-indulgent songs to a certain degree. Personally, I don't find their music that self-indulgent to begin with, just very personal and existential. Some call that being pretentious. I call that being an artist.

All in all, I enjoyed the article because it was honest. Sure, we all want Leone to recover and be recognized as the hero that he is – no question there. But we are all lying to ourselves if we do not admit that 99% of the people in attendance were “fans” that wanted to see one of the great bands of our era put on a show, regardless of the occasion.

Pop/rock/music critics are absolutely unnecessary. I came upon this while Googling something else. Writing about music, other than bios, is pointless. Writing about the event is relevant, but who cares how the "critic" thought that the band sounded. It is like reading a weather report detailing what the weather was like yesterday.

I never leave comments. Your writing style is good. I didn't go to the show but you covered everything I wanted to know. Thank you. I know the Pumpkins and I know the Leones'. Matthew is a hero. This was a good, informative write up and I laughed out loud... find D'arcy. Gold Jerry, gold.

This write-up is all over the place. I'm confused on much of your content choice, for example starting this off with talking about 90's reunions. The pumpkins re-united in 2006. However the main problem I have with reading this is that you do not even make it a point to be objective in this.

Why didn't this hero have a health insurance policy? He made money for his work, right? He didn't work for free did he? Anyone else tired of uninsured but quite solvent folks in denial regarding health insurance, going hat in hand to the public to pay their health claims? The public pays their own and also pays for insurance.

"It would be useless, self-indulgent and beautiful, which pretty much sums up the band's legacy."

Smashing Pumpkins just raised $80,000 for Matthew and you have the nerve to call them useless? Obviously you have no idea what Corgan means to the city of Chicago and the local music community.

I guess I'm not surprised. By your picture, you don't really look like a guy who's into rock/metal.

I agree with PJP about the ridiculous Soundgarden comment. "Wholly unnecessary?" Really? Gee, Mr. Conner, thanks for letting me know that an event I've been waiting for for over 12 years is "wholly unnecessary." I'm glad we undiscerning music fans have people like you to set us straight.

gposner: Are you joking? The guy plays in a local band and probably makes diddly squat from his live shows and even less from any music that he's recorded, yet you expect him to fork out astronomical health insurance premiums to a company that would probably turn around and deny his claims because he brought his injuries upon himself by helping another human being. What planet are you living on?

Soundgarden reunion is unnecessary huh? Sure pal, lets continue to drown in Lady Gaga and shoddy rock bands like Sum 41 and Good Charlotte. Do everyone a favor and get a new job.

God I hate the music of the Smashing Pumpkins, but I'm sure Billy is nice, but his voice makes me want to stab myself in the neck.

Couldn't he have simply played a free show and donated the money himself? Does he have that kind of cash? I mean, I know bands like that don't get paid much anymore, and the casino circuit is tough to break into because it's overbooked with bands like Poison.

Gish was a great record.

The only reason you'd think Soundgarden is an unnecessary reunion is because you must have seen them at least 10 times when they were a relevant band and your met the whole group. Well, until Doc Brown gets his time machine up and running, I never saw Soundgarden and I'm dying to view them on stage just once in my life. Until they announce more tour dates, I may never have that opportunity. I think an unnecessary reunion is Bush and you picked on Soundgarden. Hey man, if everything is zen with you, then that's cool with me.

@momack - Of all the 'shoddy bands' you have at your disposal, you went with Sum 41 and Good Charlotte? When was the last time you heard a song by either one of those bands on any radio? Next time use Train and Kid Rock.

I want the 1 minute I wasted reading this hack writer back.

This is terrible. That comment you made about Soundgarden was completely uncalled for. I didn't read an article about The Smashing Pumpkins to hear about how you don't like Soundgarden. Do us all a favor and quit. I've read some of your other articles to, it's a complete miracle as to how you got this job anyway. Not many people seem to like your writing.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on July 28, 2010 10:00 AM.

Soundgarden playing Lollapalooza -- and Vic Theatre just before was the previous entry in this blog.

Suburban band in 7th Heaven with anniversary Bon Jovi gig is the next entry in this blog.

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