Last night at Hollywood's Hotel Café, Billy Corgan and his Sky Saxon-inspired Spirit in the Sky band -- which featured Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction -- introduced to Los Angeles one Mike Byrne, the 19-year old drummer and newest Smashing Pumpkins member.
Capping off a two-week tour of tiny Southern California performance venues, this was to be their sixth, and final, show, celebrated as such by a partially costume-clad Sky band and an audience dappled with similarly dressed up fans, eager to win the costume contest that Corgan announced by way of blog earlier in the day. We Pumpkins enthusiasts, of course, were curious to see if Byrne was all that -- Corgan selected him after a highly publicized open audition -- and thrilled to hear the pathologically prolific Corgan's new tunes.
Corgan, decked out in his trademark slouchy stripes and olive green Cuban revolutionary hat, was flanked by eye candy: to his left was singer Linda Strawberry, she of the hypnotic, half-lidded cornflower blue eyes peeking out beneath a swath of purple bangs (and topped off with a diamond-speckled flowered feathered headdress); to his right, Dave Navarro, his sculpted arms covered in a smattering of black ink, wearing strange Amish-looking pork-choppy sideburns which, weird though they were, did little to mar his shadowy beauty. The stage was crowded with the rest of Spirit in the Sky, which included Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin, Mark Tulin on bass, Mark Weitz on keyboards, Kerry Brown on percussion and a leggy, sailor-suited Ysanne Spevak on violin.
And, of course, there was Byrne behind his drum kit. Byrne has wide eyes and red cheeks, and wears the serious countenance of someone who no doubt realizes the massive and infamous shoes he has to fill: he was chosen by Corgan to replace original, and last remaining, Pumpkins member, Jimmy Chamberlin.
The band was tight and the new tunes were bitchin'. The third song, "Emerald Green," got the crowd whooping and tapping and dancing and smiling from the get-go. The next song, which included bookmarked bouts of audience participation, boasted a well-crafted build that earned a hollered-out "I heart that song!" after the final note. The crowd seemed to dig the psychedelic surf sounds of "West Coast," in which the lyrics belied Corgan's complicated relationship to Los Angeles - its culture, its artifice, its affect, its energy and, of course, its women.
But, it wasn't until the band launched into "Freak," that they really caught their energetic groove -- Byrne started to relax and have fun, Strawberry grounded herself in her cathouse grinds and soulful harmonies, and Corgan, lost in his own lyrics, forgot his worries for a while, at least a few of 'em, and smiled as he sang.
On this side of the show, it seems as though Corgan's found his way to a sweet-spot in the center of his creative zone. The new songs were, for the most part, phenomenal, tempered only by a few batches of over-the-top instrumental indulgence that gave way to fleeting moments of musical mastery, as well as to lolling loopholes through which my attention wandered aimlessly away.
Corgan sang a Willie Nelson cover (or, was it a song that Willie Nelson himself once covered? ) with guest vocal vixen, Sierra Swan, whom he called one of his "favorite singers on the planet," and then shared the stage with a mandolin-strumming Kevin and Ysanne, of all that leg and the killer violin, who helped rock an inspired string-heavy trio of new songs.
After an unfortunate attempt to invite more audience participation (carved into the awkward shape of that afore-blogged costume contest that, five minutes into, Corgan admitted was a bad idea), the band came back onstage: electric up-the-ass and rippin'. The energy suddenly shifted, and the wafting scent of testosterone flooded the club, with Byrne wailing deftly and ferociously on his drums like a rosy-cheeked octopus amped-up on something psychedelic and speedy, and Corgan and Navarro sharing hot hetero-curious, guitar hero rock god sex - the aural kind - which erupted in an explosive simultaneous vibrational orgasm that got the whole room off along with them. And from there on out, they just ripped and ripped and ripped again, in a sort of rock-n-roll, whose dick is bigger than whose? contest.
So, whose dick is bigger?
It's hard to say, really. I propose it's a matter of style: Corgan quite literally wills his guitar to make magic with a combination of mind-bending brilliance and balls; Navarro, animated by frenetic grace and a couple extra helpings of sex appeal, teases, licks, flicks, slaps and grinds his particular array of sounds out of his - ahem - member, with an extra dash of showmanship, and a pinch of false modesty thrown in for kicks.
I spoke with Navarro outside after the show. He was friendly and present and well-trained in the world of rock-n-roll publicity. He said he and Corgan have been friends for a long time and that they've "always wanted to play together," and when I asked him what it was like working with Billy, he said: "We've just been having the best time."
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Amazing how little an effusively gushed hyperbole actually communicates, isn't it?
But, I digress. Where was I?
Oh yeah, Mike Byrne, the nineteen-year old drummer. Amazing every which way and then some - wide eyes, red cheeks, eight arms and all.
-- Dani Katz