“As Americans, we lack that joy and spirit."
Pic by Pete Dovgan
‘The World Is A Vampire’ is not only one of the most distinctive opening lines to a song in the last 40 years but is also the title of the mini-festival that Billy Corgan and co. have brought to Australia. Featuring Jane’s Addiction as well as a solid range of local acts, you would be excused for thinking that’s enough entertainment, but Billy went the whole pumpkin.
As the owner of the resurgent wrestling company, NWA (National Wrestling Alliance), Corgan has brought wrestling to live music with a stage set-up on the front right of the Hordern Pavilion, a venue that hasn’t seen live wrestling in over 30 years. It’s a neat idea, and it certainly felt like a crossover of fans from the live music to the live wrestling. This was even more evident when both local supports, Battlesnake (who’d played at the un-work friendly time of 4:30pm) and Amyl and the Sniffers, both got involved in the mid-set matchups to the joy of the smallish crowd gathered around the ring for the early bouts.
But then the music took over, and Amyl and the Sniffers attacked the stage. Their set, traversing their two albums and going back to their 2017 EP, Big Attraction, was - in typical Amyl style - fast, frenetic and a whole lot of fun.
Amy Taylor is a constant attention-grabber on stage. She punches the air, spins around, sticks her tongue out and shows off her flexibility and strength to all. She also doesn’t mind a cheeky bit of banter between tracks, finishing with this sage reflection, “People who wear less clothes like me are always told off being cheap, but that ain't me.” Set highlights included Got You, Knifey (“for the ladies”) and, what will surely go down as one of the best Australian tracks of all time, Hertz, which wrapped up a set that will once again garner a swathe of new fans, because how can they not?
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Lollapalooza was conceived and created in 1991 as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction. What happened instead was the start of an alternative music revolution, a new career for their lead singer Perry Farrell, and what - of course - turned out not to be the final tour. Twelve years is a long time between visits for the band that last graced Australia at 2011’s Splendour in the Grass. The crowd was packed into the Hordern Pavilion for what was to be a triumphant return with a set full of favourites, a few surprises inserted and a whole lot of early ‘90s angst. Perry Farrell, looking decidedly spritely for a 64-year-old, was in good spirits and addressed the crowd often. “Are we drunk yet, or is it too early? I’m getting my drink on,” he declared as he took a swig from a wine bottle that was a constant companion throughout the set.
Farrell’s voice still has it as he raised the roof for classics like Whores and Mountain Song, but the band’s musicianship was really knocking our socks off. The return of Eric Avery on bass (who has only dabbled once before with the band since 1991) was a pleasure to witness, driving the songs as only he can, plus the guitar-prowess of Josh Klinghoffer (ex-RHCP and Pearl Jam) was outstanding, filling in for Dave Navarro (who has continuing health issues), delivering the blaring guitar that we’ve come to expect. Stephen Perkins on drums was as solid as ever, delivering a hell of a drum solo late in the set. It's not often you see live exotic dancers gyrating in the background of a rock show unless you happen to remember the garish rock of the ’80s, but here we were in the year 2023, with live exotic dancers, who – it has to be said – whilst remarkably athletic added little to the performance.
Two of their biggest tracks rounded out the set, much to the erstwhile fans pleasure. A quiet rendition of Jane Says, which Farrell admitted they’d stopped playing back in the day due to crowd violence (although that seems incongruous) and Been Caught Stealing, which still rocks hard.
The return of The Smashing Pumpkins to Australia, for the first time in eight years, was highly anticipated, and two sold-out Hordern Pavilion shows were a good indication of how ‘adored’ they are in this country. The core trio of Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jim Chamberlain still drive the huge fuzzy wall of noise that the group produce, but they also added Australian backing vocalist Katie Cole to round out their sound.
There was no mucking around. The painted pale, vampiric Corgan took to the stage to the sounds of ATUM, the title of their recent dabble into the symphonic, before Empires from the same record.
Then we heard the line and Bullet with Butterfly Wings rang out around the Hordern, followed by the blistering Today from their iconic Siamese Dreams LP. It was a significant double-play before we took a breath with We Only Come Out At Night. James Iha, the OG guitarist and joke-cracker, mentioned that we were into the mid-set but that the hits are still to come as we ventured into the esoteric. Solara, from their 2018 album, SHINY AND OH SO BRIGHT, was a voluminous mash of a track that featured eye-splitting guitar and pounding drums. It was not to be the first time the band took a detour into the experimental, and it certainly steered the set through some head-turning territory. The cover of Talking Heads’ Once In A Lifetime can only be described as unique.
Of course, we should have expected Corgan’s ex, Jessica Origliasso, to join him on stage, but the presence of both Veronicas was probably not, nor was the song they played. Eye, a deep-cut that featured on David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ soundtrack, was impressive to hear, but probably on very few peoples set highlights.
Corgan is known for devoting his tours to playing the most recent songs, and Spellbinding, another cut from the latest record, seemed to prove that, but then in the most personal part of the night, Corgan and Iha grabbed their acoustics and had a delightful chat before Iha played a heartfelt solo rendition of The Church’s Under the Milky Way. And then he rapped about chicken salt. I mean, this show had everything! We even all sang the chorus of John Farnham’s You’re The Voice for some reason before Corgan commented, “As Americans, we lack that joy and spirit”.
A trio of huge songs had us frothing, with the classic Cherub Rock followed up with Zero and 1979. All three still hitting hard despite their age (the same could be said for the whole band). The finale of Silverfuck was a treat for the old heads, of which there were many, even if some of them brought their children. The grimy, fuzzy, heavy track lasted longer than its recorded length, but as it reached its inevitable climax, the crowd were hopeful for more. No encore ensued, however, but most fans would have been satisfied with the array of tracks played.
The whole mini-fest was a triumph. From the curation of bands (No Redhook in Sydney, unfortunately) to the wrestling sideshow to the truly impressive lighting display, this was an event that really proved how well live music can be showcased and packaged. It just takes some ingenuity and enough people willing to take a chance.