CHICAGO Billy Corgan performed onstage Thursday for the first time since the December disbandment of the Smashing Pumpkins, rollicking through Bob Dylan, Roxy Music and Beatles covers to raise money for homeless children.
Corgan took the stage at the Metro the same club where the Pumpkins played their finale for the Third Waltz, a benefit concert featuring Marianne Faithfull, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, the Jayhawks' Gary Louris and others jamming with the Nicholas Tremulis Band, which has organized the annual event since its 1999 inception.
Dressed in all black and sporting his signature bald head, Corgan appeared eight songs into the night to handle lead guitar for Faithfull's riveting rendition of Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody." Corgan mostly stood behind Faithfull as her raspy voice took over, but stepped up center stage for an inspiring guitar solo.
The former Pumpkins frontman returned three songs later and pleased his hometown crowd by handling vocals and guitar on Roxy Music's "Out of the Blue," one of the heaviest tunes of an evening that included everything from bluegrass to soul. Bun E. Carlos, drummer for another legendary Chicago rock band, Cheap Trick, supplied beats for the song.
Corgan also appeared twice in the second set, first for a short but sweet duet with Faithfull on the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and later for the ending number, "All You Need Is Love," a jubilant gathering that included all of the evening's performers but little improvisational jamming.
The capacity crowd was certainly moved by the presence of Corgan and Faithfull, two fabled musicians who were each performing for the first time this year and are collaborating on the British singer's upcoming album. Although neither said very much, both were greeted with standing ovations and were showered with flowers and personal letters as they left the stage.
But it was hard for any artist to stand out in a show so stuffed with talent.
Tweedy and Louris brought back to life their 1995 supergroup Golden Smog, performing the bejeweled country tunes "Radio King" and "Glad and Sorry" with Carlos filling in for Soul Asylum's Dan Murphy on drums.
Hip Chicago jazz group Liquid Soul, whose 2000 album Here's the Deal was nominated for a Grammy, joined the Tremulis Band for a funky version of the jazz standard "Pass the Peas." Saxophonist Mars Williams, a former member of the Psychedelic Furs, thrilled the audience with several shiny solos.
Another popular Chicago ensemble, the soulful Sonia Dada, also contributed heavily to the Third Waltz. Thunderous bass Paris Delane and sultry soprano Shawn Christopher provided background vocals on several songs, while crooner Michael Scott and the rest of the band came out for two of their own tracks, "Daisy" and "Lester's Methadone Clinic," the latter featuring Ivan Neville on keyboard.
Other highlights included a three-song medley by Celtic fiddle legend Liz Carroll and harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy, two rowdy cow-punk numbers led by Alejandro Escovedo, a sing-along of "Ring of Fire" with Jon Langford, and a stellar cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Second Hand News" featuring Steve Frisbie and Liam Davis of the up-and-coming Chicago band Frisbie.
The Third Waltz (which followed the First and Second Waltz benefits) was inspired by the Band's famous farewell concert, the Last Waltz, which brought together musicians from an array of genres.
Nicholas Tremulis, who has recorded with Bonnie Raitt, Tina Turner, Faithfull, Neville, Joe Cocker and Maceo Parker, and the other Third Waltz performers donated their services, and all profits were given to the Heartland Alliance's Neon Street Program for Homeless Youth.