POMONA, California Wailing guitars, thunderous drums, potent lyrics all are the same. The shiny head doesn't look like it has missed a shave. Something is different about Billy Corgan's new band, however. Smiles. Lots and lots of smiles.
Zwan played their first show in this quiet California city Friday night, debuting 13 new songs at the Glass House club, covering the Beatles and enjoying every second of their 90-minute show.
Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin both formerly of influential alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins took the stage with Chavez singer/guitarist Matt Sweeney and bassist Skullfisher to begin writing the first chapter in the book of Zwan.
Twenty-four hours earlier, at an invite-only Mick Jagger concert in Hollywood, Corgan called Zwan a "work in progress" and refused to divulge any details about their music. Friday's show reflected that attitude, with Corgan spending minutes between songs tuning his guitar and whispering to his bandmates. He hardly muttered a word to the 700-strong audience, offering not much more than "thank yous." He didn't give song titles, introduce his band or say anything of the "It's good to be back" variety.
He was thinking it, though. You could tell that by the grin he couldn't keep off his face. At times, even during songs, he giggled. At one point, during a dueling guitar interlude with Sweeney, he nodded as if to give a thumbs up.
As for talking, he let his lyrics do that. "Yesterday we were going somewhere," he sang to open the first song, called "Chrysanthemum" on the set list taped to the floor of the stage. Halfway into the tune, which recalled the raw rock of the Pumpkins' Gish, Corgan, sporting a nicely pressed white dress shirt, looked into the crowd for the first time and spread his arms as if to embrace them. The screaming drowned out the music.
Zwan followed with another rocker, this one with a chorus that repeated the line, "Walking from the shadows to my love." Sweeney whose net cap and mustache prompted one fan to whisper to her friend, "He looks like a gas station attendant" added some background vocals on the tune, harmonizing with Corgan's distinguishable style.
Skullfisher, described by a fan as looking like a shorter, stockier James Iha, kept a solid groove with Chamberlin, though he was hardly a stage presence. He faced the drums most of the show and kept his eyes firmly planted on his instrument or on Chamberlin, who made up for Skullfisher by being more visible than he ever was with the Pumpkins. Answering "Jimmy!" chants, he stood up at times to flash a smile or wave.
Zwan's third track was carried by a catchy Chamberlin beat similar to the one he used in the Pumpkins' "1979." Corgan couldn't keep from getting into the beat, rolling his shoulders over like Michael Jackson would be doing if he had a guitar strapped on.
"Every step I choose, I choose you," Corgan crooned on the next tune, pointing out fans and winking. Called "The Empty Sea" on the unconfirmed set list, it featured the evening's first true guitar solo, a two-minute jam from Corgan.
Sweeney followed with a solo of his own on the next number, prompting Corgan to clap before the song was even over. After saying his first thank you, he lead the band through a tune that seemed to build up with each verse and culminated with Corgan belting out, "Who says," like a rat in a cage.
Corgan then did an impressive John Lennon, lowering his voice slightly for a cover of the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down."
The next song, called "Jesus," was Zwan at their best. The epic voyage, nearly 10 minutes in length, took off in all sorts of directions, but kept the same simple melody like a live Doors song. Chamberlin slowed the tempo down to a crawl and then swiftly sent the song through the roof to close it out.
"Jesus, I've taken my cross," Corgan sang. At the end, he and Sweeney spelled out the word "Jesus" over and over, like preachers lost in their preachings.
Zwan slowed the tempo for a couple of ballads after "Jesus," with Corgan sitting at a keyboard and whispering more fitting lines such as, "Time won't let you walk away."
The band picked up the pace for a closing tune that was perhaps Zwan's most Smashing Pumpkins-like song, infectious for its wall of guitars and clear words. For an encore, Zwan played a sad song called "And So I Died of a Broken Heart." It wasn't what the audience expected, which explains why they wouldn't believe it was over until the stage crew started removing monitors.
Fans from all over the country attended the show, gathering outside the club as early as 9 a.m. to get a good spot next to the stage. Some boasted of flying from New York to see all four shows Zwan has scheduled (see "Billy Corgan Ready To Debut His New Band, Zwan"), others gabbed about the Smashing Pumpkins' final shows in Chicago almost a year ago (see "Pumpkins Circus Folds Up With Epic Show").
Mostly, though, they were doing what seemed to be the cool thing. Smiling. Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin whose history would make a stellar "Behind the Music" were onstage again. The night before, Chamberlin confirmed that Zwan are recording and said to expect an album and tour next year. These are happy times.