Smashing Pumpkins' Corgan Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For

Success of Mellon Collie seems to have put Corgan in a good mood. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

ATN Toronto correspondent Peter Howell (a staff writer for

the Toronto Star reports: It's 5 p.m. (on Jan. 4), and the audience

earlybirds shivering outside the Phoenix Concert Theatre are getting a thrill:

the members of Chicago's Smashing Pumpkins showing up for a pre-concert sound

check. The fans press close to the vehicle carrying the band, their small flash

cameras popping souvenir shots, while band member Billy Corgan, Jimmy

Chamberlain, James Iha and D'Arcy shyly smile and slip into the building,

anxious to prepare for the second of two sold-out shows.

The Pumpkins seem

embarrassed by the attention, and they don't look like rock stars, with the

exception of bassist D'Arcy, the glamour doll of the group in her styled blonde

hair and shiny leather pants.

Backstage in the dressing room, which is

stocked with such rock 'n' roll essentials as champagne and such whimsical

requests as Skippy peanut butter and Pez candy dispensers (D'Arcy's personal

favorite), Corgan and Chamberlain seem even less like the nouveau rock royalty

they've become. For one thing, Corgan is wrapped in a big winter coat and

toque, snuffling away at a cold. "Right now, I'm on codeine, echinacea,

cortisone, antibiotics ... I don't even know what I'm taking. I'm just like

Elvis," he quips.

A viral infection for the lead singer/guitarist at the

start of a world tour would be a nail-biting concern for many bands. But it

doesn't seem to worry this extremely focused group, which gives the impression

of having thought out every move so well, no explanation or justification bears

mention. But Corgan, 28, and drummer Chamberlain, 31, are happy to at least try

to explain it all, including the band's decision to begin its Phoenix shows

with a sit-down acoustic set, rather than straight balls-out rock 'n'

roll.

The Smashing Pumpkins, after all, are a hot, hot ticket, having sold

out the 1,100-person Phoenix twice over, for a show that would have done

healthy business at Maple Leaf Gardens hockey arena or even the SkyDome

stadium. And the band is currently at the top of the alternative rock heap,

with an audacious double album, Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness,

that has sold 300,000 units -- triple platinum -- in Canada alone since its

October release.

So why the take-it-easy show start? The simple answer is

they won't be able to do much acoustic playing this summer, when they return to

Toronto for a big outdoor show on another leg of the tour aimed at

amphitheaters and stadiums. "We know we could come here and play to

how-many-other people, but that's not what we're interested in," Corgan says.

Adds Chamberlain, who often intuitively finishes Corgan's sentences: "This

is as much for us as it is for everybody else."

"We have one eye on being

entertaining, and another eye on satisfying our own need to go out and fully

enjoy the material that we worked so hard to present," Corgan continues.

"Because the fact of the matter is, it's exactly what you're saying: the moment

we do go into those big places, we'll never play most of the stuff that you

heard last night."

Toronto is one of only a handful of cities where the

Pumpkins are doing small club shows to warm up for their one-to-two-year global

trek. It's in recognition of the fact that Canada, and Toronto in particular,

is one of the best markets in the world for the Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan says.

It's some change from 1991, when the Pumpkins were the opening act on an

amazing bill at the old Concert Hall, that included the Red Hot Chili Peppers

and the local debut of Pearl Jam. At that show, Corgan became angry with the

crowd for something he now can't recall, and showered the audience with verbal

abuse. He admits he's mellowed a lot since then, both towards Toronto -- he

judged Tuesday's first-night crowd "excellent" -- and his audiences in general.

"My basic negative reactions were to apathy or bad attitude," he says, "so I

would respond to it in kind."

Corgan has since learned to be patient, which

is why he didn't fly off the handle when the punkers in his Phoenix audience

screamed for ear-bending rock during the acoustic phase of the show. He and his

bandmates have together learned to work together more and to hold their ground,

putting on the show they want to do. "We're not asking for tolerance," Corgan

says. "We're basically saying, 'Here's what we are, all facets of it,' and if

people don't like certain facets of it, well, there's not much we can do about

that."

The "all facets" philosophy explains why Mellon Collie has 28

tracks and two discs. Corgan and Chamberlain both say there was exactly one

band meeting to decide whether to put out another single-CD album of rock, like

1993's ground-breaking Siamese Dream, or to push the band's limits with

what became Mellon Collie, a sprawling monument to creativity with its

rock, classical, jazz and pop mix, and acoustic/electric dual personality. "And

we never looked back," Corgan says, a satisfied smile on his face.

Does

Mellon Collie show all sides of the band? Chamberlain, for one, thinks

so: "I think it's about as close as we can get, really, without either killing

ourselves or having to quit."

But Corgan seemed unconvinced: "I think this

is the crowning achievement of Smashing Pumpkins as people would know it, but I

think we're still capable of making a universal album. "We're still capable of

making an album that would appeal to your grandma and a 15-year-old kid, and

which nobody would have a problem with -- the kind of album R.E.M. and U2

make."

A brash claim, but anyone who has followed the Smashing Pumpkins on

their seven-year odyssey would know better than to disbelieve

it.