CHICAGO -- If a tension-filled generation gap still exists, it was nowhere in
evidence at the Metro Thursday. Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan stood in the
spotlight with his father, guitarist Billy Corgan Sr., for the pair's first public performance
The warmth on display as they played two blues songs perfectly suited the occasion: a
star-studded benefit for the Neon Street program for local homeless teens.
"Some of you don't know me," the elder Corgan -- a top Chicago blues session guitarist
during the 1960s -- deadpanned. "My name is Billy Corgan."
"I'd like to thank you for having me at this moment," his superstar son replied.
From just a quick glance at the crowded stage, it might have been hard to tell who was
whom. On the right stood a bald man dressed respectfully in a sharp burgundy suit and
black shirt: Corgan Jr. Next to him stood his dusty-blond-haired father, decked out in
worn, olive-drab Army duds over a black Harley Davidson T-shirt.
While the night featured performances by members of the Band, the BoDeans and
Cheap Trick along with the Mekons' Jon Langford, Robbie Fulks, Alejandro Escovedo
and others, it was clear from their screams of delight that most of the crowd had come to
see the Corgans.
Father and son walked onstage and ripped into a furious rock interpretation of Robert
Johnson's eerie Delta blues classic "If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day." They
were backed by the evening's house group, the Nicholas Tremulis Band, whose
namesake leader organized the concert.
Billy Corgan Sr.'s face beamed a mix of pride and pleasure as his son took off on a
series of Pumpkins-esque solos on his sunburst Fender Stratocaster. Full-bore, fast
drums propelled the cut like a train welded to a rocket ship.
In his trademark, greasy whine, the Pumpkins leader delivered a biting take on
Johnson's mix of the sorrowful and the sinister. Lines like "If I had possession over
judgment day/ The woman I'm lovin' wouldn't have no right to pray" jibed well with the
twisted sentiment of such recent Corgan works, as
"Ava Adore" (RealAudio excerpt).
"That's my boy," his father said before kicking into a traditional Chicago blues identified
on the setlist as "Muddy Waters"; it included lines from country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers'
"T for Texas." The senior Corgan set off a string of solos on a weathered Flying V guitar
that were less frenetic than his son's. With the crowd hollering, Corgan Jr. raised his
eyebrows and watched, as if to say, "Damn, look at him!"
While the Corgans' pairing threatened to overshadow the rest of the show, Tremulis'
band and several guests gave inspired performances. The concert, called "The First
Waltz," was loosely organized as a tribute to the Band's star-filled 1976 farewell concert
and film, "The Last Waltz."
The stage became a revolving door of musicians. Blues guitarist Lonnie Brooks and harp
player Sugar Blue stepped up for Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues," while the BoDeans
hit the stage for a soulful spin through "Blue Moon" and Cheap Trick guitarist Rick
Nielson rocked through his band's "Downed."
Soul singers Sonia Dada and keyboardist Ivan Neville lent a hand throughout the show,
and Sir Mack Rice commanded the stage to bellow his own "Mustang Sally" (a hit for
Wilson Pickett) and "Respect Yourself" (recorded most notably by the
Original Band bassist Rick Danko came out to play the recent "Book Faded Brown" and
then the vintage "It Makes No Difference." The stage quickly reached maximum capacity
as Escovedo (ex-Rank and File), Langford and Fulks, plus the evening's other
performers -- minus Corgan and his dad -- came out to jam on such Band chestnuts as
(RealAudio excerpt of original version).
"I'm sick as a dog," Langford said as he crowded next to Danko before the ensemble
kicked into "Rag Mama Rag." "But I would crawl from my grave to sing this song with this
The show ended after a rousing roll through the Band's signature number, "The Weight."
Tremulis then announced that a limited-edition home video of the concert is being
produced by Palm Pictures for sale in the Chicago area this summer. Proceeds from the
video and the concert will benefit Neon Street, a nonprofit organization providing shelter,
meals and counseling to homeless Chicago teens.