MINNEAPOLIS — With war raging in Iraq, Zwan launched their first proper U.S. tour on Thursday before a sold-out crowd of 1,200 at the First Avenue club.
The 16-song, 110-minute set did its best to momentarily displace the war-ridden consciousness of the crowd with songs that celebrated life and music, not gloom and doom.
The events in Iraq, coupled with a large anti-war protest outside the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis and a steady downpour of rain, made it difficult for the soaked crowd outside First Avenue to treat the concert like any other Thursday night show.
Once inside the venue, concertgoers seemed anxious to hear what Zwan frontman Billy Corgan had to say about the war, unaware they would have to wait until the first of two encores for a comment.
"It's kind of hard to play and pretend there's not a war going on," Corgan told the crowd. "The best you can do is hope that it goes quick and that no one gets hurt too much. I believe if you think good thoughts, good things will happen, so let's just think good thoughts from here on out. We do appreciate you coming out at this time. It's a weird time, but as good of a time as any to have some fun."
The mood of the crowd ranged from casual indifference to visible trepidation.
"I'm following the war every minute of every day," said John Gates, a fan from nearby Robbinsdale. "It was kind of hard to pull myself away from the TV to be here. It's world history as it's happening. Our troops are guarding our freedom while we get to go to a concert."
"I didn't have any second thoughts about coming tonight," said Amy Erickson, also of suburban Minneapolis. "I fully support our troops in Iraq, though."
When Zwan took the stage shortly before 8 p.m., the Chicago quintet were all business, delivering a set that was marked by colorful melodies and a pervasive sense of optimism as opposed to somber tunes and political finger pointing.
Ever confident in their ability to seize the attention of the crowd, Zwan opened with the slow-building melodies of the second half of the epic, 14-minute "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea," from their debut, Mary Star of the Sea. Dressed in cargo pants and a multicolored rugby shirt, Corgan led the Zwan crew — guitarists Dave Pajo and Matt Sweeney, bassist Paz Lenchantin and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin — through the various time changes and scaling solos, all the while keeping a deadpan expression on his face.
The crowd, a mix of 30-somethings and teenagers, stood in attention throughout a majority of the set, gently bobbing their heads, knowing well that Corgan has long since shunned moshing.
Upbeat renditions of "Declarations of Faith" and "Lyric" followed without pause and had a greater sense of urgency and a more thumping energy compared to their recorded versions.
Zwan were careful in constructing their set list, offsetting the quiet, moody simplicity of songs like "Jesus, I" and a cover of the Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" with the positive energy of songs like "Endless Summer" and "Ride a Black Swan."
Crowd favorite "Yeah!" was spotless, with Corgan chiming the trademark riff on his guitar as Lenchantin pumped her fist with the crowd, smiling at the strong reaction the song received.
The three-guitar act proved throughout its set that the contributions of each member have played a part in the band's success. Lenchantin displayed her accomplished violin skills on the somber "Of a Broken Heart" and on the non-album track "Friends as Lovers," while Pajo, whom Corgan called an "indie-rock legend," contributed piano and harmonica to the two low-key tunes.
The whirling melodicism of "Settle Down" closed the initial set with bouncing melodies that gripped the appreciative crowd. Another non-album cut, "A New Poetry," served as the first encore but seemed lost on a crowd that was itching to hear the song that would make the evening complete, the single "Honestly."
In performance, "Honestly" took on a more collaborative energy than its studio version, with Lenchantin offering up soft vocal accents as Corgan, Pajo and Sweeney molded a wall of fluctuating distortion around the steady drumming of Chamberlin.
Audience members, singing along and pumping their fists in approval, had attained what they sought out — momentary peace of mind in an otherwise scary and uncertain world.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.