Smashing Pumpkins Rock The Boat On European Tour

Expanded lineup, featuring drummer Kenny Aronoff, rocks houseboat venue with waves of rhythmic energy.

Correspondent Gianni Sibilla reports:

GENOA, Italy -- It seems that Smashing Pumpkins couldn't have chosen a more appropriate setting for themselves.

And their latest sound.

Their show Saturday at Genoa's "Porto Antico" was delivered from a stage atop a houseboat in a harbor adjoining an open-air amphitheater. How's that for atmosphere?

But the seaside setting -- the second stop on the band's European tour of such small, unconventional venues as gardens and museums in support of their soon-to-be-released new album, Adore (June 2) -- was only part of what resonated so loudly long after the band left the stage.

Group leader and frontman Billy Corgan kept the sonic waves rushing throughout the evening, employing an expanded backing band and increasingly expansive sound to lift the mellow and electronic music of Adore and the Pumpkins to another level entirely. And as far as Corgan is concerned, it didn't matter that most of the music played that night came as a surprise to those in attendance.

In fact, he said that was the point.

"We should be able to play a great concert with no one knowing the songs," Corgan said. "If the band is good, the songs are good; the concert will be fine. If the band sucks, the songs and the concert suck. It's that simple. And, in fact, a band like ours should not rely on people knowing the songs to do a great concert."

Chosen songs from Adore, which comprised most of the evening's program list, underwent some form of sonic transformation onstage. And the audience, while not yet exposed to the album and thus
unaware of one aspect of the event's noteworthiness, nonetheless greeted every move and each new note with enthusiastic shouts and claps.

"To see the band play in such a beautiful location has been worth the trip," commented Riccardo Vola, 27, who made a round trip of 150 miles from Turin to Genoa to see the Pumpkins. "I like the new songs, and they're quite different from the older ones. At this point, I'm looking forward to hearing the whole album."

The performance -- which followed Thursday's tour opener in Hamburg, Germany -- unfolded against an entrancing visual backdrop of the Ligurian Sea, Genoa's hills and a setting sun. As the Pumpkins launched the show with Adore's opening song, "To Sheila," the last rays of natural light steadily gave way to a dark sky and the dramatic illumination of stage lighting.

Now fully lit, the houseboat stage could be seen as supporting a two-tiered lineup ofplayers. Three original Pumpkins -- singer/guitarist Corgan, guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky -- held the front line, with the bald, black-clad Corgan taking full command, a captain steering this musical ship by the stars.

Behind them were four musicians who were added to the band's touring lineup (following the departure of original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain in 1996): veteran drummer Kenny Aronoff, percussionists Dan Morris and Stephen Hodges and keyboardist Mike Garson. An additional player, violinist Lisa Germano, who had been announced as part of the touring band, was absent from the gig.

While Corgan, D'Arcy and Iha provided the focus onstage, the backup players electrified the packed crowd of 2,000 with surging waves of rhythm that not only did justice to the Pumpkins' new album in songs such as "Ava Adore" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Pug" but also offered reworkings of such older songs as "1979" (RealAudio excerpt), an acoustic version of "Tonight, Tonight" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Through the Eyes ofRuby," which closed the show after more than two hours.

"In the Mellon Collie Tour, when we used to do '1979,' we used to play with the backing tapes to reproduce the same rhythms from the album," Corgan explained in a press conference earlier in the afternoon. "It was a real drag, because maybe the song didn't feel right on any particular night, and we had to play the same way; nothing could be changed. We thought, 'We can't do a whole concert with backing tapes,' so this is away to still be spontaneous and re-create the rhythmic aspects of the album."

It was drummer Aronoff -- formerly a member of John Mellencamp's band -- who provided much of the evening's percussive energy.

At the end of an Adore song titled "Appels + Oranjes," Aronoff cut loose with a drum solo that eventually segued into the introduction of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings." That unfolded into a nearly unrecognizable, rhythm-heavy reinterpretation of the original.

Corgan, meanwhile, seemed happy to simply shout the verses and let his new bandmate take the lead

As any great ship's captain would, that is.