Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer review – mismatched 90s rockers bore and charm

Estimated read time 2 min read

Co-headline tours of this ilk can allow relatively long-in-the-tooth artists to pool their fanbases and play large venues that they would not necessarily be able to fill on their own. Nevertheless, this particular pairing of two bands who arrived in the wake of the early 90s US grunge rock scene appears decidedly incongruous.

When Weezer (★★★) emerged with a self-titled 1994 debut album of hook-laden geek-rock and nerdy, knock-kneed songs about teen angst, they were met with critical horror. In a post-Nirvana musical landscape in thrall to aching authenticity, they were dismissed as lightweight dilettantes, fronted by a holidaying Harvard scholar in Rivers Cuomo.

How silly such snobbery seems now. Thirty years on, Weezer still dole out taut, punchy, witty powerpop with self-effacing elan. They bring endearing charm both to their own gawky back-catalogue staples such as Hash Pipe and Buddy Holly, and a rollickingly urgent cover of Hole’s Celebrity Skin. They are patently still in love with music.

Rivers Cuomo and Scott Shriner of Weezer.View image in fullscreen

In stark contrast, Smashing Pumpkins (★★) have always been a band weighed down by an overweening sense of their own importance. Mere rock’n’roll has always been a tad beneath them. Singer and songwriter Billy Corgan has never met an over-elaborate conceit or a bloated, baroque concept he doesn’t want to try on for size.

Tonight’s lineup features three original Pumpkins and a dynamic new guitarist in Kiki Wong, apparently selected from 10,000 applicants. She is patently an asset, bringing dexterity and a much-needed lightness of touch to some of their hoarier moments. But, my God, how many hoary moments there are.

The preposterously uneven set mixes hits from their 90s pomp with tracks from last year’s mind-numbingly ponderous Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts. As ever, it has moments of soaring melodicism and symphonic magnificence. And, as ever, it has so much ornate palaver and twaddle to wade through to get to them.

What chin-stroking meaning of life can we glean from Atum’s That Which Animates The Spirit? What does Corgan, a mewling ringmaster in a calf-length greatcoat, signify when, in Empires, he portentously growls “Shock troops and foxes stumble from the mist”? Who knows? And, frankly, who cares?

Sporadically, Smashing Pumpkins make a glorious racket. But if Weezer are still in love with music, Billy Corgan is still in love with himself.


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