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Gerard Way was given the reins as the sole support at last night’s Smashing Pumpkins Soundwave Festival Sidewave, after Japanese pop-rockers One OK Rock were bumped from the bill. That meant a headline-length set, and it was an opportunity he grabbed onto with gusto.
It was passionate, energetic and captivating performance in front of a late-arriving, slowly building crowd. Way is one of the more theatrically minded performers to emerge from the punk rock scene in the last decade, and he took the initially hesitant crowd on a captivating journey through his glam-infused solo material.
He’s affable, engaging and passionate onstage, chatting confidently about mental illness issues and transgender awareness between songs, and waxing lyrical about his own Smashing Pumpkins fandom.
Way puts every ounce of his being into his art, and with the help of his accomplished live band he drives home tracks like Brother, No Shows and Action Cat, ensuring that even the middle-finger waving sections of the audience are clapping appreciatively by the end of his set.
Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is now backed by his strongest touring lineup in years, nabbing Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk and The Killers bassist Mark Stoermer in addition to long-time guitarist Jeff Schroeder for this tour cycle.
The rapturous applause when they hit the stage was not just one of appreciation, then, but also anticipation, and the resurgent, rejuvenated Pumpkins wasted no time hitting their stride, opening with a vibrant rendition of Cherub Rock.
With the DeLorean set to the ’90s, Melbourne went on a trip through a range of classics like Disarm, 1979, Ava Adore and Bullet With Butterfly Wings. This was, for all intents and purposes, a greatest hits set, and Festival Hall lapped it up.
New tracks Being Beige, Drum + Fife and Monuments were sprinkled amongst the old favourites and album tracks to create a perfectly structured set which commands the audience’s attention — no mean feat for a jam-packed 105 minute set.
Corgan has lost none of his magnetism or mystique, the combination of his towering frame and powerful delivery creating an aura distinctly his own. Like a grand wizard wielding a six-string wand, Corgan utilised his extensive back catalogue of anthems to manipulate the audience.
For all his prowess and charm (the frontman was surprisingly cheerful and inviting in his banter), the show couldn’t have been a success without the presence of the backing band. To a man they were flawless.
Schroeder is an axe master, and his ability to ride the line between delicate and powerful on tracks like Stand Inside Your Love and Heavy Metal Machine shows why he’s been a Pumpkins staple for so many years.
Stoermer and Wilk were, as you would expect, permanently locked in, providing a rock solid foundation from which Corgan could cast his spells. Wilk in particular is a force to be reckoned with.
Corgan’s generous, borderline-humble mood — at odds with his prickly reputation — earned him some grace and patience, and ensured back half of the set was primed for some full-venue sing-a-longs. Corgan and co returned to the stage for a haunting encore rendition of Tonight, Tonight and finishing up with their now well-known cover of David Bowie’s Fame.
The Smashing Pumpkins have been experiencing something of a career rejuvenation of late. The dualforces of ’90s nostalgia and their critically acclaimed album Monuments To An Elegy have combined to put The Smashing Pumpkins name back at the forefront of the alternative rock universe.
Now they can add a successful Australian tour to the list. Overall the most enjoyable Smashing Pumpkins show I’ve attended — and a marked improvement on the last time they were here — last night proved there’s still a lot of life left in the bald Gandalf of alt-rock. Truly spellbinding.
Watch: Gerard Way interview backstage @ Soundwave 2015, Melbourne
Watch: Billy Corgan interview backstage @ Soundwave 2015, Melbourne
Image: Smashing Pumpkins At Soundwave Festival In Melbourne, 21.02.15 / Photo: Alesha Martyn