Sunday, May 4, 2003

Corgan reborn with Zwan

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Here are two oxymorons for your consideration: a good supergroup, and a great Billy Corgan band.

The star-studded Zwan changes all that, or at least the band's walloping performances at Bogart's Saturday night did for one night - a two-hour, three-encore affair in front of a near-sellout crowd.

Led by ex-Smashing Pumpkins main man Corgan, the group eschewed the Pumpkins' drab, wimpy grunge in favor of technicolor hard rock of grand proportions. With the help of hired guns pulled from the ranks of alt-rock semi-greatness, Corgan is reborn, freed from his role as musical mouthpiece for troubled teens worldwide. He's out of the arenas and back in the clubs, and itching to rock for the fun of it.

Zwan's other members include Corgan's Pumpkins band mate Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, A Perfect Circle's Paz Lenchantin on bass and guitarists Matt Sweeney (of the band Chavez) and David Pajo (a Louisville resident connected with Slint, Tortoise, Bonnie Prince Billy, and maybe a dozen others).

Each musician was more or less a lead player, and the show, which focused on the band's debut Mary Star of the Sea, took several voyages to heavy metal jam land.

A medley of "Jesus, I" and "God's Gonna Set This World on Fire" embodied Corgan's new way of doing business. The songs were connected by an extremely long instrumental piece. As Pajo and Sweeney toweled themselves off, the other three made like the Billy Corgan Experience. Corgan mixed blues and spacey improvisation in a Jimi Hendrix-sounding way. The thunderous Lenchantin showed why she was allowed into Billy's new club, while the ham-fisted Chamberlin showed why he was held over.

Not only does Zwan completely out-rock the Pumpkins, the band has a single in "Honestly" that's as catchy as "Today" or "Cherub Rock" or any other of Corgan's old band's hits. "Honestly" was one of many of the crowd's favorite performances.

The last of the three encores opened with a version Alice Cooper's "Eighteen." Maybe it was a wink to the Pumpkins' teen-angst wallowing; maybe it was nothing more than another cover song. Either way, the next and final song - the sprawling, multi-part powerhouse "Spilled Milk" - showed Corgan is on to bigger and better things.


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