- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

Any time we choose, we can rock,” Smashing Pumpkins lead singer Billy Corgan growled to the audience Tuesday during a marathon three-hour set at the packed 9:30 Club, where the ‘90s alt-rock king proved both the power of his electrifying presence and his occasional reluctance to share it.

Fresh off of last Saturday’s Live Earth performance and a string of shows in Asheville, N.C., the “reunited” Pumpkins triumphed at times but dragged at others, giving fans a taste of what live music should sound like — at least whenever Mr. Corgan was in the mood.

Celebration, the opening band, oiled the crowd’s knees but directed their energy more toward each other than the audience. Lead singer Katrina Ford hid behind her bangs, unable to exude even a quarter of Mr. Corgan’s charm.

You knew it was his show when he paused during the opening number, “United States,” to play “The Star Spangled Banner” a la Jimi Hendrix. Hundreds of red, white and blue balloons cascaded from the ceiling as the song ended, creating both a beach ball atmosphere and cacophonous popping that sounded like Fourth of July fireworks.

American flag banners adorned the balconies of the club; scantily clad band-aides at the door offered mock campaign pins with the Statue of Liberty’s torch looking like a fist of defiance. The simultaneous patriotism and angst of “Zeitgeist” — the band’s first album in seven years — echoed throughout the show, from the spectacular opening to the soulful “For God and Country” (“Lay down your arms for God and country”).

Mr. Corgan coyly beckoned the crowd to sing for him the opening verse of “Today” — one of the biggest hits from 1993’s “Siamese Dream” — and for about an hour he was in control of the club’s pulse.

Few seemed concerned about whether newcomers Ginger Reyes, Jeff Schroeder and Lisa Harriton can truly replace originals D’arcy Wretzky and James Iha.

“I hate to say this, but Billy Corgan kind of is Smashing Pumpkins,” fan Shadia Hafiz, 24, said before the show.

Demure in her bouffant hair and sultry makeup, Miss Reyes provided ample support, but little was necessary. The rest of the band actually left the stage for four or five songs in the middle of the set.

Mr. Corgan apparently must have seen the irony as he shouted the lyric, “But can you fake it for just one more show?” during an understated yet crisp “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.”

Is he faking it? Hardly. The man certainly has spirit and stamina.

Despite copious guitar solos and the possibility that this “reunion” is merely a Billy Corgan vanity project, many were willing to stick around for the ride.

Other highlights included “Doomsday Clock” off the new album, and “Tonight, Tonight,” which woke most of the crowd up after the solo set for an invigorating half hour.

Energy had already been down for a while when Miss Harriton began a whining keyboard solo midway through “Gossamer” — the second encore — a 20-minute emo opus.

The exhausted crowd was thinning out by 12:45 a.m. when the band trotted back for a third encore. Mr. Corgan probably assumed that real fans don’t have nine-to-five jobs and should therefore be able to dance until all hours on a Tuesday.

Perhaps it was appropriate: Great band rocks out but overstays its welcome and inevitably loses fans who’ve had enough.

Here’s hoping Mr. Corgan’s second coming doesn’t end up the same way.

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