My dread over Billy Corgan's Monday, July 18, performance at the Moore Theatre was not caused merely by the recent, simultaneous warning signs—his uneven first solo album, TheFutureEmbrace, and its full-page release announcement in the June 21 Chicago Tribune, a love letter to his hometown that concluded with a vow to re-form the Smashing Pumpkins. Add to these outpourings the continuous piecing together of his life story, which he posts to his blog whenever a memory (his wedding day, bickering with Pumpkins bandmates James Iha and D'arcy Wretzky, etc.) strikes, and you have the embodiment of insecurity and need masquerading as an optimist who's tentatively approaching midlife. There is the crux of that dread: my first chance to see Corgan perform, only to find my teenage idol a has-been, a possibility he acknowledged midway through the night's set. In the interlude following "DIA," a megapixel wall of lights erected behind the stage showed a walking white horse, while Corgan remarked, "I just wanted you to get a good look at me before the nervous breakdown."
That said, if there's any question as to who still cares about Corgan and his foray into shoegaze, a glance at his 59,425 MySpace friends should prove that the man's legacy as a musician will outlast his more recent stylistic missteps, from those stupid Zero shirts to his current presentation as Goth dandy (my boyfriend says "Nosferatu") with his backing band, Matt Walker, Linda Strawberry, and Brian Leisegang, known collectively as—Billy, no!—the Fellowship of Broken Toys. They played drums, keyboards, and a G5 monitor with built-in CPU, all completely digitized and mounted on spindly silver pods that reflected the lights nicely in their expensive-looking way. Starting the set with the album's best track, the swirling "Mina Loy (M.O.H.)," the visuals and MBV-style crush of sound sent a psychedelic rush to the head that altogether disappeared as Corgan plodded through the depressing "The Camera Eye," the strangely hopeful "All Things Change," and the downright annoying "Pretty, Pretty Star," along with the rest of the album.
After making us wait for what felt like an exceedingly long time, he encored with a Flying V in hand, letting me dream for a minute that he'd break out in a "Silverfuck" shred. Not quite. When the house lights rose, he reappeared to shake hands and apologize for his "decent" performance, promising that next time he tours, it'll be with . . . yep, the Pumpkins.
The evening's sole other high point came during a cover of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." Dropped an octave and dolorously paced, Corgan milked it (as he's done in the past with Depeche Mode's "Never Let Me Down Again" and Thin Lizzy's "Dancing in the Moonlight") for every emotional drop. "Can't you see/This is what I am/I live and breathe for you/But what good does it do, if I ain't got you?" he sang, arms reaching to the crowd.