BUOYANT WONDERS

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS trundle their way into Italy, and JOHN ROBINSON is there, skulking at the back. Pasta la vista, baby!

THE SMASHING PUMPKINS

Genoa Arena Piscina Porto Antica

And so they said to him, “Billy, if you really want to walk on water, then we’re gonna have to get you a stage that floats.” So it came to pass. It’s nine in the evening in Genoa’s Old Harbour, and we are greeting the new dawn of Billy Corgan’s campaign of preposterousness.

Post Grunge On Ice: an opportunity for you to hear epic music in epic locations and to once again feel Billy’s pain, but this time in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Tomorrow: Cannes! Later: The Pyramids! Tonight: a moored aquatic festival of waves and whingeing!

Already a small riot is underway, the kids having overpowered the guards and stormed the crash barriers. But for the real confusion you have to look to the stage. And there they are, the Dysfunction Kids. Billy, a boiled egg in leathers, D’Arcy an S&M Catwoman, James a stack-heel stoolrock solo project cowboy, altogether a worryingly uncohesive mixture of looks and lifestyles, a symptom and a cause of Generation X. But bloody hell, that’s before you get to the case histories. The death of keyboard player Jonathan Melvoin, and the subsequent sacking of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. The recent divorce of Billy Corgan. The failed relationship of D’Arcy and James…

The Smashing Pumpkins seem to lurch onwards less as a musical force, more as a casebook of personal disaster at the end of the century. They are a truly insane spectacle. Difficult though it is to imagine, one could almost pity Billy Corgan, as he flails loftily about trying to rouse enthusiasm for his new material while flanked by rock’s two most torpid sidepersons. To think that they ever fornicated is flabbergasting, as Wretsky and Iha rock on their heels apparently in two mutually exclusive vegetative states. Woah! Billy bucks about some more and prompts a crazy African beat from his posse of three percussionists. There is a protracted drum solo. Yo! He moshes in earnest once more, and begins a dreadful version of ‘Cherub Rock’. Or is it ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’? Who can tell?

Then there’s the jokes. Perhaps not something often associated with Billy Corgan. Perhaps rightly so. “What’s-a-with-a-this-a-feedback?” he asks, dimly reminiscent of a Mind Your Language Christmas Special, as his acoustic guitar wails horrifically. He laughs. “Capiche?” Thirty-odd years living within a stone’s throw of Italian culture, and Billy Corgan thinks saying, “Capiche?” is the funniest thing he’s ever heard. Understandably, the Italians are puzzled, though clearly very much in love. Because, in spite of their appalling decadence, their almost total indifference and their periodic tendency to sound like The Mission gone trip-hop, The Smashing Pumpkins sound frequently mesmerising. There’s the naked voice in the new ‘To Sheila’, the thrilling interlocking noodling of ‘Daphne Descends’ and then there’s ‘Pug’, where evident obsessions with Led Zeppelin and The Psychedelic Furs prove that you can be both pompous and dark, which is bad, but thereby create ‘darkly pompous’, which is good.

And therein lies The Smashing Pumpkins’ good fortune: while their band has nearly been torn apart by all of the traditional great rock disasters of the last 30 years happening to them at once, it’s been glued back together by basically playing all of the rock music of the last 30 years at once. Difficult, and fluky, and excellent all at the same time. The defining moments come at the encore, when it is decided that – obviously – The Smashing Pumpkins will kick footballs out into the crowd. Billy hoofs his for miles, and then disappears, blessing the crowd with his palms together in Buddhist humility, his ego simultaneously off the scale. D’Arcy misses, and then says, “Gragias”, thereby thanking the wrong country altogether. She has, nonetheless, somehow said it all.

John Robinson