Hang on, this shouldn’t be happening. A band who’ve never played a note in this country, whose debut record’s only been on sale for three days, playing the venerable but notoriously atmosphere-free Empire, and they absolutely tear the roof off. This is what you might call a dramatic entrance.
Of course, it helps that everyone onstage has got their own individual fanbase. But though there are surely Slint, Skunk and A Perfect Circle fanatics in the audience, they’re well outnumbered by Smashing Pumpkins nuts. Every pause tonight is filled with terrace-like chants of “Bi-lly! Bi-lly! Bi-lly!” Not that Mr Corgan says much. He just stands there looking like an alt-rock Lenin in his new ‘tache and goatee, soloing away wildly and brilliantly over, respectively, Matt Sweeney’s riffs and Dave Pajo’s chiming postrock textures.
Opener ‘Jesus,I’ starts slow and quiet before breaking down into a gospel call-and-response thing and then bursting into thunderous Motorhead thrash, setting the tone for the evening where quiet bits (a tear-jerking ‘Of A Broken Heart’) alternate with rib-crushingly heavy rock. ‘Endless Summer’, ‘Declaration Of Faith’, ‘Settle Down’ and ‘Honestly’ all cause synchronised pogoing, crowdsurfing and wild screams of approval, but the biggest roar’s reserved for the closer ‘A New Poetry’ which, with three guitars and a bass all playing the same ultra-heavy three note riff, very nearly causes hospitalisations.
Folklore has it a swan can break your arm with one flap of its wing. Untrue, but Zwan… they’re knocking heads off for real. As one well-juiced fan shouts from the bar: “Thank you Billy!”