|April 12, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
The screamed lyric came midway through the opening song during the Chicago
debut by Billy Corgan’s new band Zwan at the Double Door on Friday, the
first of a sold-out three-night stand. And it couldn’t have been more
The former leader of the Smashing Pumpkins, the most successful rock band
this city has ever produced, has indeed reinvented himself.
This was only the ninth gig by Corgan’s new combo, now expanded to a
quintet. But the band played with gusto and precision--we’d expect nothing
less from the bald taskmaster--holding the promise of great things to come,
especially on album.
Corgan remains a songwriter of considerable depth and complexity, and
getting a handle on his new material after one listen in a live club setting
is difficult. For one thing, lyrics can be lost, though the occasional
Corganesque line leaped into my notebook. (“What I want you can’t f---in’
kill!” “As the world goes round, it’s got one thinking.” “God’s gonna set
the world on fire,” etc.)
Consider this an impressionistic portrait, then. But it’s a glowing one
While the defining characteristic of Zwan’s sound remains Corgan’s love-it
or hate-it voice, the band’s musical backings are much more subtle than all
but the “Adore”-era Pumpkins, replacing guitar bombast with more textured
backdrops of intertwining melody lines that recall the Frippertronics of
King Crimson circa “Discipline.”
Corgan seems to have been influenced by the pared-down take on progressive
rock offered by the so-called “math-rock” genre. Matt Sweeney and Dave Pajo,
the two guitarists who flanked him, both hail from this camp, with their
resumes including time in Chavez, Tortoise, and Papa M. But Corgan provided
a strong contrast by occasionally bursting out with his own dramatic and
The effect was like Jimmy Page stepping in between Robert Fripp and Adrian
Belew, and it made Zwan an instant contender for the coolest three-guitar
band since Blue Oyster Cult.
Meanwhile, behind this 18-string assault, fellow Pumpkins vet Jimmy
Chamberlin played with his usual combination of bricklayer wallop and jazzbo
dexterity, indulging a long-checked Bill Bruford fixation. And newcomer Paz
Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle)
added circular, mellifluous bass lines and beautiful backing vocals.
From that opening epic--a 12-minute tour de force called “Jesus, I” that
incorporated a snippet of Bob Marley’s “Exodus”--to a playful romp through
the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night,” Zwan delivered one surprise after
another, most of them good.
Happy re-birthday, Billy. It’s good to have you back.
(Zwan will perform as part of Q101's
Jamboree at the Tweeter Center in Tinley Park on May 18. Also on the bill:
Kid Rock, Tenacious D, Our Lady Peace, Dashboard Confessional, X-Ecutioners,
and the Strokes.)