IT'S hard being a Smashing Pumpkins fan.
After bringing so much angsty, guitar-ridden joy in the mid-'90s, frontman Billy Corgan released a polarising downbeat album (Adore), ditched the hits from the setlist, reinvented himself as a goth-metal icon, sacked band members and then eventually broke up the band.
If that wasn't enough, he then reformed the band with just him and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, released a truly dire comeback album (Zeitgeist), and regularly mouthed off at whoever he felt like for whatever reason. After Chamberlin left and Corgan continued on, he started to represent the alt-rock version of Axl Rose - the front guy with the new band, still mouthing off.
Now he's back with a new album, and it's their best in years - perhaps the best since their magnum opus Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.
But Corgan doesn't like his fans to have it easy. He wants you to hear his new album (Oceania). So he's going to play it for you. Live. From start to finish. At the beginning of the concert.
On the one hand, this move feels arrogant and perhaps patronising, like a parent telling their child to finish their greens before they can have dessert, except replace "greens" with "new album", "dessert" with "your favourite songs", and "child" with "paying adult fans".
On the other hand, it's admirably ballsy. As Corgan said before the night's final number, "it's great to be out here playing our new album, unlike those bands who are playing their old albums". He's trying to give us the best of both worlds, reminding us he's still valid and relevant, and he prefaced that speech by thanking us for giving him the privilege of being able to do so. Many bands re-unite these days, but few continue to release engaging and interesting music.
Oceania sits well with the Pumpkins back catalogue. There are epic riffs and massive solos that would have been at home on Siamese Dream or Mellon Collie, and beautiful, more introspective moments that could have come from Adore.
The audience seemed to enjoy it at best and tolerate it at least. They seemed to know what they were in for. Only one wag yelled out the chorus of Bullet With Butterfly Wings part way through the Oceania set.
One acquaintance noted it was the first time they'd ever seen a band open for themselves and it certainly felt like that - less-familiar songs that haven't quite grown on you yet, with a polite crowd response to match. Still, it was more impressive than actual opener Wolfmother.
Among the Oceania set, the big riffer Panopticon, single The Celestials, dreamy Pale Horse and rocker Inkless were highlights, and as the last notes of the excellent keyboard-driven closer Wildflower rang out, the room crackled with anticipation and electricity as everyone prepared for "the hits".
Still Corgan held out, instead launching into an epic version of David Bowie's A Space Oddity. But he couldn't tease forever, and with the opening riff of Mellon Collie deep cut XYU, the room erupted.
What followed was an all-too-brief but oh-so-enjoyable run-through of the biggest hits and a couple of left-field choices, notably lengthy rarity Soot & Stars and Siamese Dream lowlight Luna, being played live for the first time in 18 years, according to Corgan.
Tonight Tonight, Today, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, and Disarm reminded us of why the Pumpkins were great. To finish with Zero, Ava Adore and Cherub Rock was the perfect encore. His band of original-member-doppelgangers handled everything beautifully.
So nothing from Gish, Pisces Iscariot, Machina and, thankfully, Zeitgeist, but instead a mix of what Corgan really wants to be seen as - a contemporary artist with new things to say, as well as a '90s visionary who shaped the era with his unique voice, sharp songwriting and knack for a killer riff. It's the best of both worlds.