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Smashing Pumpkins ★★★★
Kryal Castle, April 23
On Sunday, surrounded by the hills of Victoria’s Central highlands, watching two mulleted pro wrestlers fake-slap each other while a knight in a full suit of armour clanged around the ring, I had the sense of being unstuck in time and space. American wrestling commentators added to the dissonance. And then there was the castle, complete with moat, and the fact that I was there to see The Smashing Pumpkins.
Kryal Castle played host to The Smashing Pumpkins as part of their The World Is A Vampire tour.Credit: Rick Clifford
This was The World is a Vampire, a mini-festival headlined by the Pumpkins, visiting Australia for the first time since three of their original four members reformed five years ago.
It was a good deal – five bands, that’s the Pumpkins, the co-headliners Jane’s Addiction, Sydney’s Battlesnake, nu-metal throwbacks Redhook and Melbourne’s sharpie punks Amyl and the Sniffers, all at the novel location of Kryal Castle, just outside Ballarat. It is, as Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell pointed out, “a silly f—ing castle”, but it’s our silly f—ing castle.
And yes, there was wrestling. Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, a passionate wrestling fan, has a side-hustle as a wrestling promoter, and brought his own guys. Americans lose their minds for this. The Australian crowd made a token effort to get into the pantomime jeering, golf-clapping and chuckling through it.
But the crowd, average age 40, was in good spirits. After Amyl and the Sniffers played alongside a syrupy, deep red sunset, the true purpose of the day emerged. It was a ’90s throwback binge. I saw so many Gen-X dads. I saw so many ’90s band T-shirts. I saw a Tazos jumper.
Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction performs at The World is a Vampire Tour, at Port Melbourne, on Saturday.Credit: Rick Clifford
I last saw Jane’s Addiction 20 years ago. They were already a nostalgia act, but they still conjure youth now, if a little uncomfortably. Farrell, 64, crooned over the huge sound of fill-in guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (Dave Navarro is suffering from long-COVID) while chorus girls in feather crowns gyrated in the background, recalling the long-faded seedy grandeur of ’80s LA.
When The Smashing Pumpkins finally hit the stage, it was clear that this wasn’t a festival, it was a Pumpkins show with frills. After the wilderness years of line-up changes, endless concept albums and a refusal to play the hits, The Smashing Pumpkins are back joyfully slaying as an ensemble again. Corgan’s nasal rasp has lost none of its drama and potency. Jimmy Chamberlain fit in three lengthy drum solos. James Iha shredded Ava Adore and Zero.
They did a crowd-pleasing set of new and (plenty of) old, giving us muscular gothic glam from their new rock opera Atum before Bullet with Butterfly Wings and Today. Corgan snarled the opening line of Bullet (“The world is a vampire”).
The Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan performs at Kryal Castle on Sunday.Credit: Rick Clifford
The crowd, many of whom were teenagers when this came out in 1995, fizzed. Older, contented and fulfilled, despite all their rage.
Some of Corgan’s wrestlers joined them on stage for a quick tussle. And after a spirited gothic take on the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime, we hit the big moment as their finest work, 1979, regressed the crowd to adolescence. It killed.
And in that moment, as the settled, responsible adult crowd sang “We don’t even care / as restless as we are” in nostalgic awe, we all tacitly agreed to pretend the ’90s never ended.
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