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With new members and a unique new album, The Smashing Pumpkins get over their Infinite Sadness



The Smashing Pumpkins with The Pretty Black Chains and Cherri Bomb
8 p.m. Friday
Cain's Ballroom
423 N. Main, Tulsa
Sold out

The Smashing Pumpkins album is massive. In fact, the effort is so expansive it's only arriving piece by piece.

The first "Teargarden by Kaleidyscope" tune, "A Song for a Son," was released as a free download on the band's website in December 2009. The most recent, "Spangled," was unleashed last week. The free, downloadable stream will continue one song at a time until all of the 44 planned tracks have been shared.

"I want to make a pile of music that will be listened to," front man Billy Corgan tells Oklahoma Gazette. "If I was to make an album of 44 songs and just put it out, the attention span on that album " if I was lucky " would be eight weeks."

The risk with a traditional album, Corgan says, is that the tracks wind up "in some playlist somewhere" with a only handful of songs cherry-picked for repeated listening.

"I couldn't bear that disappointment," he says, underscoring the emotional and motivational challenge of writing songs that might never be fully explored. "Would you make a movie if you knew people weren't really going to watch it?"

Corgan already knows the rebuttal: If all 44 of the songs were "really that good," fans would have no choice but to love each and every one of them.

But things aren't so simple anymore. Times and habits have changed, even among the Pumpkins' ravenous fan base. Corgan's finished with fighting the tide. He used to be nostalgic for the way his records were consumed, even angry, but now he's focused on the fans and his music's future.

The technologic set has paid a lot of attention to the free song downloads and the band's contemporary distribution model, but Corgan says the real progress was re-thinking what "an album" really means beyond its physical qualities.

Examining the band's seven previous studio releases, Corgan noticed some patterns. Press and media types, especially those the Pumpkins considered "enemies," were a vital part of the process.

"They would kind of create a story around the album," he says. "And you would find yourself wanting to go listen to the album because it was reflective of some sort of mini-drama."

If the Pumpkins were reported as having a hard time in the studio, listeners would be eager to hear that tension come through on the album, Corgan says.

But with the de-centralized nature of the Internet and blog-driven media machine, Corgan says the old methods employed by artists to control the reception of their work is useless.

"Most of the interviews I do these days, they don't even talk to me about my album," he says. "They talk to me about a lot of other things " technology being a big part of it. I'm not offended by it, it's just the way of the world."

Returning to cinematic analogies, Corgan hopes to have found a way to make sure audiences watch his entire album from cover to credits.

"I can, in essence, let people watch the movie as it's being made," he says, "and also be really flexible as technology changes, allow myself to be adaptable in how I release the music and how I connect to the music."

If one thing's been constant with the Pumpkins, it's change. Founded in 1988, early members James Iha, D'arcy Wretzky and Jimmy Chamberlain have all been caught up in a dramatic fog of quitting and re-joining and being fired and re-hired. There's been fights, breakups, hiatuses and stints in rehab to match chart positions, platinum album sales and Grammy Awards.

If you were among the few fast enough to snag tickets in the milliseconds before the Cain's Ballroom show sold out, tonight's Tulsa show will feature Corgan as the only original member. Nicole Fiorentino (Veruca Salt, Spinnerette), who's played with the Pumpkins as a touring guitarist in the past, is onboard as bassist; Jeff Schroeder (The Lassie Foundation, The Violet Burning) is on guitar, and Mike Byrne, who performed alongside Corgan in Spirits in the Sky, a tribute band formed to honor The Seeds and front man Sky Saxon.

Byrne was a 19-year-old freshman at the Berkley College of Music when he first shared the stage with Corgan and company. Corgan says the drummer's youth and touring inexperience bring energy and entertainment to the road.

"We really enjoy watching Mike go through these things for the first time. There's that nice feeling of taking someone to Disneyland. You get to enjoy it through their eyes," Corgan says. "You can even see certain things coming and you know they're going to be overwhelmed by it and there's nothing you can do " they're going to have to figure it out for themselves."

On several occasions, band members have tried to warn Byrne about certain gig and performance-related things, only to be met with an "Ohh, OK, OK. I gotcha, I gotcha," or a similar response.

"We'll tell him, 'No. You don't understand," Corgan says with a laugh. "He'll come up to us after a show and be like, 'Holy shit! I didn't know it was going to be like this.'"

Byrne is only 20 now, but Corgan says the young drummer gets the same treatment as any of the band's other musicians. With non-original band members, Corgan says a lot of discussions hang on letting go of the Pumpkins' past.

"I encourage them to not give a fuck about the way somebody else used to play it," Corgan says, "and in many cases, it was the way I used to play it on the album."

By making the parts their own, the newer musicians can form their own connections to the songs, which Corgan says the band's devoted fans demand. There's no place for "karaoke" musicianship at a Smashing Pumpkins concert, he says.

"The band member has to actually be emotionally invested in what they're playing. They have to be connected."

But it helps that Byrne, Schroeder and Fiorentino were already fans of the band before they came aboard, Corgan says.

"They really like the music, they like the style, they like the way it makes them feel," he says, "and I think they also enjoy the challenge of finding their own way to play the music."

Tonight's show will feature new and old songs, a selection that Corgan says might be easier for fans to digest than the set list used for previous tours.

"It's a little less dark and oppressive feeling, it feels a little lighter, probably like the early-'90s version of the band," he says.

But it doesn't really matter how he feels, Corgan says, as the Pumpkins' history seems resigned to the ever-attentive ears and eyes of its fanatic followers.

"People way over-interpret my moods on stage," he says. "I have bad posture to start with, so that's not a good way to get people to like you." "Joe Wertz

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