MTH-V: Zwan @ Pinkpop 2003

This is a real nice trip down memory lane for yours truly. I intended to post some Charles Lloyd this time week, but for whatever reason decided to a (more than) slight detour and opt for Zwan.

Zwan was the first big post-Smashing Pumpkins musical foray for Billy Corgan, and arguably his most successful. 2005’s “solo album” (what large BC project isn’t Corgan-centric?) was interesting, and quite compelling in concert, but nowhere near the mild commercial success Zwan attained. Overall, Zwan highlighted Corgan’s sunny side, which in a way reflects some of the early Pumpkins ethos. However, Zwan was overall more pop-oriented than SP, as evident in most of the songs on their only album, 2003’s Mary Star of the Sea. Zwan was a supergroup of sorts formed by Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlin (both of Smashing Pumpkins), including Matt Sweeney (Chavez), David Pajo (Slint), and Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle). Corgan’s vocals and guitar work alongside Chamberlin’s signature manhandling of the drumset give it a particular SP flair, but the overall music is different (for the active SP fan). I of course championed the band, acting as a walking commercial via joining its street team. I still have a few of those stickers left… 🙂

[Note: It should be clarified for those other hardcore Billy fans that when I write Zwan I of course mean The True Poets of Zwan, the better-known electric incarnation of Billy’s overall Zwan concept. Djali Zwan, the acoustic “yang” featuring the same personnel plus cello, also performed but never completed a studio recording.]

I was fortunate enough to see Zwan twice, 12.17.02 at Cobo Arena in Detroit and 05.06.03 at Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. The latter performance not only turned out to be the band’s final US show, but also proved to be, if I sat down and really thought out the list, one of the ten best live shows I’ve attended (of any genre). It was truly special. Despite the band’s inner turmoil (another BC trademark), they were a solid ensemble and absolutely destroyed the hall that night. Also, with Billy being from Chicago, he was pretty laid back and even jovial.

This video is of the band’s performance of “Mary Star of the Sea” (the album’s title track), closing their 2003 Pinkpop Festival set. (This song closed the first show I saw and opened the second…one of the best opening numbers I’ve seen. I’ll never forget the feeling of their hitting that first big downbeat at that second show.) Now, with all of my defending the distinct stylings above, this particular song is somewhat reminiscent of the more exploratory jams found on SP’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. That being said, this live band features an even greater wall of sound. The three guitars comping and soloing in and around one another is one of my favorite features of Zwan. (Corgan is nothing if not epic.) Now, I’ll be the first to say that Billy’s singing isn’t too hot here – that’s unfortunately often the case, though he’s been better on recent Smashing Pumpkins tours – but the vocals are but one part of this piece.

Watching this just takes me back to seeing that final Chicago show, and I can’t get enough…

“Mary Star of the Sea” – Lyrics
Rooms full of salt
Fault my pluck
And a poet’s charm so far, ever far
Little stars that burn the holes in my soul

And everything just feels like rain
The road we’re on, the things we crave
And everything just feels like rain
The nights I sleep, what’s left to dream
When everything feels like rain

Drift as i dive
Find the deep
Out of reach of all light
Stars, ever far
Listless tides along the changing shore

And everything just feels like rain
The road we’re on, the things we crave
And everything just feels like rain
If I should sleep, what’s left to dream
When everything feels like rain

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