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[Review] Smashing Pumpkins @ PICA, Melbourne 22/04/2023

Review By Noah Redfern

I was blessed to witness this weekend’s A World Is A Vampire on Saturday. A mini fest stacked with alternative legends of now and then, and headlined by the 90s legends The Smashing Pumpkins.

Featuring the insane lineup of Battlesnake, Amyl and the Sniffers and Janes Addiction, along with sets of pro wrestling between each act, the energy was unreal at Port Melbourne’s PICA warehouse venue. It was a blessing to see such legends of alternative arena rock play a more intimate location rather than catching a glimpse of Billy Corgan from the back of Rod Laver.

When I arrived just before the first act, I took in the vibe and demographic of the gig. Not as many young people as I expected, it was mainly 30-to-50 somethings. Not heavy on the moshing, but prominent on the hearing protection. Experienced rockers, still trying to save their ears from tinnitus in their 60s. Wise moves millennials, wise moves.

Cracking open the night with their bizarre but ripping take on hard rock and chugging thrash, Battlesnake blew the lid wide open on the evening’s affairs. A 7-piece rock band, with guitars a plenty, a keytar and a set of hilarious priest costumes for all. The lead singer led the pack wearing devil horns over his priest robes and laughed maniacally with every song title announcement. Singing stories of dragons, rituals, kings of old, the underworld and death, the band was heavy metal fun for all. Fans of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard will feel the bite of Battlesnake. My favourite track was The Atomic Plough, followed closely by self-titled track The Battlesnake.

After that great tone setter, I checked out the wrestling going on just outside the venue in the food truck area. I had no choice but to see what the fuss was all about, as the moment the band finished the match announcers started playing over the stage PA, so off I was to ringside viewing. The National Wresting Alliance or NWA (USA) vs the Wrestling Alliance of Australia (WAOA) was the name of the game today, and this translated to a lot of booing at Americans and then watching them get slammed. In the vein of the WWE, this is Kayfabe wrestling. This is about the drama and the fun, and boy were our wrestlers good sports. I haven’t laughed or cheered so hard at sport since I was a kid. I had no idea what was going on but I loved it.

Next, we caught Melbourne based pub rock legends, Amyl and the Sniffers. This was not my first time catching the future hall of famers but will never be my last. Sometimes I honestly catch myself wondering if Amy Taylor is the secret love child of Debbie Harry and Bon Scott, but alas. The pure stage presence on display from our favourite frontwoman as always gives you no choice buy to chant along and give her an ear-to-ear grin every time she sticks her tongue out or bangs her head. A lovely set, we caught classics from earlier years like Balaclava Lover Boogie, mid careers bangers like Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled) and modern favourites like Hertz and showstopper Security.

After Amyl we saw LA alt rock favourites Jane’s Addiction. Giving us a blend of hits and deep cuts, singer Perry Farrell and company indulged us in some seriously heavy grunge jamming. Some tracks launched into extended versions, with dancers coming on stage to show us some hardcore acrobatics while the band burnt down the house. A deeply captivated audience, fans nodded along the whole way through, loving every moment. Favourites of the set included Whores, Summertime Rolls and the awesome closer of Ocean Size.

When our glorious headliners finally took the stage to close out the night, The Smashing Pumpkins started out strong. Jumping into Empires, a heavy as hell track off their latest album ATUM – Act I & II released this January. Immediately after we were thrown back into Pumpkins’ golden era of the mid 90s with the one-two punch of Bullet With Butterfly Wings and Today. Man, those two songs blew my mind to hear them live. Sounding better than ever, better than the record, just absolutely hot and heavy.

The band then moved in into a set mixed between several covers of classic artists like Talking Heads and The Church, along with some deep cuts from records old and new. Their cover of Once In A Lifetime was like a stoner doom nightmare version of David Byrne’s weird and wacky monologue. Some moments in between left something to be desired, with some truly awkward inter-band discussions making the crowd feel equally strange.

An intimate, acoustic version of Tonight, Tonight from 1995’s Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness was a true highlight of the night’s set. The emotion on display was truly moving, and the stripped back version left the perfect amount of room in the mix for Billy Corgan’s vocals to soar through.

The classic melter of Cherub Rock from 1993’s Siamese Dream, my favourite Smashing Pumpkins album, was possibly the only contentious point for me during the set. Unfortunately, the raw distortion of the track made the sound a bit hard to distinguish, and so I was left a bit disappointed in the mix for a moment, but the amazing song was impossible to ruin.

The unforgettable 1979 was an amazing singalong moment for the crowd, with fans young and old screaming every word. And of course, we couldn’t forget Zero either, another Pumpkins classic.

Closing the show with Silverfuck, although an interesting choice, ended the night with heavy riffs just as it had begun.

Overall, The World Is A Vampire festival was a true blessing to fans of alternative and heavy music, and was just fantastic to catch at a smaller warehouse venue instead of a giant corporate arena. I felt truly connected with the artists I saw, and the curation of the lineup along with the wrestling as a fun activity between bands made for a rad time at the rock show. In Corgan’s words: Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known

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