Concert review: Smashing Pumpkins at Ritz Ybor, Theophilus London at Crowbar (with photos)

1990's alt-rock stars, Smashing Pumpkins returned to Tampa on Wednesday night to a sold-out crowd at the Ritz Ybor, with Kill Hannah and Bad City as support. Just a few blocks away, rising hip-hop artist Theophilus London played his first Bay Area show at Crowbar, backed up by a slew of impressive local talent: Enzo's Official, Mr. Mes, and Peter Baldwin. So what does a concert reviewer do when faced with the dilemma of two shows scheduled the same evening? This girl goes to both, of course.

Running a bit late, I missed Enzo's Official and arrived at Crowbar just in time to catch my very first live hip-hop performance from the much-hyped Mr. Mes (AKA Chris Wood.) Chris is one of Tampa's most talented DJ's, and serves as drummer for Florida Night Heat. Tonight I learned he also throws down clever lyrics with a biting delivery, all backed up by solid dance beats. Chris's better half, DJ Sows Def (Sowsan Karim,) has impressive skills in her own right, and was spinning this evening as Chris took the stage. If you enjoy your hip-hop with a healthy side dish of humor and style, this is a local act you should add to your "must see" list. Of course, tonight that meant missing the two first acts at the Ritz, but sacrifices must be made, and from what I've heard both openers seemed out-of-sorts as support for Billy Corgan and crew anyways.

By the time I made it over to RItz, the venue was so packed it was nearly impossible to make it to the bar. I couldn't help noticing that it was a much older crowd than usually fills the venue, which was somewhat expected. While Smashing Pumpkins have continued to deliver new albums since they were actually a band on the forefront of something exciting, there's never been the same level of commercial success (or memorable releases.) One could blame their notorious line-up change (James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain and D'arcy Wretzky replaced by Jeff Schroeder, Nicole Fiorentino and Mike Byrne,) but most fans realize Corgan has always been the genius behind the group. As rock-gods tend to do, Corgan embraces his musical whims as he sees fit, which recently has sounded like a complete dismissal of their early experimental shoe-gazey sound and a full embrace of Corgan's inner heavy-metal leanings. Personally, most of my love for them has been lost through a combination of Silversun Pickups delivering Carnavas (the album I was hoping Zeitgeist would be) and Corgan's unexplainable "relationship" with Jessica Simpson.

The show opened with "Astral Planes,"off their new free 44-song (!) album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (download the first five songs now on their website - the rest will post sporadically throughout the next few months). The song is typical of the new material in that it completely shreds from start to finish, though this is the most "old Pumpkins" sounding song on the album so far. The huge sound was complemented in an even huger manner with a monstrous display of stage lights, which flashed blindingly behind the band. From my spot tucked behind "Tampa's tallest man," the lights were a blessing, as it meant at least I got to see something of interest besides a bearded hipster getting beat up while making his way through the crowd with an armload of beers.

"Today" was delivered with an oddly increased tempo, as though Corgan were almost mocking its success. The delivery showed none of the emotion of the recorded version, but I don't think anyone near me realized it; singing along as though it were background music on a 90's station while driving to work. Smashing Pumpkins know what their fans respond well to however, and in my eyes they immediately redeemed their lack of interest on the song by playing the next song, "Hummer," the way it should be heard; loud and raw.

"Bullet with Butterfly WIngs" felt dead, despite the (again) rushed tempo. Corgan's clear disdain of the crowd's clapping and singing along, and strained voice certainly didn't stop anyone's enjoyment, however. The most interest I had in the song was when Corgan actually collapsed backwards onto the floor for a moment. According to his twitter account, “… for those that saw me fall last night during Bullet, that wasn’t a stage move or clumsiness, that was me blacking out and wiping out." Corgan went on to say he was feeling fine, though moving slow and a bit bruised.

Several newer songs followed, and the crowd around us began to thin as many disappointed fans started to head for the doors. It seemed like opportune timing to head over to catch Theophilus London. Although I had reservations about leaving before "1979,"and I actually don't even know if it was played, if it was anything like "Today" I'm glad I missed it. I want to remember Smashing Pumpkins the way they were: completely blowing me away with Gish, listening to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness for the first time the night I met my college love, and watching my little sister walk down the aisle at her wedding to Mellon Collie's instrumental title track. They were a band that helped build my love of music, and no matter what die-hard fans will say in their defense the new Smashing Pumpkins just isn't the same.

Back at Crowbar, I caught the end of Peter Baldwin's performance. His classic R&B influenced rock was sexy, beautiful, and heartfelt…which is more than I can say of whatever it was Corgan was dialing in.

Theophilus London has been receiving a huge amount of press for his electro dance-based hip-hop, and was an act I definitely didn't want to miss. Though I had listened to several of his songs on myspace, I was unable to download the free EP and really get familiar with the material before the show. It was an absolute surprise, Theophilus at times sounding like Prince at his best, at others simply delivering a straightforward and honest simplicity and quirky narrative which reminds me most of Lupe Fiasco. His style is a mash of different genres combined effectively into something entirely unique and memorable.

"Calypso Blues" was filled with horns, tribal drums, and background vocals, sounding incredibly fresh even as it felt somewhat vintage (described as Trinidad James Brown by several people near me.) The sparse crowd enjoyed every moment of the show, actually swing-dancing and hula-hooping at times. Theophilus even took requests, asking "what do you guys like off the mixtape?" before launching into "Always Love You," which is officially the only version of pre-crackhead Whitney Houston I ever want to hear again.

Walking back past the Ritz, I caught the last song of Smashing Pumpkins encore, "Gossamer," from just outside the venue. As the crowd sifted past the exit everyone seemed in good spirits; pleased with the nearly two hour show. The two performances couldn't have possibly been more different, yet both delivered to their respective crowds successfully, which is all in all, a fantastic night for Tampa music.


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