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A smashing good time in Asheville 

Reformed alt-rockers take up residency in the mountainsTURN ON, TUNE IN

Back in May, the Smashing Pumpkins announced two residencies for June and July. One made plenty of sense -- eight nights at the history Fillmore in San Francisco. The other was a little more confusing -- nine nights at The Orange Peel in Asheville (between June 23 and July 5).

Yes, the Chicago rockers were ready to set up a residency just to our west and fans and locals were scratching their heads -- why Asheville?

Since the band isn't doing any press interviews, it's anyone's guess. Maybe they liked the mountain scenery. Maybe it's the hippie vibe to the city. Maybe it's all they could find for nine nights.

In a June 23 post on the band's Web site, singer Billy Corgan writes, "... our stated hope for playing so many shows in a fixed locale is to foster an environment of creativity, risk taking and mutual community ... to attempt to find some new forms (musically and aesthetically) that will point us future forward ... this means playing songs not yet written, digging thru some forgotten ones, and a whole lot of rehearsing during the days ahead so the nights will be filled with chance ... we hope that each of these performances can be a great adventure, and look fully to capture the spirit of the moment, wherever we all may be ..."

Though the city surely benefited from having the 942-person venue sold out for nine nights, some residents weren't happy with the decision. Local bands were bumped off the bill and residents were shut out of tickets -- all shows sold out in less than one minute online.

To this, you have to say, "So be it." Asheville won the alternative rock lottery by welcoming the band to their city. Fans who got tickets are being treated to marathon shows of nearly three hours and around 25 songs each. The band is also allowing those in attendance to capture the shows on audio and video.

While the setlists have varied slightly, the concerts have offered the opportunity to hear what's new from the band -- from their upcoming July 10 release Zeitgeist and what's being written during the residency.

On the first night, singer Billy Corgan performed an untitled acoustic song that he had written less than 24 hours earlier. The band, dressed only in white (Corgan in black and white), hit the stage with caution. Though Corgan broke a smile from time to time, the band seemed to be performing in a business-like manner, sometimes coming across as a "Billy and the Other Guys" group.

The fact the last few Pumpkins -- and Corgan solo -- albums have not done well didn't go unnoticed. He told the crowd that "part of the reason for the residency is that we've been working on the new album for 17 months." While this brought loud applause from the crowd, Corgan followed it up with, "Wait. You haven't heard it yet and lord knows you didn't like the last four."

Judging from the first night's show, the band is back in form -- if still missing original members D'arcy Wretzky and James Iha. The new members fell into place neatly, though they do little to try and steal the spotlight from Corgan or drummer Jimmy Chamberlain. Bass is now handled by Ginger Reyes and guitar work is performed by Jeff Schroeder.

Corgan showed his prowess as a singer, songwriter and guitar player throughout the night. In the middle of the set, he stood alone with acoustic guitar as he sang four songs including "God and Country," "Daydream" and "1979."

While other hits made their way into the setlist -- "Tonight," "Zero," "Today" -- it hit a definite high note with the encore "Silverfuck." It veered into The Doors' "The End" before ending in a thunderous, feedback-ridden finale.

They even returned for a second encore, "With Every Light," that lasted for more than 15 minutes. Note: The new stuff is good, but it's not up to the caliber of Gish or Siamese Dream at first listen.

It seemed like The Smashing Pumpkins were just getting warmed up when the show finally ended. While setlists changed from night to night -- the energy created in the last half hour of night one hopefully carried them through.

How long this incarnation of the band will last is anyone's guess, but for nine nights, North Carolina had a healthy view of the rock landscape.

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