Billy Corgan sure has an odd sense of timing. How else can one explain the fact that he chose the release date of his first solo album — “The FutureEmbrace,” a disc that finally exorcised the ghost of the Smashing Pumpkins — to announce that he intends to re-form that band at the earliest possible date. The chrome-domed singer-guitarist may have fond memories of his days as the Great Pumpkin, but the succinct perf he turned in at this notoriously difficult venue demonstrated that he’s progressed far past that band’s angst-laced arena-alt.
The degree of that evolution manifested itself as soon as the black curtain parted, revealing a stage all-but-completely bereft of equipment — and surrounded by screens flashing computer graphics equally influenced by old-school Tetris and even older-school Kraftwerk.
Paucity of standard gear — two keyboardists operated emphatically minimal set-ups, while drummer Matt Walker stood behind a similarly sparse electronic drum kit — didn’t translate into thinness of sound.
With the help of some sequencers, band settled into a drone-based groove firmly rooted in ’70s Germanica — more Neu! than Kraftwerk — that proved eerily hypnotic, even when the material was completely unknown (as was the case with the as-yet-unrecorded, untitled opener).
Corgan pierced the pulsing backdrop with plenty of intricate, intriguing guitar solos (the glissandos imparted on “A100” and “The Camera Eye” fused Tom Verlaine’s icy fluidity with Corgan’s own free-associative ardor), but relegated his vocals to a relatively low spot in the mix.
Exceptions to that rule came as the set drew to a close, and Corgan & company began trotting out covers, some well-suited (an improbably slinky version of bluesman Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee” that was wrapped around a verse of the Pumpkins’ “Today”) and others exceedingly misplaced (a creaky take on AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top if You Wanna Rock and Roll”).
From the overall tone of the perf, Corgan seemed interested in doing anything but taking the Aussie metalmongers’ advice. The lack of rock bluster, however, was anything but a downer. In fact, to see the famously dour Corgan beaming and encouraging the shaking of the collective groove thing was nothing short of what Mick Jagger might call a gas, gas, gas.
Corgan plays the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles July 12-13.