Live Music + Gig Reviews

Zwan @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

12 February 2003

Zwan's Billy Corgan

Zwan’s Billy Corgan

Billy Corgan was back in the city which was the penultimate stop for his former outfit, The Smashing Pumpkins, on their road to disbandment. That night, in the vast spaces of Wembley Arena, an out of sorts Corgan pranced around like a sacrificial Priest of Zion, with matching regalia. It was a harrowing two hours of muddy acoustics and ill-performed stadium rock, saved only by happy memories from the early-’90s heyday of the Pumpkins.

Tonight though, taking stage to a glorious welcome, the five poets of Zwan opened with the sprawling gospel rock of Jesus I, before shifting into the optimism of Endless Summer and a superb Lyric. Aided by the venue’s sharp acoustics, the quintet performed with pristine precision. Varying from the crowd bouncing Declarations Of Faith, current single Honestly and an astonishing extended reworking of Mary Star Of The Sea, it was a joy simply to listen.

Not that Zwan weren’t worth watching. Jimmy Chamberlain pummeled like a human drum machine, keeping an unconventional tempo, while girl bassist Paz Lenchantin moved about excitedly, enticing the crowd to join in. Guitarist Matt Sweeney rocked about in an invisible one-metre circle, while David Pajo virtually nailed himself to his set of effects pedals.

And Billy? Billy looked great. Wearing a tight black top emblazoned with an elephant, it was like a step back to 1993. Snarling, serenading, posing and even getting out his flying-V guitar for show, his delivery was immense. Zwan didn’t simply regurgitate their studio debut. Songs were extended and blended, and little musical inserts enhanced an already visceral experience.

The show highlight came when the band, turning their backs to form a circle during Mary Star Of The Sea, exploded into fits of laughter, and hysterical gyrating to the jaw dropping blasts of Jimmy Chamberlain. It looked like Zwan saying, here we are, five friends making music and having fun.

They re-emerged for the encore with the fitting Settle Down, during which Corgan raised his hands and vigorously declared: “Settle down I’ll settle down, cause whatever I can do I will, cause I want to,” pointing to his chest before stepping back and launching another guitar assault. It was clear many in attendance didn’t know the songs- from an album which had been released merely 48 hours ago, after all. Despite this, each song was greeted enthusiastically.

For those devoted enough to get the album on import, it was a treat to be there. More importantly it confirmed Zwan were more than “Billy Corgan’s band”. Pajo and Sweeney’s constant tussle between lead and rhythm, Paz’s enchanting violin, and Chamberlain’s anchoring drumming gave Zwan an extra element which Corgan, regardless of his talent, couldn’t replicate alone.

Ending with the instrumental riff-laden Spilled Milk, Zwan left just as they had entered – five friends making music and having fun, treating those who care to pay attention along the way.

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More on Zwan
Zwan @ Download Festival, Donington
Zwan @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
Zwan – Mary Star Of The Sea