Live Review: The World Is A Vampire Festival @ Kryal Castle

26 April 2023 | 8:14 am | Andy Hazel

"That was a sunset that we’ll never forget. One we got to share with you all.”

More The Smashing Pumpkins More The Smashing Pumpkins

“The gesture of the vanquished wrestler signifying to the world a defeat which, far from disgusting, he emphasises and holds like a pause in music, corresponds to the mask of antiquity meant to signify the tragic mode of the spectacle. In wrestling, as on the stage in antiquity, one is not ashamed of one's suffering, one knows how to cry, one has a liking for tears.” - Roland Barthes

When the French intellectual penned these thoughts, he had in mind the halls and courtyards of a post-World War II Paris. But, had he too caught the shuttle bus from Dunnstown Football Netball Club Car Park to the fake medievalry of Kryal Castle, he would have gazed upon National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) bouts taking place in the harsh sunshine and, maybe with a can of Carlton Dry in hand, recognised the roles of hero and bastard and appreciated the thematically appropriate commentary. 

“I’ve never seen someone so evenly balanced between cockiness and cowardice”...”Ohh, you can really see the pain in the face.”...“I don’t know what he’s complaining about, probably everything.”

'(Wrestling) is something I really love,” The Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan told Noise11. “And part of bringing it back is proving to the wrestling culture that the NWA can go to places only I can take it.” In 2017, Corgan bought the 74-year-old wrestling league, and it too has become a vessel for his famed me-versus-the-world approach to life. This is why the interstitial entertainment for today’s leg of the band’s The World is a Vampire tour comes in the form of Junior Heavyweight world champion Kerry Morton mocking the crowd and local heroes Adam Brookes and Golden Boy almost bringing him down. Over the course of the afternoon, the crowd went from bemused onlookers to enthusiastic participants. “This is the fucken best, hey?” says one guy, standing on a concrete block, clapping in approval as wrestler Slex performs his trademark “Slexicution”.

Thus far, the crowd, mostly decked out in black, band t-shirts, sunglasses and the odd puffer jacket, have been fairly sedate. “How are ya?” yells Amyl and the SniffersAmy Taylor. The crowd howls back. Even the boozy guys poking fun at the goths trying to escape the sunshine, and the goths trying to escape the sunshine, are struck dumb by the opening chords of the band’s first track, Don’t Fence Me In. For a band known for playing pub rock, they are a clinical riff machine. Every beat, bass note and moment of Dec Martens’ mesmeric guitar soloing feels right on target. Security, Knifey (“dedicated to ladies and non-binary mates”), and the closing Hertz are even more powerful than on record. Over this precision, Taylor’s vocals sound even more powerful, and every inflection is intentional. As she stalks the stage wearing a skirt that looks like it’s made of duct tape, she moves and sings with a sense of confidence that – on a day marked by nostalgia – feels viscerally raw. That they are playing through a sunset that is almost impossibly blood red gives the scene extra potency.

Perhaps due to the sudden drop in temperature, scheduled wrestling doesn’t eventuate, and instead, Jane’s Addiction begin their set 20 minutes early, sending a rush of punters to the stage. The band explode to life with the fury of Trip Away and rarely slow down for the next 45 minutes. In his tailored suit, pointed boots, silver hair, and illuminated by white lights shining into his grinning face, singer Perry Farrell looks like he’s auditioning to play the Joker in the next inevitable Batman adaptation. Been Caught Stealing follows, and the whole crowd comes on board with a mighty “It’s MINE”. As with every well-known song for the rest of the evening, the crowd becomes a forest of phones, some acting as periscopes. The ethereal angst of Pigs in Zen, the dub dirge of Nothing’s Shocking, complete with pole dancers moving in eerie symmetry, Farrell’s visions of Los Angeles in the early 1990s are still hypnotically powerful. “Fellas,” Farrell tells the audience. “Don’t ever stop fucking. Take it from me. You use it, or you lose it.” As the cloud above the crowd thickens – a combination of dry ice, frozen breath, pot smoke and vape mist – Eric Avery ignites another circuitous bassline, Josh Klinghoffer spins clouds of chords and spidery guitar runs and the band ease into the urbane psychedelia of Kettle Whistle. Jane Says has everyone singing, and Farrell reserves his widest smile for this moment. After criticising the “silly fucking castle” (he is not the only person disappointed to find that it is more tribute to an idea rather than an authentic fortification) – “I was expecting crocodiles in a moat” – he introduces Three Days, a cataclysmic ten-minute epic that leaves the audience wanting more, but, as Farrell says, “that’s it! That was a sunset that we’ll never forget. One we got to share with you all.”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

As the temperature falls even lower, the crowd tightens, huddling toward the warmth of the red lights that welcome Billy Corgan to the stage. With a forehead tattoo, extensive makeup around his eyes and dressed in a long black robe, the man who is, for most intents and purposes, The Smashing Pumpkins looks like the sort of person who should be allowed nowhere near a vulnerable teenager and perhaps the only person able to articulate their emotional complexities. Arriving to the aural violence of Empires, Corgan almost immediately undoes the effect of his appearance by smiling, telling us how grateful he is that we’re here, and gleefully taking us straight to the sugar hit of Bullet With Butterfly Wings. Phones aloft and groups of friends singing in joyous dissonance, this is what we came for. Today follows, and the band sounds, if possible, even louder. Corgan’s voice sounds powerful, even as he bends away from the microphone to leave the climactic notes to backing vocalist Katie Cole and a dense swarm of vocal effects. Beloved guitarist James Iha attempts some banter but is almost overwhelmed by the volume of affection the crowd has for him. After a deconstruction of Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime, Solara, Eye and Ava Adore, the stage falls dark, and Iha and Corgan return with acoustic guitars. Iha leads the duo through half of The Church’s Under the Milky Way before they play a stripped-back version of Tonight, Tonight. Corgan is slightly thrown by the lack of a deafening response to one of his finest songs. “I think,” he says to Iha, “that the drug of choice tonight has not been alcohol. They’re enjoying the show, they’re just not appreciating it.”

The night’s quietest and most delicate moment is followed by its loudest. The album Siamese Dream spawned one of the most ardently devoted fandoms of the 1990s, and it all began with the clarion call of Cherub Rock. A song that also introduced many to the drumming of Jimmy Chamberlain, a man whose skills transcended the polarising reactions to Corgan. After a brief story from Corgan about taking his son to an outpost of the American theme restaurant Medieval Times, a reference lost on many of us, the band blast through Zero and arrive at an oddly off-kilter version of 1979 that never quite comes together, unlike the closing behemoth, Silverfuck. Before then, there was a perfect moment that deserves highlighting.

There was one moment when Billy Corgan’s painted face broke into a smile as he sang, “No place can hold us / But in this scene, I'm December / And you’re June's wretch / And my idyls lay gasping as if death” while two NWA performers fought next to him. Around him, a truly spectacular light show exploded, putting the rest of the band in darkness. This was a perfect example of the contradictions that seem, and are, utterly ludicrous but could only come from a man who takes his work very seriously. The world, for a little while at least, seemed a lot less vampiric.