By Mark Guarino
What do you do when you’re a big rock star, in your hometown recording your new band’s debut record, and hungry to escape the studio after a 12-hour day?
If you’re Billy Corgan, it’s time to woodshed new songs in a bar with wood-paneled walls strewn with petrified fish. For seven weeks this fall, Corgan was the hush-hush marquee name for a series of Monday open mic nights at the Hideout, a Chicago factory bar dating from the 1890’s that recently evolved into the city’s primary incubator for underground rock.
Hosting was Matt Sweeney, guitarist in Corgan’s new band Zwan. What had the potential of a vanity project turned into a casual Midwestern hootenanny. Unknown guitar strummers, jugglers, gonzo poets, and one comedian traded spots with Chicago luminaries like Neko Case, Kelly Hogan, Rebecca Gates and Jason Narducy of Verbow. Members of Queens of the Stone Age and Trail of Dead also dropped in after a tour stop in town.
Egos were abandoned at the door. Bar owners cracked out cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and roasted weenies and marshmallows out back. “There was no big rock star backstage action,” said country soul siren Case. “You just stood in a tent in the alley wearing your jeans and painting shirt.”
Or in Corgan’s case, a fishing hat and hockey jersey. Most nights he wandered onstage after 1 a.m. to perform songs he wrote the morning before, ending the evenings with Zwan acoustic jams.
At times the former Smashing Pumpkin joined the crowd of 150 on the floor to watch sets, talk with fans and hawk specially made t-shirts that read “I am Fantasy.” But it wasn’t.