Zwan at the Double Door, April 2002

By Mark Guarino

Dozens of new bands make their Chicago debut every month. But the young band that headlined the Double Door late Friday night already has fansites around the world tracking its every move, played sold-out shows in other cities and regularly has fans trading bootleg show tapes and singing along to songs that haven’t been recorded yet. All this without an album even remotely in the works and a history that dates back only to last Fall.   

That’s what happens when a ‘90s rock star like Billy Corgan regroups, after a decade heading one of alternative rock’s most beloved bands, the Smashing Pumpkins. Since the Pumpkins slowly dissolved, capped by its ballyhooed swan song weekend in Dec., 2000, Corgan has popped up in the unlikeliest of places: serenading Bozo on the television clown’s last broadcast and axgrinding with his jazz guitarist father for a benefit show for troubled kids.  

Now comes Zwan, his first proper new band. The five-piece has been on the road for at least six months, playing shows around the country in small clubs and shielding itself from major press outlets. It’s billed as a work in progress, and with Corgan’s growing arsenal of new songs, that’s a lot of work to cover.    

After playing shows over the past months in Indianapolis, St. Louis, L.A., Grand Rapids, Columbia, Mo. and Pomona, Ca., Zwan finally debuted in Chicago Friday for the first of three sold-out nights. The 15-song, 95-minute show was stacked with many songs that easily could be hit singles and played comfortably in a large arena — nice ingredients to shake off a legacy with.   

And what a difference time makes. With such a short time together, the enthusiasm this band had for the new songs was evident and it showed in their playing and stage chemistry. Formerly of the melodic metal band A Perfect Circle and who only joined Zwan this month, bassist Paz Lenchantin was a perfect compliment to Corgan. Her harmonies and call-and-response vocals created a kind of tension with Corgan that the Pumpkins never had.   

Corgan turned to the indie rock world for his guitarists. Matt Sweeney has played with Cat Power and Guided by Voices and David Pajo, known in indie rock circles under his stage name Papa M, had stints in experimental rock collectives Tortoise and Slint. As they traded guitar solos, Pajo’s laid-back demeanor was another foil for Corgan’s tall and bald presence.    

The backbone was Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. He featured heavily in the 20-minute opening song, “Jesus, I,” that went through several stages from a quiet thicket of guitars to a double-speed rock blowout to even a gospel revival as Corgan sang “God’s gonna set this world on fire/one of these days,” to handclaps.   

The band also sped through a punk version of the Kinks garage rock classic, “All Day and All of the Night” and set Robert Johnson’s signature blues song, “Dust My Broom,” to a psychedelic rock spin cycle. Many of Zwan’s originals had the same big melodic hooks and intensity.   

Little chance Zwan will be a secret for long. The band plays its biggest show to date at the Q101 Jamboree, May 18 at the Tweeter

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