Billy Corgan: Tiny Desk Concert Billy Corgan, complicated frontman of The Smashing Pumpkins, has had a tumultuous decade-and-a-half. His visit to the Tiny Desk, with a string quartet backing him, was anything but.

Tiny Desk

Billy Corgan

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan is a complicated guy. In the years since that iconic and much-beloved rock band broke up in 2000, Corgan has continued to put out music under various names and projects – including several releases as Smashing Pumpkins, with different lineups – while often stumbling through a bumpy minefield of his own making. To the head-scratching surprise of some longtime fans, he's gotten heavily involved in pro wrestling, talked conspiracy theories during several appearances on The Alex Jones Show (warning of weaponized zombies in one interview), and, over the years, lobbed innumerable grievances about former bandmates, while trashing other musicians and publicly feuding with a revolving cast of celebrities and public figures.

More recently, Corgan seems to have mellowed. He opted to release his new solo album Ogilala, under his (very grownup-sounding) full name, William Patrick Corgan (though he very recently changed it back to Billy Corgan on streaming services and YouTube), and filled the record with beautifully rendered acoustic songs built on piano and strings.

When he settled in for this memorable Tiny Desk performance with a string quartet he'd just met hours before, Corgan was nothing but a good-natured delight. After years of selling millions of records and playing packed arenas, he showed up in a cab with just his tour manager and, during setup and rehearsals, joked about being all DIY now.

Dressed for winter weather in a heavy scarf, hoodie, down jacket and cap, Corgan opened with a stirring rendition of the 1995 Smashing Pumpkins song "Tonight, Tonight." It was a transporting moment that left some fans in the NPR offices a little misty eyed. Corgan then followed with two Ogilala standouts, "Aeornaut" and "Mandarynne," songs about staying strong and true to yourself and soldiering on in the face of a troubled world.

The Smashing Pumpkins always had a soft side, from the more melancholy moments of 1991's "Rhinoceros" to "Sweet Sweet," "Take Me Down" and Adore's gorgeous opener, "To Shelia." But here the beauty and grace of Corgan's poetry and songwriting is on full display.

Set List

  • "Tonight, Tonight"

  • "Aeronaut"

  • "Mandarynne"

Musicians

Billy Corgan (vocals, guitar, piano), Kristin Bakkegard (violin), Livy Amoruso (violin), Paul Bagley (viola), Carol Anne Bosco (cello)

Credits

Producers: Robin Hilton, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Nicholas Garbaty, Alyse Young; Production Assistant: Salvatore Maicki; Photo: Jennifer Kerrigan/NPR

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Idles plays a Tiny Desk Concert on May 13, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Idles

The British madmen brought fury, cathartic rage and deep thoughts to the Tiny Desk for one of the loudest, most raucous performances in memory.

Foxing plays at the Tiny Desk on May 1, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Foxing

Foxing is at the forefront of an emo revival, heavily influenced by late-'90s and early 2000s groups like Sunny Day Real Estate and American Football.

Sesame Street plays a Tiny Desk concert on May 10, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Sesame Street

Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Elmo, Grover, Rosita, Count von Count, Abby Cadabby, Cookie Monster and other surprise guests gather at NPR's headquarters to celebrate 50 years of love, learning and joy.

Tomberlin performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on April 23, 2019 (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Tomberlin

Tomberlin is the daughter of a Baptist pastor, grew up singing in the church and, since her teens, has questioned her own beliefs in God and faith. Her songs are delicate and vulnerable.

Quinn Christopherson performs a Tiny Desk Contest on May 28, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Quinn Christopherson

Quinn and his musical partner, guitarist and singer Nick Carpenter, arrived from the cool of Anchorage to the swelter of D.C. and performed with remarkable confidence and grace.

LADAMA performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 11, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

LADAMA

The group unites sounds from Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, with a dash of New York City thrown in.

Lucky Daye performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 25, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Lucky Daye

Hailing from New Orleans with a love of sticky, bass-bumping funk, Lucky brought along a 10-person band, including a quartet of horns, to capture the full flavor of his debut album Painted.

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

Back To Top