Billy Corgan, pro-wrestlers and a medieval castle: inside Smashing Pumpkins’ weird gig for the ages

Crisp autumn sunlight is catching on Kryal Castle’s stone parapets on Sunday as I arrive at regional Victoria’s replica medieval castle, to see the Smashing Pumpkins – one of the 90s biggest, multi-platinum-selling alt-rock bands. Fellow 90s icons Jane’s Addiction are here too, as are Australian acts Amyl and the Sniffers, RedHook and Battlesnake. And a troupe of pro-wrestlers. Things are primed to get weird.

Believe it or not, the Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman, Billy Corgan, owns a pro-wrestling league, the National Wrestling Alliance, a few of whom he’s flown over to Australia to fight local wrestlers between the early bands’ sets. It took time for the crowd to warm to the spectacle, but they got there in the end.

“Pull his arse hairs out!” screams one encouraging spectator as a burly wrestler in a fur loincloth lifts another Lycra wrapped man over his head. A knight pumps his gauntleted fist as a violent sunset majestically reflects off his suit of armour. Lord Corgan is spotted smiling politely before returning to his keep. Silly Billy.

The opening act, Battlesnake, dressed as demonic catholic priests, launch into a song called Revenge of the Witch, with lyrics referencing a gangrenous child. A priest, wielding a hot pink keytar, strips down to his jocks and scales the stage scaffolding. Nearby, a punter in wraparound sunnies makes a sincere assessment: “There’s so many good Australian bands, aye?” He’s not wrong.

One such band is Amyl and the Sniffers, playing third, whose turbo-charged singer, Amy Taylor, would have surely given the pro-wrestlers performing between sets a run for their money, had she stepped into their ring. That includes the wrestlers Mecha Wolf 450 and Bestia 666, who had shown up for a tag team match earlier in the day in robot dog and neon skull masks, leather and chains.

US rock band Jane’s Addiction’s lascivious frontman, Perry Farrell, ups the pomp and ceremony. Hopping around on stage like a drunken court jester, he wriggles and writhes in an echo of the “Melbourne shuffle” dance style favoured at the castle’s notorious early 2000s raves. Some blokes nearby whisper disbelief at Farrell’s age (64), but they’re mistakenly thinking in decades rather than centuries, as Farrell is almost certainly an immortal vampire who hoards souls in his tiny hat. After all, the show is a stop on the World Is a Vampire tour (named after the opening lyric of the Pumpkins’ seminal track Bullet With Butterfly Wings).

Farrell tries some surfing banter, before realising he’s nowhere near the ocean and course corrects from the track Ocean Size to Mountain Song: both are excellent.

“They told us we’d be playing in a castle and to look out for the crocodiles. But then we look up and see that inflatable chicken,” Farrell says at one point, understandably confused by the inflatable unicorn looming over the ramparts. “Fuck castles. They’re full of kings, they ain’t shit. That’s a silly fuckin’ castle.”

I stake out a spot for the Pumpkins’ set. Three-quarters of the original lineup is present: Corgan (the band’s only constant member), drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and guitarist James Iha. They’re touring the bands new material, ATUM – A Rock Opera in Three Acts (I and II are out now, III arrives in May); and open with its title track: an instrumental synth piece that could soundtrack an Aldi bootleg of the Legend of Zelda.

Still, the band’s holy trinity of albums, Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Adore (this last inclusion isn’t up for debate) contain everything worthwhile in rock music: unforgiving dirges, shredding, screamy bits, pop abandon, gothy synths and sonic experimentation. The band’s hits are unarguable, many of which they play: Today, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Zero, 1979, Ava Adore. They even throw in a beloved deep cut with We Only Come Out At Night (because, vampires).

Corgan decides to bring two of the wrestlers back on, a man and a woman, who are both blonde, muscular and upset. The woman ends the quarrel by grabbing the man’s head, leaping in the air, and bringing his noggin slamming down on his shoulder in a move called a “reverse bulldog”. The crowd is almost entirely uninterested but the show must go on. One got the sense from both the bands and bewildered crowd that, between the rock gods and rock walls, head banging and head-butting, there were perhaps one too many pigeons stuffed in this pie.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was the first album this music journalist bought on CD: a. A double-disc behemoth containing enough grandeur, fantasy and imagination to inspire a years-long obsession. With its moats and turrets, the ridiculous castle made more sense as a setting than anyone was willing to admit. So in the spirit of the day’s wrestling ring announcers, it’s safe to say the World Is a Vampire tour’s stop at Kryal Castle was: THE MOST ELECTRIFYING DISPLAY OF MEDIEVAL ROCK N ROLL SPORTS ENTERTAINMENT IN AUSTRALIAN MUSIC HISTORY.