The Smashing Pumpkins formed 30 years ago in Chicago, and despite a few break-ups, hiatuses, shifts in line-up and side-projects along the way, have remained mostly active all this time. They hit their commercial peak in the ’90s, and in the intervening years, it’s easy to forget what a force they were at the time. To oversimplify the major artists of the time, where Nirvana was punk, Pearl Jam arena-ready, Alice in Chains dark, and Soundgarden metal, the Pumpkins were orchestral, poetic, dramatic and maybe a little too self-serious. 30 years later, you could be forgiven for forgetting the brilliant weird artsy kid in the shadow of those other behemoths.
Allow the Pumpkins to refresh your memory. With the exception of bassist D’arcy Wretzky, the original line-up is reunited with the addition of guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Jack Bates, and keyboardist/singer Katie Cole, and in the midst of a major tour celebrating their 30 years (often) together.
Their show is dramatic. A three-story red curtain hides the stage setup before Billy Corgan emerges to perform “Disarm” solo. Images of himself as a child flashed behind him, desecrated with scrawled phrases like “dead dead dead” and “broken boy.” The curtains part to reveal metal art deco latticework framing two enormous moving video screens, which alternately show video footage of the band through the years, snippets of familiar videos, album symbols and characters, or abstract lighting. It is all-encompassing and engaging.
Corgan remains the centerpiece, face painted, bald head reflecting the spotlight. He hasn’t lost his sense of the dramatic, and utilizes a diverse wardrobe and the complex stage production to his advantage. He doesn’t engage with the audience much. His is a performance to be watched, not discussed. But as they rolled through their hits, focusing primarily on cuts from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness and Siamese Dream, a nostalgia trip hits the audience.
The Smashing Pumpkins were great, and they remain so. Their older songs don’t feel as dated as some works of their early contemporaries might, perhaps because the Pumpkins were a little weird and artsy, experimenting with different genres (to varying degrees of success) along the way.
Their live show is varied, intense, and encompassing. Their body of work is the same, and deserves a second (and third) listen.
- Disarm (Billy Corgan solo)
- Space Oddity (David Bowie Cover)
- The Everlasting Gaze
- Stand Inside Your Love
- Blew Away
- For Martha
- To Sheila
- Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
- Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
- Tonight, Tonight
- Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover)
- Cherub Rock
- Ava Adore
- Try, Try, Try
- The Beginning is the End is the Beginning
- Bullet with Butterfly Wings
31. Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)