:: The Smashing Pumpkins ::
:: Ogeden Theatre :: Dec. 5, 2008 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
Photos by Lisa Siciliano
The press has not been kind to The Smashing Pumpkins on their recent 20th Anniversary Tour causing even the band’s new guitar player to make note of the negative reviews on his blog buzzbands.la/2008/11/21/smashing-pumpkins-greetings-from-chicago. “It’s been difficult to write these entries amidst the somewhat unenthusiastic press (can we still call it that?) surrounding our current tour . . . The negative reactions have been, for the most part, fairly consistent, and with little or no difficulty, one can find these on the Internet or in your local papers (for those of you who still like to do it the old way).”
Despite the reviews, and the fact that the band announced the show a mere 10 days before they took the stage, the show was completely sold out when the tour landed in the Mile High City and scalpers and ticketless fans lined the sidewalks near the venue.
At the stroke of nine, the house lights dimmed and the unmistakable silhouette of Billy Corgan emerged from the doorway that leads to the stage. As tall and lanky as ever, the shiny headed front-man was clad in a calf length black skirt and a black long sleeved t-shirt emblazoned with a large white spider. As soon as the rest of the band took their places, the introductory music faded and the band launched into “Superchrist,” the loud, raucous b-side from their recent single “G.L.O.W.” The deafening riffs, driving drumbeat, and tight presentation immediately allayed my fears of this being a disappointing show as the band seemed “on” right out of the gate.
Aside from Corgan, the only other hold over from the original days of the Pumpkins is the rock solid drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Joining these two on the road for this tour is Jeff Schroeder filling in for original guitarist James Iha and Ginger Reyes who is holding down the female role on bass in place of D’arcy Wretzky. Though both played their parts well, it was easy to forget they were there as they seemed relegated to the sides of the stage and never made a move to even share the spotlight with their leader.
Corgan stayed focused on the music for the first 25 minutes or more of the show before finally acknowledging the audience as the final notes of “Gossamer” faded away. While he was soft spoken and personable, he alluded to the lack of “hit” songs when, after asking bass player Ginger Reyes what time it was, he responded to the inevitable shouts from the crowd announcing the time by mocking someone up front when he said “yeah man, it’s time to play a hit.” The comment seemed out of place since the band had run through a scorching version of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” just a couple of songs before and whether someone said it or not, I couldn’t tell from my vantage point. None the less Corgan and the band launched into a slightly muddy version of “Tonight, Tonight” from Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.
As if to say, you got yours, now I get mine, Corgan led the band through ear splitting versions of “Tarantula” and “G.L.O.W.,” two of the singles that have been released since the band’s 2006 reunion. Both songs lean heavily in the progressive metal direction that Corgan has been favoring in the past couple of years.
The direction the band is heading on these songs is great and time and again they showed their prowess at creating powerful songs, but throughout the evening I found myself wondering if Corgan had thought things out enough when he put together the live arrangements. The song structures would frequently break down in a way that would seem to create the perfect space for monster jams that, unfortunately, would never come. Instead the breaks would linger and notes would hang in the air unresolved. Maybe more time on the road and in the studio will help to develop these sections of the performance but one thing was perfectly clear, The Smashing Pumpkins are not a “Jamband.”
A little later in the set Corgan pulled a complete 180, strapped on an acoustic guitar and ran through six or seven songs including “1979” which he played completely solo and “Medellia of the Gray Skies,” which he broke out for the first time ever in concert. When his band members re-emerged and Corgan traded in the acoustic for an electric the show was approaching the two hour mark and showed no signs of slowing down.
The crowd, which had all night seemed either a little awestruck, or simply bored, finally came to life for the last 30 minutes or so of the set. A pathetic little mosh pit developed right in front of Corgan and the militant security forces had to squelch a potential crowd surfer but most importantly, there were finally fists being pumped in the air and heads bobbing along in unison, something was strangely lacking for much of the show. Maybe it was the lack of an opener to allow people to get their blood flowing (and their drink on,) or maybe it was simply a crowd of older fans who did not know the newer material.
Those who had jammed into The Ogden for the hits got a welcome surprise when the band delivered the powerhouse combination of “Soma,” “Cherub Rock,” and “Zero” near the end of the night before closing the set out with a surprisingly accurate version of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for The Heart of the Sun” complete with a pair of tympanis.
When the band emerged for the requisite encore they launched into “Ava Adore” and closed the show with an appropriately chilling version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence.”
Though the set was not littered with as many hits as some would expect from a 20th Anniversary show, it proved that The Smashing Pumpkins are still a viable creative entity and though it is largely Billy Corgan’s project at this point, it is impressive. The band is playing new songs, breaking out songs for the first time ever on tour and giving the audience solidly revamped versions of the classics. They are definitely not a nostalgia act, and if anything, Corgan is going out of his way to stay out of that realm. That fact might piss off some of the reviewers out there who want to hear Gish or Siamese Dream played in it’s entirety but it is refreshing to see a band who cut their teeth in the late 80’s acting like they never slowed down.
As Rome Burns
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
A Song for a Son
I am One Part 2
Medellia of the Gray Skies
Heavy Metal Machine
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
The Sounds of Silence