Smashing Pumpkins make night two count

A review of the Smashing Pumpkins at the Citi Wang Theatre on November 15

, Staff Writer

Billy Corgan does not care what you want to hear, and I applaud him for that. Those who criticized the Smashing Pumpkins for their song choices on Friday night have little ground to stand on – the band’s setlists are essentially posted in advance through the "Black Sunshine", "White Crosses" show divisions, and if you want to see Siamese Dream-era Pumpkins then go check out the Silversun Pickups.

Saturday night at the Citi Wang Theatre Corgan, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, and company were intent on playing what they wanted to play the way they wanted to play it, and while it made for an occasionally uneven show, it also made for some towering high points, not to mention the fact that it’s nice to see a 20th anniversary tour that’s not a nostalgia act.

Sure, the band played hits like "1979", "Cherub Rock", and "Ava Adore", as well as "Zero", which was the best of the bunch as it showed off the ferocity of Chamberlain’s drumming and Corgan’s trademark whine. But they didn’t rely on well known songs to keep the crowd engaged. Rather, they challenged the crowd with new songs, overwhelming noise, and unorthodox arrangments.

Corgan, clad in a goth male evening gown, was the main attraction, the gangly frontman also handling lead guitar duties. Nearly every song highlighted his exceptional guitar playing abilities, especially harder tracks like the thrashing "Soma" and the heavy "Bodies". Corgan’s talent, both singing and shredding, is plenty to keep him a rock hero, but his petulant attitude, which he showed off on "A Song for a Son" is so 90’s rock star.

The Pumpkins are still a seething beast of a rock band onstage, a fact rammed home by the juggernaut "Gossamer" and the Sonic Youth-pop of "Age of Innocence". The rest of the sounds not coming from Corgan and Chamberlain, the last remaining members of the original band, were filled out by a new bass player, guitar player, two horn players, two keyboard players, and a violinist.

That eclectic group of musicians helped to create the un-grunge feel of "Suffer", which was played as a latin percussion freakout while Billy donned a top hat and danced around the stage with a tambourine, looking like Jack Skellington. The odd thing was that although the scene was surreal and not really typical Pumpkins material, it stil rocked, due in large part to Chamberlain’s impressive drum solo.

The fans responses to the more esoteric moments of the set prompted Corgan to introduce "Soma" by saying that it was "one of the songs you may actually like." Notice that his feelings did not make him want to adjust the setlist to include more songs that the audience might like, he chose a little bit of self-pity instead.

"As Rome Burns" and "Sounds of Silence" were two new songs that were played and managed to upset the older fans but got everyone else into them by their sheer size and momentum. After the encore the band returned sans instruments so that Billy could play "That’s The Way (My Love Is)", a tender acoustic ballad with an aesthetic that the band could potentially sustain for a much longer mini-acoustic set.

Corgan then proceeded to warn everyone in attendance, saying, "Those who don’t like psychedelic rock should leave now. Go and head for your cars. Those who do should probably take your drugs now." That led into the song of the night, "I Am One (Pt. 2)", a sprawling epic featuring fuzzed out guitars, horns, and more, all with a swirling drone pushing everything onward. The song took place over the course of 20+ minutes and put Corgan’s guitar work to the test, and he passed with flying colors. Their epic journey from psychedelic rock to shoegaze to all out rock during one piece was one of the musical highlights of 2008.

By the time the song drew to a close the entire theatre stood awestruck, some by what they had just seen and others by what they wanted to see but didn’t. Billy Corgan, however, was happy as could be signing autographs and shaking hands with people in the front row. His decision not to play this current Pumpkins tour as a nostalgia act is a welcome one, and even if it at times means enduring a sub-par song, just think about Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant. For now we can continue to hope that Corgan and co. keep making people happy by making themselves happy. And, just for good measure, it’s good to know that we can buy tickets to Silversun Pickups to fulfill our other cravings.

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