Smashing Pumpkins Live: The Nostalgic, The New, and The Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour (Infinite Energy Arena)
Smashing Pumpkins roar back to nostalgic, and new, life with the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour 2018.
“The Smashing Pumpkins suck as much live as they do on their overproduced albums,” exclaimed the silver earring bedazzled, alt-rock riot girl and college classmate of mine who sat across from me in English 502 Emerson and American Transcendentalism (or some such similarly named and numbered class).
This was circa 1993 and I was already pathetically behind the hip times in my Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts. Pavement was “the shit,” at least according to my (very seriously) much cooler than me rock critic crush. She’d already moved way beyond Eddie, Billy, Kurt, Liz, and Courtney. I was a little shocked, as Siamese Dream was a relatively recent release and I, being the very definition of the poor college student who would not see Billy Corgan and company live for another 25 years, was amazed that a band that sounded that good on shiny plastic, and that had captured my attention, and late teen angsty inclinations that fully, could be a bad live act. Fortunately, my grunge-come-riot girl burgeoning rock critic friend ended up having really misjudged Smashing Pumpkins, at least as far as this late blooming rock critic has concluded, even if she was brilliant in her many, many other assessments.
As a 25 year fan of Smashing Pumpkins, who has been told by other friends (whose favorite bands consist of the likes of KISS) that he himself has poor taste in music for idolizing “such a crappy band,” I might not necessarily be the perfect judge of what the Smashing Pumpkins actually sound like live. After FINALLY seeing them live, I’m able to say without a snicker of doubt, in my mind at least, that the Smashing Pumpkins definitely do not suck live. In fact, as they are constituted right now, Smashing Pumpkins might be one of the best live sounding acts of the last 25 years. Call me hyperbolic. Call me smashed in the head myself, but call me nothing if not totally disarmed of all equivocation. Smashing Pumpkins rock, sound, and enthrall their crowd with their performance like few other live rock acts can, or will.
Before I was to check off one of my music related bucket list goals: seeing Smashing Pumpkins live, I got to see another, albeit newer, musical love of mine: the band Metric. Playing more of their guitar rock, as opposed to their synth driven compositions, the Emily Haines-lead outfit proved to be more akin to Garbage than Depeche Mode. With seven of their own highly acclaimed, emotionally and musically poetic, as well as hard rocking and soft rolling albums, Metric had plenty of songs to choose from to play for the crowd that was, to a large extent, there to see Smashing Pumpkins and damned be all else. It’s rare though that a band as well known as Smashing Pumpkins gets a band as musically gifted as Metric to open for them. They should be headlining their own tour. They were treated better by the crowd in attendance than No Doubt were when they opened for BUSH back on the Sixteen Stone tour in the mid-90s, or at least at show on that tour that I was lucky enough to get to see. Metric fit the musical atmosphere, both thematically and sonically, that was developing that night much better than No Doubt did as a compliment to BUSH, at least as they were constituted at that point in both band’s careers.
The currently constituted Smashing Pumpkins lineup, which is now gloriously much more close to its original lineup than BUSH’s currently is, are composed of Billy Corgan, James Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin (all founding members) as well as long term and SP 2.0 guitarist Jeff Schroeder. It’s the combination of Corgan, Iha, and Chamberlin, augmented by the extra amped guitar sounds of Schroeder, who proved to be the member with the most staying power out of the first reunion line up, that really allows Corgan, as the maestro of the Pumpkins, to currently bring his musical vision to such powerful life in a live setting. This line up allows the much cliched (but oh so honest) “wall of sound” guitar noise that defined the sound of the Pumpkins’ first five albums to thunder through arenas as it is meant to. It’s a warm, yet deadly dreamy, metal tinged alt rock noise that sounded (and still sounds) unlike, but just as defining as, their 90s peers Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains’ sound did.
In fact, it was arguably those three bands, along with Rage Against The Machine and Nine Inch Nails, that really defined the sound of 90s rock. Luckily, with Corgan and Co. back at it, four of these five genre defining acts are still writing and playing shows. Out of them all though, it is Smashing Pumpkins that has the deepest, some might say most ponderous, catalogue. Corgan is a prolific songwriter. He’s the type of songwriter who not only writes lots of songs, but writes lots of good, even great, songs. A solid 27 of which were on full display at the Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia the night I finally saw one of my favorite bands of all time live.
“Disarm”, “Siva”, “Rocket”, and “Rhinoceros” were played, and that was just the first four songs. Incredible extended solos hallmarked the extended playing of songs like “Porcelina of The Oceans Vast” off of Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. The industrial stomp and wail of “Eye” off of David Lynch’s Lost Highway movie soundtrack, one of the few Pumpkin songs I always hated, ended up being a show highlight. “Stand Inside Your Love” from Machina, with its lover-turned-stalker theme, was even more adorable and creepy live. Oh, and its hard rock double thump ending was just as powerful live as it is in your headphones.
Never one to shy away from the mysterious, occultish, and pseudo religious, Corgan laced the night’s performance with a healthy dose of mystic symbolism, distorted Catholic iconography, and recreations of everything from Rosicrucian-like artwork to Tarot Cards which cast the lead singer/songwriter/guitarist himself in the defining poses. It all came together to create a dreamlike visual experience that was both sacred and profane simultaneously. Dichotomies that merge was a major theme of the night, and the theme had its roots in the loud/quiet dynamics that define so many Pumpkins’ songs. Corgan managed to ground these astral plane excursions though by drenching the whole thing with a misty nostalgia, conjured through clips of the band’s old 90s MTV era videos and pictures of himself as a child; both of which garnered near equal time on the stage’s massive vid screens.
For me though it was the witnessing, finally, of the live, in the flesh, performance of “Soma” off of Siamese Dream that elevated the show to personal religious experience levels. Corgan’s guitar solo in the song is a genre defining one. It gives me chills everytime I hear it, and it did again that night. Yeah, it might be a bit long winded, and laced with classical Corgan angst and melodrama, but it is THE defining Smashing Pumpkins song, and it always will be. It’s the Pumpkin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (a song which they ironically also played that night), and it’s every bit as powerful and esoterically accessible as it’s spiritual progenitor is.
The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t suck anything, except maybe the sadness out of their audience’s soul, especially of those who never got to see them live before now. Corgan proved to be a magician, a mystic, and a guitar rock god, while remaining “a little boy/so old in his shoes” with his band’s performance that night. He’s made a career of exploring some incredibly dark and mysterious emotional and psychic territory with his acid washed and lava lamp lit hard rock/psychedelic grunge. Instead of depressing his listeners though, he’s somehow managed to lift them up instead, if only by confirming their fears and letting them know that unlike his persona in “Soma,” you’re really aren’t “all by yourself.” That’s what this type of music, and the Smashing Pumpkins, does best, especially when seen live side by side with kindred, or even opposed, souls.
You can grab or stream the band’s newest song, Solara, here latest works here.
Tour dates here. Don’t miss this show.