Photo by MATT SHAVER
The Smashing Pumpkins need no introduction, so I will be brief. By Siamese Dream (1993), arguably one of the greatest albums of the ‘90s, The Smashing Pumpkins had become an unstoppable force in the alt-rock firmament. 1995’s Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, blew fans away once again. Their fourth studio album, Adore (1998), was exactly that: a door – a door into an entirely new nightmare realm of Pumpkins, an intimate shadow dance with lead guitarist/vocalist/prophet Billy Corgan’s goth side. Their next venture, 2000’s Machina/The Machine Of God were the last recordings put out before the big breakup. Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, fully 64.5 percent of the setlist was comprised of songs from those albums. Yes, I did the math. This emphasis on the classics makes sense, with three-quarters of the original Pumpkins lineup — Corgan, guitarist James Iha, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin — reuniting for The Shiny And Oh So Bright tour.
Saturday night, the Wells Fargo Center faded to black and an enormous screen on the stage displayed a five-or-so-minute animation showcasing archival Pumpkins esoterica, including the ice cream truck from the “Today” music video, Mellon Collie, and other nostalgia to give the audience an idea of the epic trip down memory lane that awaited them. Once the introductory video was over, the two halves of the screen parted like the red sea for Corgan, who stood alone with an acoustic guitar, wearing a strange black and silver half-robe-half-suit thing. He looked like Pinhead sans pins.
Opening the set, Billy stabbed us with “Disarm,” and it was lovely. Then, the full band came out and played “Rocket,” a clever way to blast off into the long journey ahead. The fifth song of the set was a real treat: a worthy cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which was when the on-screen visuals displayed a colorful array of cosmic imagery, and a shiny, hooded silhouette of Billy struck poses and sang atop a fifteen-foot-high bridge in front of the illuminating brilliance of the venue’s monolithic screen. After “Drown” the big screen lit up with a pre-recorded speech by Corgan that was as insufferably pretentious and egotistical as you might expect. His giant face preached about The Smashing Pumpkins being “the dreams you stopped dreaming oh, so long ago. Yes do all colors mixed and marred make up the black, as do all numbers fix up to zero, zed, and null.” If you guessed that the resulting song was “Zero,” then you are correctamundo. But wait – there was an important message at the end of this speech: “So let’s blow out fading embers to boast about things near, forgotten, and buried. Tis the end, tis the end, tis the end.” It was all done in a cringy, melodramatic Shakespeare-meets-Poe manner, but it made one thing very clear: tis the end of The Smashing Pumpkins.
All night long, Jimmy Chamberlin’s drumming was abso-fucking-lutely on point; James Iha and Billy Corgan shared that divine guitar synergy they forged at the dawn of The Pumpkins in ’88; some things never change. After “Zero,” the band went Machina, playing “The Everlasting Gaze,” “Stand Inside Your Love,” and “Thirty-Three,” all in succession. Next up was “Eye,” originally recorded in 1997 for the soundtrack of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. After a song written for a dream-logic film, what would be a more fitting follow-up than the dream-rock classic, “Soma”? This was followed by another on-screen interlude, this one featuring Mark McGrath in Vaudeville attire hyping up the audience. At first, I thought it was a set break and the man on the screen was a cheesy advertisement, but I was wrong, and he soon faded away for the band to play “Blew,” which was followed by the set’s first Adore songs, “For Martha” and “To Sheila,” back to back, with Billy playing piano high atop a 25-foot podium. The two soft pieces were beautifully and appropriately paired, being the closing and opening tracks of the album, respectively.
Next came “Mayonaise,” “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” “Tonight, Tonight,” and – get this – “Stairway to Heaven”! Very well done, might I add. Then came “Cherub Rock”. Then Vaudeville McGrath came back on the screen to introduce the next song, the beloved hit, “1979,” followed by “Ava Adore”. Billy then dedicated “Try, Try, Try” to the City of Brotherly Love. He also expressed how stoked he was to be playing under Doctor J’s swag, pointing up at the famed 76ers player’s banner. He said that, growing up, Doctor J was his favorite player.
“Today,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” and “Muzzle” ended the set, but Philly wasn’t going anywhere without an encore, so The Pumpkins came back out with one of their new songs, “Solara,” during which Chamberlin had to stall with a drum solo as Billy beckoned for a mysterious off-stage figure to make an appearance. That figure remained unknown until the final song, a cover of Betty Noyes’s “Baby Mine.” Yes, another thoughtful addition to the brilliant list of songs, as Billy returned to the stage after a quick disappearance, carrying his very own ear muff’d toddler. In the middle of the song, he put little Augustus Juppiter Corgan down to stand in front of the sea of ogling fans. The little rascal made a break for it as soon as his father’s head was turned, disappearing backstage. — KYLE WEINSTEIN