On a steamy St. Paul evening in July 1994 (just down the road from where the Xcel Energy Center would open six years later), I saw my first Smashing Pumpkins show. They were headlining that year’s Lollapalooza tour, with a lineup that included the Beastie Boys, the Breeders, and a Tribe Called Quest, among others. The band appeared on stage, bathed in a purple hue, accompanied by the delicate opening strains of “Soma.” From there, they plowed through a collection of songs from their first two albums, closing with encores of “Mayonaise” and “Silverf**k.” I knew it was a show I’d never forget and couldn’t wait to see them again.
Turns out it would be 24 years until I would have another chance to see them live, but it was well worth the wait.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of their landmark album Siamese Dream (as well as the 30th anniversary of the band’s formation), Smashing Pumpkins treated some 10,000 fans to a three-plus-hour marathon set at the X on Sunday night, as part of their “Shiny and Oh So Bright” tour. It was a show heavy on nostalgia, focusing on songs from their first five albums (including seven each from Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness).
Following an opening set by Canadian synth-rockers Metric, Billy Corgan made his dramatic entrance around 8:15, emerging from behind two large panels, strapped with an acoustic guitar and wearing a cape. He acknowledged the crowd by slowly prowling the stage, looking like an odd mix of medieval monk, rock god, and futuristic wizard. The panels then closed and provided a screen for a slideshow of photos from Corgan’s childhood as he performed “Disarm” (“I used to be a little boy…”).
Following the first song, Corgan was joined on stage by the rest of his entourage: original guitarist James Iha and original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, as well as guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Jack Bates, and Katie Cole, who performed on multiple instruments and provided backing vocals throughout the night. Once everyone was in place, the familiar Big-Muff-powered guitar tone kicked in and the crowd roared approvingly in reaction to the opening riff of “Rocket.”
From there, the band hammered through their impressive 31-song setlist with heavy hitters like “Cherub Rock,” “1979,” “Today,” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.” A personal highlight for me was their gorgeous rendition of “Mayonaise,” which effectively demonstrated the Pumpkins-patented dynamic range of delicate quiet to teeth-rattling loud.
Even though the original members (sans famously absent bassist D’arcy Wretzky) hadn’t played together in 18 years, they clearly hadn’t missed a step. The chemistry among Corgan, Iha, and Chamberlain is undeniable — at least musical chemistry (seeing them on stage together, one wonders if they actually enjoy each other’s company). They sounded incredible throughout the night, and the addition of Bates, Cole, and Schroeder only enhanced that sound. Schroeder, in particular, was a welcome addition to the group, providing the opportunity for guitar solos in triplicate. (Who doesn’t like that?)
Speaking of sound, the crew should be commended for a great mix over the course of the evening. The Xcel seems to have a much better overall acoustic than other local large venues, and Sunday night’s was one of the best-sounding concerts I’ve heard there.
Corgan and co. sprinkled in a few covers over the course of the evening, including the somewhat bold choice to cover Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (bold in that you don’t often hear that song covered unless you show up at a Guitar Center on a Saturday afternoon). It was true to the original, yet with just enough Pumpkin spice to make it fresh and remind you that – Wayne’s World jokes aside – there’s a reason it’s such a well-known, well-respected song.
While there were no Prince covers, Corgan did take a minute to tell a quick story about meeting the late Minnesota icon, who shared with Corgan that he “really liked ‘1979.’” He also joked that Prince used to sit in on Pumpkins shows at the 7th St Entry, but “no one was there to see it.”
For the encore, the band shared their new single, “Solara” – the first new track featuring three-quarters of the original group in 18 years. It’s a promising sign of new music to come, and will be part of an upcoming album release produced by the legendary Rick Rubin. The evening closed with an odd, yet sweetly sentimental cover of “Baby Mine” from the Disney film Dumbo.
Corgan barely addressed the crowd throughout the night, instead deferring to Iha for that duty. As the show was winding down, though, Corgan told the audience, “All that ‘rock is dead’ stuff that I started back in the late 90s – I mean, we were wrong, right? Rock ain’t dead, here we are…”
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
The Everlasting Gaze
Stand Inside Your Love
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover)
Try, Try, Try
The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)