Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Show review: Smashing Pumpkins at Auditorium Theatre, December 8, 2008

Corgan performing last month. Photo by Jeff Loder.

Rewind two weeks: I walk up to the front doors of the Auditorium Theatre to find the night's Smashing Pumpkins show - the fourth and final in a series of long-awaited Chicago gigs - has been postponed until December 8 because of illness.

Bummer. I was anxious to see how the show would turn out, after all the controversy it had sparked up to that point. Reports described everything from verbal spats between Corgan and audience members, on-stage tirades and 20-minute-long jam sessions.

Fast-forward to last night: The Pumpkins make up the show, and there are no fights or tirades to be heard. There is, however, a 20-minute jam session. And something sort of tribal that went on a really long time. And a nearly unrecognizable, thrash-like cover of a Simon and Garfunkel song.

Now, I don't claim to be the biggest Smashing Pumpkins fan in the world. I recognize the band's importance to both Chicago and rock music in general, and like millions of others, grew up with their music. That said, I went into the show knowing full well that I probably wasn't a big enough fan to get excited about a 20-minute jam session from the band.

Genuinely bizarre moments aside, a number of factors made the show enjoyable: Corgan was in high spirits, the band sounded great, the audience was receptive and there was plenty material included to satiate any level of fan, from casual to obsessive.

The band played the same "White Crosses" setlist (the shows were divided into either "Black Sunshine" or "White Crosses," with each featuring different songs) planned for the originally scheduled show, and everything started out great. Corgan crept onto the stage looking ready to celebrate Halloween in December, clad in an alterna-goth skirt-shirt combo, carrying a glowing trick-or-treat jack o' lantern filled with glitter confetti. The setlist began with "Ava Adore," "Cupid de Locke" and "1979," three songs that would no doubt please hardcore and casual fans alike. The first half of the show continued with a mixture of hits, lesser-known tracks and acoustic cuts, all welcome parts of the repertoire.

Keeping in step with most other shows on the tour, though, things went off-kilter during the second half, which included the lengthy instrumental jam session, the equally-long tribal freak-out (during which Corgan prowled the stage with a top hat and tambourine, occasionally stopping at the microphone to shout out, "Whatever will be will be again!,") and a bombastic cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." Anyone completely oblivious to recaps of performances on the tour, or Corgan's personality and habits, might have been shocked. Fortunately, most seemed to know it was coming, and nobody seemed too upset about it this time.

Interestingly enough, Sunday night the band played an afterthought show at The Aragon Ballroom that featured a straightforward, greatest hits-type setlist. Say what you will, Pumpkins fanatics, but despite all of Monday nights high points, I can't help but wish I'd seen that show instead. It's not that I want to hear a greatest hits show from the band, but would anyone really deny that those classic songs beat guitar noodling, hands down?

In an interview with Corgan after the show by Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, the front man made his vision for the Smashing Pumpkins of today clear:

"We didn’t come back for the cash, we came back to be great again. It made me mad that people thought we’re done, that we don’t have a future. Get out. We don’t want you. We’ve never been that band. That happy band. We picked up where we left off. We’re not the retirement band playing our old hits."

Did the 20th anniversary Pumpkins shows represent greatness? That's up for debate. One thing's for sure, though: Corgan can still create a stir.


  1. For a casual fan, I thought the show rocked: wicked dual guitar leads, intense dynamics, and a feeling of better understanding the artist(s). The 20 minute jam might have been replaced by more "classic" Pumpkins tunes, yet I found the psychedelic, heavy metal wall of sound exhilarating.

  2. I thought the show was great. I am not a hard core fan, but the pumpkins is one of my husbands favorite bands and he was very happy with show. Especially after reading the bad reviews of previous shows. I think everyone has been overly critical. I will say that I enjoyed the first half of the show more so than the second half, but that's only because it was little to "heavy" for my taste. But other than that I thought it was very entertaining! Good job Billy!

  3. I too am a casual fan and sat Pit at the Dec 8 show. After reading all the previous stir over the earlier 4 shows, I really didn't expect much. I left the show elated over what I saw... Billy was solid, the band very tight, and Cham, the master drummer. It was old and new SP and I couldn't expect different.