A password will be e-mailed to you.

Are The Smashing Pumpkins classic rock now?

Here we are, 25 years to the day after Siamese Dream hit shelves, watching the (mostly) reunited band charge through a marathon three-hour set in an arena full of 30-something Millennials and aging Gen-Xers. The only kids I see walking around Royal Farms Arena are very young — probably the same age I was when I first heard “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” — their parents are my peers, explaining that these were very famous and important songs when they were in middle school.

“I can’t wait to teach my kids about Billy Corgan” seems a strange thought to have.

The “Shiny and Oh So Bright” tour most notably boasts the return of founding guitarist James Iha to the band, joining drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, long-time Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder, and of course, Corgan.* Corgan and Co. delivered all the hits, b-sides and album cuts of varying depth, and a surprising collection of covers (let me tell you, nearly 50 years and millions of guitar lessons later, white people still freak the fuck out for a paint-by-numbers rehash of the guitar solo from “Stairway to Heaven”).

Are The Smashing Pumpkins classic rock now?

“Shiny and Oh So Bright” is apt, given the 20-foot LED show going on above, around, and behind the band as they play. (I also like the irony, given the band’s very dark subject matter.) They could have also called the tour “Only REAL 90s Kids Will Understand” — the visuals were full of references to Pumpkins history: album art, music videos, Corgan’s oft-discussed childhood trauma and mental health issues, and for some fucking reason, TWO cameos by Mark McGrath as a carnival barker. It was retrospective, but unlike many legacy acts, this didn’t feel like a eulogy for the band or a cheap appeal to nostalgia. This was the alt-rock equivalent to Cher’s MGM residency — a huge, forceful performance by a band whose influence is all-too-often understated relative to their peers.

What struck me most was that the band was, by all appearances, having fun. Corgan’s famed overbearing self-seriousness and on-stage negativity apparently didn’t join the band on this tour, despite the prevalence of Corgan’s image incorporated into tarot and religious iconography towering behind the band. The visual references to Saint Billy felt sardonic, almost tongue-in-cheek — not quite funny per se, but not masturbatory or egoist.

Despite years of public acrimony between band members (this reunion tour apparently exacerbated the split between the band and original bassist D’arcy Wretzky), Iha and Corgan seemed to genuinely enjoy sharing a stage again. Given that on stage is a band of 40- and 50-somethings playing 30-year-old hits, the Bon Jovi- and Aerosmith-esque back-to-back leans and corny jokes — “Do you think you can swim in the harbor, James?” audience screams NO GOD NO WHY “Well, James, you just have to ‘Try Try Try’” — have lost their irony.

Are The Smashing Pumpkins classic rock now?

Before tonight, I’d never seen the Smashing Pumpkins live, though I’ve been a fan since my childhood friend James (RIP) introduced me to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness via a double-cassette he “borrowed” from his older sister. And I’ll be honest, at first, “seeing The Smashing Pumpkins in 2018” seemed like part of a joke left out of the Simpsons’ Lollapalooza episode. But I’m glad this was the show I saw — a career-spanning, epochal performance from a band that’s exorcised a lot of demons, and not a younger, messier, more relevant band struggling with depression, addiction, ego, and tragedy.

 

 

Words and photos by Ian Graham

X
X