Friday night in Rosemont, the Smashing Pumpkins returned to the arena concert setting with a full performance of their new album Oceania along with other Pumpkins favorites at Allstate Arena...
The last time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins perform live at Allstate Arena, it was over the course of three sold out nights in October of 1996 and the Allstate Arena was still called the Rosemont Horizon.
On that 1996 night, the death of touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin to an overdose and subsequent replacement of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin cast an eerie pall over what was otherwise a celebration of the massively successful release of the Pumpkins’ third album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
Fast forward sixteen years to October of 2012 where the Smashing Pumpkins arrived home for a “sold out” show in Rosemont. Friday night’s show celebrated the release of arguably the Pumpkins most celebrated album since 1996 not to mention the forthcoming, revamped reissue of Mellon Collie as a special five disc set.
And while “sold out” in 2012 means using only half of the Allstate Arena (and none of the upper level seating), this concert was nevertheless the band’s single biggest show since performing at the Aragon Ballroom in 2002 following the release of Machina/The Machines of God, selling out all the tickets they intended to sell (I’d guesstimate attendance at somewhere around five thousand give or take) and its hard to look at it as
anything but a success.
In a concert landscape that has seen it become increasingly difficult for artists to sell out arenas without some sort of gimmick like performing a classic album in full or reuniting an original lineup, Billy Corgan has managed to mount a nationwide tour, in arenas, with no other original band members in the fold while performing a brand new album in its entirety. Oceania was released in June and debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200 album chart (in an era where people don’t buy records) and has been praised by fans and critics alike (not always the case for the Smashing Pumpkins).
With a stage show designed in part by Sean Evans (who also had a hand in developing visuals on Roger Waters’ renowned tour of The Wall), the
set depends largely on a massive lighting show (just as it did during the Mellon Collie tour in 1996) and a huge balloon that doubles as both a globe (in recognition of the Oceania concept) as well as a video screen projecting cool, intergalactic images during the Oceania set and classic images (like portions of the “Tonight, Tonight” video) during the hits set. Aside from solid playing, these band members (Corgan included) aren’t doing a lot onstage (the newbies are clearly still getting acclimated to the stadium setting) and yet I couldn’t imagine seeing this show anywhere but an arena.
Billy Corgan has never lacked ambition and has never been afraid to try new things, whatever feathers that may rankle along the way. It’s strange to think of the Smashing Pumpkins as sort of the elder statesmen of alternative music but by touring a relevant new album that’s exactly what they’ve become. Whether it works or not, the idea of playing a brand new album in its entirety to start a show is never going to initially be a popular decision with most old-school fans (certainly not in the way that playing Siamese Dream would be). Corgan is clearly confident in the new material and deservedly so.
“Quasar” opened the show from Oceania. No words from the band as they took the stage, just hard rock guitar riffs bordering at times on metal courtesy not of Billy Corgan but of guitarist Jeff Schroeder. The overpowering guitars paired nicely alongside the relentless pounding of Mike Byrne on drums. For maybe the first time that I can remember,Corgan seems comfortable with a Smashing Pumpkins lineup, allowing other members to take centerstage. It was a vibe that I started to get after seeing the band last October at the Riv and once again, Corgan put the spotlight on his bandmates immediately Friday. Schroeder fired off his take on Eddie Van Halen's "Eruption" and it was off to "Panopticon" with not a moment's hesitation. James Iha never had moments like this and anyone pining for lineups gone by probably stopped right there.
“The Celestials” is one of my favorite songs of this year and it too sounded outstanding in the live setting Friday night but it was “The Pinwheels” that highlighted the Oceania set for me. On album it’s based initially on acoustic guitar but Saturday night it was built upon the dueling guitar work of Corgan and Schroeder and made for an unlikely choice as the group’s most arena-ready anthem since the mid-nineties. Bassist Nicole Fiorentino moved gracefully between keyboard, bass and backing vocals and made the track a standout.
Fans anxious for a dose of those halcyon mid-nineties days were rewarded for their loyalty. The rest of the stage lights kicked on and the band was drenched in the pink and blue glow familiar to many as the colors of each of Mellon Collie’s two discs as “X.Y.U.” began. Corgan screamed amidst a raucous, guitar induced mayhem to close out the Mellon Collie deep cut.
As mentioned earlier, the Smashing Pumpkins are releasing a special FIVE DISC version of Mellon Collie this December and as such there was no shortage of material performed from it. “Tonight, Tonight,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” and “Zero” joined the aforementioned “X.Y.U.”
One of my favorite moments of the hits portion of the show was “Ava Adore” where verses were built upon Fiorentino’s resounding bass with the refrain powered by the metal sharp riffs and solos of Corgan and Schroeder on a drawn out version of the song.
“How many old school Smashing Pumpkins fans do we have? It’s thanks to you I’m still here. And thank you new fans for coming” said Corgan. In 2012, Billy Corgan seems less wrestling heel and more down to earth than he’s ever been. He was as affable and engaging as I’ve seen him.
It’s a treat to watch an artist care enough to try and recapture a legacy not by pandering but by using a great back catalog to place a spotlight on strong new music for a whole new generation to find. It’s something I marveled at after seeing Bob Mould at Metro in September and it seems to be a concept Billy Corgan grasps too. It just seems to actually work so seldomly and it truly feels like Corgan is building something both interesting
and vital. “Let me tell ya, I didn’t f---ing follow anyone… And we’re still kickin’ motherf---ers outta the way!” he said Friday.
“My name is Billy. You can call me William. I’m gonna go with William real soon. Billy is getting kind of juvenile. My name is William Patrick Corgan.” There’s something to be said for growing old gracefully and Saturday night at Allstate Arena, the Smashing Pumpkins showed a surprising capability to do just that.
The Smashing Pumpkins - Live at Allstate Arena, Friday 10/19/12 - Setlist
3. The Celestials
4. Violet Rays
5. My Love is Winter
6. One Diamond, One Heart
9. Pale Horse
10. The Chimera
14. Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
17. Tonight, Tonight
18. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
19. A Song For A Son
21. Cherub Rock
22. Ava Adore
Total Running Time: 150 minutes