Words by: Tim Dwenger | Images by: Lisa Siciliano
Smashing Pumpkins :: 12.05.08 :: Ogden Theatre :: Denver, CO
The press has not been kind to The Smashing Pumpkins during their recent 20th Anniversary Tour, causing even the band's new guitar player, Jeff Schroeder, to make note of the negative reviews on his blog.
"It's been difficult to write these entries amidst the somewhat unenthusiastic press (can we still call it that?) surrounding our current tour," writes Schroeder. "The negative reactions have been, for the most part, fairly consistent, and with little or no difficulty, one can find these on the Internet or in your local papers (for those of you who still like to do it the old way)."
Despite the reviews, and the fact that the band announced the show a mere 10 days before they took the stage, the show was completely sold out when the tour landed in the Mile High City and scalpers and ticketless fans lined the sidewalks near the venue.
At the stroke of nine, the house lights dimmed and the unmistakable silhouette of Billy Corgan emerged from the doorway that leads to the stage. As tall and lanky as ever, the shiny-headed frontman was clad in a calf length black skirt and a black long sleeved t-shirt emblazoned with a large white spider. As soon as the rest of the band took their places, the introductory music faded and the band launched into "Superchrist," the loud, raucous b-side from their recent single "G.L.O.W." The deafening riffs, driving drumbeat and tight presentation immediately allayed my fears of this being a disappointing show, as the band seemed "on" right out of the gate.
Aside from Corgan, the only other holdover from the Pumpkins' original days is drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Joining these two on the road for this tour are Schroeder, filling in for original guitarist James Iha, and Ginger Reyes, who is holding down the bass in place of D'arcy Wretzky. Though both played their parts well, it was easy to forget they were there as they seemed relegated to the sides of the stage and never made a move to share the spotlight with their leader.
Corgan stayed focused on the music for the first 25 minutes or more before finally acknowledging the audience as the final notes of "Gossamer" faded away. While he was soft spoken and personable, he alluded to the lack of "hit" songs when, after asking Reyes what time it was, he responded to the inevitable shouts from the crowd by mocking someone up front, "Yeah man, it's time to play a hit." The comment seemed out of place since the band had run through a scorching version of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" just a couple of songs earlier. Nonetheless, Corgan and the band launched into a slightly muddy version of "Tonight, Tonight" from Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.
|Billy Corgan :: 12.05 :: Denver, CO|
As if to say, "You got yours, now I get mine," Corgan led the band through ear splitting versions of "Tarantula" and "G.L.O.W.," two of the singles released since the band's 2006 reunion. Both songs lean heavily in the progressive metal direction that Corgan has been favoring in the past couple of years. The sound the band is honing on these songs is great, and time and again they showed their prowess at creating powerful songs, but throughout the evening I found myself wondering if Corgan had thought things out enough when he put together the live arrangements. The song structures would frequently break down in a way that seemed to create the perfect space for monster jams that, unfortunately, never arrived. Instead, the breaks would linger and notes would hang in the air unresolved. Maybe more time on the road and in the studio will help develop these sections but one thing was perfectly clear, the Smashing Pumpkins are not a jam band.
A little later in the set, Corgan pulled a complete 180, strapped on an acoustic guitar and ran through six or seven songs including "1979," which he played completely solo, and "Medellia of the Gray Skies," which he broke out for the first time ever in concert. When his band members reemerged and Corgan traded in the acoustic for an electric, the show was approaching the two-hour mark and showed no signs of slowing.
The crowd, which had all night seemed either a little awestruck, or maybe simply bored, finally came to life for the last 30 minutes or so of the set. A pathetic little mosh pit developed right in front of Corgan and the militant security forces had to squelch a potential crowd surfer but most importantly, there were finally fists being pumped in the air and heads bobbing along in unison, things strangely lacking for much of the show. Maybe it was the lack of an opener to allow people to get their blood flowing or maybe it was simply a crowd of older fans who did not know the newer material.
|Billy Corgan :: 12.05 :: Denver, CO|
Those who had jammed into The Ogden for the hits got a welcome surprise when the band delivered the powerhouse combination of "Soma," "Cherub Rock" and "Zero" near the end of the night before closing the set with a surprisingly accurate version of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for The Heart of the Sun," complete with a pair of Tympanis.
When the band emerged for the requisite encore they launched into "Ava Adore" and closed the show with an appropriately chilling version of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sounds of Silence."
Though the set was not littered with as many hits as some might expect from a 20th Anniversary show, it proved that the Smashing Pumpkins are still a viable creative entity, and though it is largely Billy Corgan's project at this point, they remain impressive. The band is playing new songs, breaking out songs for the first time live and giving the audience solidly revamped versions of the classics. They are definitely not a nostalgia act, and if anything, Corgan is going out of his way to stay out of that realm. That fact might piss off some of the reviewers out there who want to hear Gish or Siamese Dream played in their entirety but it is refreshing to see a band who cut their teeth in the late '80s acting like they never slowed down.
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