Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Smashing Pumpkins at the Chicago Theatre

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Just shy of eight years after what he said was the band's last show ever at Metro in December 2000, Billy Corgan finally brought the Smashing Pumpkins back home to Chicago Tuesday, marking the return of a key band of the alternative era and one of the best-selling groups this city has produced.

Night one at the Chicago Theatre was billed as "Black Sunshine," while Wednesday's return engagement is labeled "White Crosses." (Friday at the Auditorium Theatre is "Black Sunshine" again, while Saturday there is "White Crosses." All four shows sold out.)

After the opening night, I still don't have any idea what "Black Sunshine" means. But like many devoted fans, this veteran chronicler of the Great Pumpkin long ago gave up trying to discern the now 41-year-old singer and songwriter's motives, methodology or psychological well-being.

The bigger question remains: Since this new group contains only Jimmy Chamberlin from the original chart-toppers, with the current lineup completed by proficient but unexceptional hired hands Ginger Reyes, Jeff Schroeder and Lisa Harriton on bass, second guitar and keyboards, augmented by occasional violin and horns--how does it qualify as the Smashing Pumpkins?

In the years between Pumpkins Mach I and Pumpkins Mach II, we got a soulful solo acoustic Corgan, a spiritual Zwan Corgan and an electro-glam solo Corgan. And he seemed happier and more well-balanced in all those incarnations. Though Corgan wasn't as surly at home as he's reportedly been at other tour stops, the Elk Grove Village native wasn't particularly content either, at one point baiting the crowd and daring it to berate him.

When Corgan calls a project "the Smashing Pumpkins," it partly signals a return to his bombastic, grandiose style of rock. But more importantly, it seems to indicate a certain mindset, one best described as rat-in-a-cage, life's-a-bummer-when-you're-a-hummer "miserable"--or at least driven to the point of insanity.

As the bald wonder put it in the new DVD "If All Goes Wrong," a documentary chronicling the early days of this reunion: "My tendency is to push everything to its absolute breaking point."

And push Corgan did. After an opening drum solo by Chamberlin, one of several, the band's leader took the stage adorned as a gothic sun god to deliver the bubblegum chant "Everybody Clap Your Hands," proclaiming, "Rock 'n' roll, people, this is rock 'n' roll!"

Things only got sillier and more excessive from there. No rhythm was busy enough, no vocal was tortured enough, no guitar solo was long or furious enough and there was no such thing as too many crescendos. In other words, yeah, it was a lot like the Pumpkins of old. Only they had more good melodies back in the day.

As at all the "Black Sunshine" shows, the 2 1/2-hour set list was a mix of new material and much-loved '90s hits, heavier on the former than the latter, even though this was billed as a "20th Anniversary Tour." Corgan could be applauded for refusing to live in the past. But the sad truth was that with too few exceptions--"Tarantula" from "Zeitgeist" (2007) and the new video-game single "G.L.O.W."--the new material didn't measure up to old songs such as "Tonight, Tonight," "Today" or "Heavy Metal Machine."

The nadir was a ridiculously jammed-out "United States," as indulgent an example of pointless wankery as anyone's endured since "Tales from Topographic Oceans."

On the bright side, the mid-evening acoustic interlude was lovely, and for progressive rock done right, you had to love the cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," which closed the set proper.

Wait, could that be what he meant by "Black Sunshine"? To quote one of Corgan's old alt peers, oh well, whatever, never mind.

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20 Comments

Sounds like you had most of this review written before even getting to the show. It's strange that you applauded the parts of the shows the other fed-up journalists have mentioned as the sorry parts of the show. (heavy metal machine; set the controls). You didn't even mention that the set was made up of mostly rarities and fan favorites from the 90's. I expected nothing less (or more, perhaps), mr. derogatis. you've been doing this too long. we get it. the pumpkins will never be as good as they were, so why try to keep writing music?

Just like your review of my bloody valentine, they'll never be as good as they were in the 90's... why try?

Its Lisa "Harriton".

But other than that, great review. very fair. I'm actually impressed to hear you compliment the Floyd cover. Barely anyone has and I think its txtbook Pumpkins. Glad to see you finally come around and in a way made your peace with this band, Jim. They deserve it, and in some twisted way, you're all in it together in terms of the chicago music scene.

best part? this was only the first half! ;-) many fans contend night 2 is even better. rock on.

Jim,
We were out for a smoke and saw you leave during the Pink Floyd cover. It's a shame (or blessing for you) that you didn't stay to see and hear what was the true debacle of an ending. A kazoo rendition of "Everything is Beautiful" by everyone that was on the stage for the evening. If that wasn't bad enough, there was more crowd baiting by Corgan, including the the line that the audience reminded him of an ex-girlfriend, one that took all of his money. In reality, it's the people of Chicago that were taken of their money tonight. I've been there for all of the 20 years that this guy spoke of - Lounge Ax, Metro, Lollapalooza - most good, some great, some bad. Nothing was as repulsive as tonight was. We love you Billy Corgan! Now, just shut up and rock!

It will be interesting to see what the rest of the shows are going to be like. My gut is telling me this will be like a bad accident. You don't want to look, but...

DeRo --- It's obvious to bailed early. Do your job man!

That show was pathetic. It is Billy’s world and everyone else is living in it. However, after that show last night, the amount of people living in it will significantly dwindle. If you have tickets for tonight, sell them to some poor self-defeating soul.

Billy Corgan needs to get over himself. As a Pumkins fan for 20 years last night was the biggest display of self indulgence I have ever witnessed. He is such a narcissist, it's a wonder he can find anyone to tour with him.
Why didn't he just masterbate on stage? Same gratification for him, and at least the audience would have known it would be over sooner than later.

I found my patience being tested toward the last third of the show. It definitely wasn't what I expected but it did produce a reaction from me; that alone was worth it. It truly was an art performance not just a rock concert. I was amused.

It was exactly as I expected it to be.
If you wanted 1991-1996 pumpkins, you were never going to get that anyway....and why would you?

It was exactly as I expected it to be.
If you wanted 1991-1996 pumpkins, you were never going to get that anyway....and why would you?

Wow Coragan said "after 20 years we still dont know wtf you want"... well let me give you a hint Billy you have 3 kinds of fans. Maybe you can consider ALL of them before going on tour again. You have:

1) the bread and butter fan: want to hear thier music video songs ie)Today and Bullet with Butterfly wings

2) the fan that listened to the whole album and likes more than the raido hits

3) the freaks who would be happy to watch you take a dump on stage just because it was you.

With regards to the show I agree with andrea Coragan "jumped the shark" at the fans expense. The show was all about HIM - not the fans. With the blue man group rediditon (bald guy on two giant conga drums) to the extened 15 min solos in United States and Heavy Metal machine. Hey Billy think about fan #1 and #2, not just the freaks like you and maybe weigh the set list more evenly. If you still want to weird out for two friking hours and speed through your hits.. maybe you could just play longer instead.. but i guess you would feel like the fans arent paying enough money to see that...aw the infinte sadness continues for Coragan. This isnt the Pumpkins this is Coragan using the Pumpkin name to trick people into watchnig the Coragan experience.

I was the guy that grabbed the mic...and I thought it was a joke too...300 dollars for that geez...and I was warned ahead of time by a buddy...Corgan loves himself and he is totally spent and empty after 20 years on tour...I bet he figured he would be done by now with touring but since record sales no longer exist they have to make money on the road and you can clearly tell its wearing on him...He should just cancel the rest of the tour and call it a career....PATHETIC.

As a long time Pumpkins fan I knew what to expect when I paid the price for admission. I was at different times during the night surprised by some of the jammed out material, delighted by new renditions of a few old favorites and insulted by an egomaniacal lead singer with no apparent ability to self edit.

After an absence that is longer than most fans' attention spans will indulge, Billy Corgan had the chance to return triumphantly to his home town and acknowledge the dedication of his thousands of fans. Instead, he chose to stupefy and insult his audience with over-the-top antics and outright derision.

The new Pumpkins album may be their best ever, whether the new lineup should technically be called the Pumpkins or not. They may hone their live performances and craftily blend new and old materials together along with the new (and welcome to me) propensity to stretch their songs into jams. They may go on another 20 years, as Corgan suggested last night. If they do, they'll be doing it without me.

I was at the show last night, and I am going again tonight. I thought that the show was amazing, but I could tell that a lot of people in the crowd were looking for a "Greatest Hits" concert, and were disappointed when the show didn't move in that direction. In all fairness, I understand that expectation, but I knew that since no songs from last night's show would be repeated during tonight's show, the band simply could not put on a hit parade. I think that you had two conflicting fan bases on hand, most likely due to the long overdue homecoming and 20th anniversary nostalgia. On one hand, you have people like me who have every Pumpkins album and most b-sides in his music collection, and would love nothing more than a show full of obscure rarities. On the other hand, you have people who liked the band in the nineties and probably own a couple of albums, and would love to hear all of the big hits played live. Neither group is better than the other, but satisfying both groups of fans is a tall task. Anyway, if people were taunting the band, the best thing that Billy could do is just ignore it and keep playing music.

I have waited years to see corgan...I spent $1000 to see the show, myself, my son and grandson (still in the belly) and we were all so excited since my son an I independently considered smashing pumpkins to be our favorite band. I thought the review was a bit nice for how we all felt when we left. I felt mocked by corgan. I am sorry that we just don't "get it" (alt music) anymore, sorry I got older and wanted to rekindle a bit of good memories of the past. I am open to the new music but then it becomes an evaluation and it takes time for that music to tie into your life to enjoy and create new memories. Maybe that would have happened but instead as I evaluated- corgan insulted. I have never seen anything so mean spirited by a performer. How will I ever enjoy his old music with how shattered I felt from last night and because of this if you are truly a fan and love his music you may not want to go to the show!!! I wish I had never gone... If this is a P.R. stunt I hope it backfires. Corgan felt like an ex of mine who used me and took my money!

Probably one of the worst concerts I have ever been to in my life. Never been to a show where the lead singer basically has a melt down and starts talking trash to the crowd. I mean come on…even if you are playing stuff that the majority of the crowd does not want to hear, at least in the end play something. Don’t just ridicule people and talk trash to the people that spent their money to see you. I am not a huge fan of the new album, but either way he didnt even play anything at the end. If you want to go into a new direction then do it, but play music, dont just rant and complain on stage.

I wouldn’t go to another smashing pumpkins show, even if someone gave me a free ticket. I would rather give my money to a homeless drug addict than give my money to Billy Corgan.

Personally, I had an amazing time last night. I've been a fan for 15 years now and have a lot of pumpkin shows under my belt. The mix of songs, the sound and atmosphere made for a very enjoyable evening for me. For those with such negative comments about the show, I find it hilarious that some of you are getting so offended or insulted by Billy's interactions with the crowd. Come on people this was OPENING night of 4 concerts and all i saw was a bunch of people standing around hardly into it at all. Many of the songs in the set list were heavier, rockin' songs and it killed me to see the small percentage of people getting into it - even during the older, "classic" 90s songs. Its no wonder Billy makes comments such as- we can never make you happy or we don't know what the F&*$% you want from us. He played old and new and through in a couple of cover tunes. What more do you want?!? I guess after 8 years I expected a more enthusiastic crowd reaction for the first night. Billy was in a good mood last night even during his controversial comments. When he's really pissed off he doesn't joke around so much. I think he was just feeding off the negative vibes/attitudes from the crowd and you are taking it way too seriously. What is scary to me is how people get offended over stupid stuff like this and let that distract them from the great music that was played!

I agree with your observations lily on the crowd. I thought the reason was just the opposite of yours...I thought the negative vibes were coming from the stage out to the crowd. They all looked unhappy and bored (except the horns) and I was in the front row in front of the bassist and I am really sensitive to vibes....there just was hardly a spark. The bassist eyeball to eyeball looked almost dead, miserable- there just wasn't life there. very robotic overall. It was sad and that projected to the crowd who isn't easily fooled by bad vibes. Corgan needs to make himself happy and take responsibility for the crowds actions. The crowds certainly started out receptive...we are NOT to blame and we wouldn't spend the money if we weren't in to him in the first place . It became more and more uncomfortable watching the fizzle on stage and then looking behind me and seeing people sitting down....I have never seen anything like it and I know where it starts...also I am not easily offended but was offended because corgan went too far.

I have been a Pumpkins fan for a long time and still am, but I was VERY sorely disappointed by this show. I had waited years to see Corgan and it was the single worst concert I have ever been to. No closing song, nothing. Nothing to leave us with a positive image of the band or anything to make us feel good about dropping way too much money on a ticket. The encore was 'We Only Come Out At Night' and a cheap rendition of 'Everything Is Beautiful' both half-assedly played with kazoos, which was nauseating in itself. It was upsetting, to say the least, that during the last portion of the show, Corgan spent his time on stage complaining about his fans and mocking us, saying we don't understand alternative rock, nothing he does will please us, and we should just hurry out to the parking lot and get a head start because the show ends here. I wish I had saved all the money I spent on the tickets and kept the image of this band (which I had admired and appreciated for so long) from being tarnished by this terrible memory.

cait, I feel exactly like you, well said.

Re: CLS' post, two up or so.

I can tell you flat out that your take on the vibe is correct. I was on this tour a while back and the "band", Ginger and Jeff specifically, are not real happy and havn't been for a long, long time. Lisa's a bit able to bounce it off. Being around Corgan is not a lot of fun..he's a pain in the ass, major. Even when he's being nice it's very calculated. Narcicist doesn't really cover it..toss in some megalomania, loneliness, etc and you start to understand a bitter person. Think about it...of all of the people in the incarnations of Billy's various musical presentations, there is only one person who who he still has with him..Jimmy. Jimmy's a drummer, he ain't gonna sell a whole lot of records on his own and he won't fill big venues...So, this is his best paying gig. He knows that and he's an ex-junkie. Junkies know how to play things. I've been around more than a few in my years working on stage crews and they understand how to get what they need and they never lose this skill. If Jimmy had a bigger stack of cash he'd have probably left Billy in the dust by now..one guy left.. As for the shows..I've seen quite a few of them and they just come off as mechanical and heartless. The band was taught the music and they play it. It's nothing like the old Pumpkins vibe which was vey much Rock and Roll...disfunction..energy that was derived from that fact, the attack on the music etc...much more edgy and heartfelt, less precise but all the better for it, period. I will always enjoy watching Jimmy Chamberlain and that's about the only thing that kept my interest. The guys got serious skills behind a drum kit, supple wrists and technically amazing. Billy's a sad character. Part of me feels sorry for him, the other part thinks he needs to be taken out to the woodshed for a solid ass kicking.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on November 18, 2008 10:12 PM.

Jim DeRo's partial Pumpkins primer was the previous entry in this blog.

Some thoughts on Corgan's show-closing melt-down is the next entry in this blog.

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