Though Billy Corgan has almost always been eager to talk in the past--in fact, many times, it was hard to shut him up--the always enigmatic leader of the Smashing Pumpkins has declined numerous invitations to speak to the Sun-Times dating to well before the release of "Zeitgeist" in July 2007.
What, then, can we expect from the band's four sold-out homecoming shows next week? Corgan offered some cryptic clues, as well as some insight into his feelings about his old bandmates, in a recent posting on his blog. He wrote:
"If anyone comes to this tour expecting a hand-holding, teary-eyed tribute to a dead band, forget it. That is long gone. Outside of nine shows in 1999, that band hasn't existed whole since 1996.
"Let me take this pause then to say a few things about our former bandmates...
"We absolutely, without reservation, honor James and D'arcy. There is no qualification to that statement. We honor them IN FULL. They were there, then. And together we did some incredible things. But let me go one step further. When Jimmy and I decided to move forward and begin again with SP we very openly addressed the question of James and D'arcy returning. We spoke honestly with each other about our feelings and personal reservations, and decided together that the door was open to them to return. Because it was the right thing to do. Honestly though it wasn't surprising to us that they didn't want to return, because that was consistent with their general position to date (and continues to be I might add), which is they see the band as something that they got away from for their own reasons. There were no conditions ever put on a return. They simply didn't even want the conversation with us.
"I can now say definitively that they aren't ever coming back. Period. There is no maybe. If the door was once open to at least have the conversation and consider the possibility, it is now closed. For good. We have moved on. We love them, and we wish them well."
Alrighty, then. But as for moving on, typical set lists from the band's alternating "Black Sunshine" and "White Crosses" theme nights indicate that there's still an awful lot of '90s in the Smashing Pumpkins circa 2008.
In Toronto on Nov. 3, the "Black Sunshine" set list consisted of "Roctopus," "Everybody Clap Your Hands," "Tarantula," the new single "G.L.O.W.," "Siva," "Eye," "Mayonaise" [CQ], "Tonight, Tonight," "Speed Kills," "Transformer," "Superchrist, "United States," "Once Upon A Time," "The Crux," "The Rose March," "Today," "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning," "Heavy Metal Machine," "Glass Theme," a cover of Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun," "We Only Come Out at Night" and "Everything is Beautiful."
The following night at the same venue, the "White Crosses" show included "Ave Adore," "Cupid de Locke," "1979, "99 Floors," "Owata," "Sunkissed," "Soma," "Cherub Rock," "Zero," "Bodies," "Crestfallen," "I of the Mourning," "A Song for a Son," a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," "Disarm," "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness," "Galapogos" [CQ], "Gossamer," "As Rome Burns," "The Sounds of Silence," "The March Hare," "Age of Innocence," "That's the Way (My Love Is)" and "I Am One Part II."
Corgan reportedly is battling a fair amount of audience hostility and frustration at other stops on this tour--"Not Rage Against the Machine fans at Lolla hostility but 'Why the f--- aren't they playing "Cherub Rock"!!!! hostility,'" as one correspondent wrote me. "People yelling, people leaving, lotta frustration that they are playing a lot of new material and some covers at what it billed to be a 20th anniversary show. Also a lot of frustration that they are playing extended jams of certain songs or completely different versions of those songs. Also, digging out really rare stuff that only diehards will know (i.e. the b-side "I Am One pt. 2" from 1989 that has never been played live before until this tour). That, and Corgan openly mocking the hostility with his own passive aggressive sarcasm while singing 'Everything is Beautiful (in its own way)' with the other band members playing kazoos."
Actually, if there has been one aspect of the Pumpkins that's been predictable through every incarnation of their career, it's been their sheer unpredictability.
What can we expect from next week's shows? The ever-mercurial Corgan probably isn't even sure himself.
The Smashing Pumpkins
7:30 p.m. Tuesday ("Black Sunshine") and Wednesday ("White Crosses")
The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.
7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21 ("Black Sunshine") and Saturday, Nov. 22 ("White Crosses")
The Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway
All shows are sold-out