|Smashing Pumpkins photo courtesy of
“I played my first show in Milwaukee in 1988,” said a coy but gracious Billy Corgan to a sold out Riverside Theater crowd last night. He then turned to guitarist Jeff Schroeder (born in 1979) and asked, “What year is it now?” After some quick math, Corgan took a minute to marvel at 23 years of making music, thanked the crowd for being a part of it, then tore back into a Smashing Pumpkins set that ran the gamut from very old to very new, without much in between.
Opening with fiery renditions of “Quasar” and “Panopticon” off upcoming album Oceania and backed by a blinding light show, bedazzled spinning propellers and enough shiny metallic streamers to make Liberace blush, the band set the tone early. This was a show that was going to be loud, fast and meant for the hardcore Pumpkins fan.
The show careened on with spot-on versions of older rockers “Starla,” “Geek U.S.A.,” “Muzzle” and “Window Paine,” covering the band’s first three studio albums and 1994’s Pisces Iscariot in short order. As the night progressed, it became clear that this mix of old and new, but always obscure, was how Corgan wanted the show to go. And in Smashing Pumpkins, what Billy wants, Billy gets.
Corgan’s on-stage relationship with the rest of the replacement Pumpkins (aka. Billy Corgan and the Kids) was anything but natural. Seemingly every song began with a Corgan guitar riff, featured a shredding Corgan solo and concluded, encore-style, with an emphatic thrust of Corgan’s guitar. Corgan, now 44 years old, is still rocking the shaved head, smug attitude and off-the-charts musicianship that made him an icon during the ’90s. And though he’s put on a few pounds over the years, there is no denying that Corgan is still one of the most awkwardly endearing powerhouse frontmen in rock.
The parade of deep cuts continued. Even when the Pumpkins touched on their blockbuster albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the tune selection of “Silverfuck,” “Soma” and “Thru the Eyes of Ruby” was meant for the passionate follower. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t pouting in my chair with arms folded waiting to hear “1979” or “Today,” but I guess I’m not a big enough Pumpkins fan to have fully appreciated what amounted to Corgan’s big middle finger to the band’s most successful years.
But that’s just how Corgan is. He has made no secrets of his contempt for the worship of the early ’90s or of his desire to always take the band in his own direction. In fact it is Corgan’s self-assuredness as an artist (along with the fact that the rest of the band can flat-out rip) that made the song selection almost irrelevant to the overall enjoyment of the evening. Add to that some late peace offerings to the more casual fans in the form of “Cherub Rock” and “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and the spontaneous crowd eruption into a “Let’s go, Brewers” chant as word spread of the Crew’s NLCS Game 4 victory, and it was safe to say everyone went home satisfied.