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Smashing Pumpkins celebrate 20 years. This performance makes me hope for 20 more.

Concert Review: Smashing Pumpkins – Gibson Amphitheatre, Los Angeles, CA – 12/02/08

On the first night of their two-night stand in Los Angeles, dubbed “Black Sunshine,” the show began with Jimmy Chamberlain taking to his drums and offering up a powerful solo turn known as “Roctopus.” My seat was in the section behind the pit and as I stood I could feel the sonic waves from his bass drums crashing into me.

The rest of the band came out; the touring band from If All Goes Wrong (guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes-Pooley, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton) has increased to include two horn players (trumpeter Stephen Bradley and trombonist Gabrial McNair), a violinist (Gingger Shankar), and a multi-instrument (Kris Pooley). Billy Corgan appeared in a white dress and sun-shaped headdress, looking a bit like Perry Farrell and singing The Searchers’ “Everybody Clap Your Hands,” a peppy and upbeat number. For a moment, the proceedings created an aura of a Las Vegas show, but that dissipated quickly as the band got serious about rocking the house. The pummeling force of Chamberlain’s drums anchored “Tarantula.” “G.L.O.W.” was a bass-heavy number. The first big reaction from the fans of the old stuff came when the band went back into the catalog for “Siva.” “Eye” from The Lost Highway lost its electronic sound and was given the guitar-rock treatment.

“Tonight, Tonight” showed off the entire band’s talents as they created a perfect rendition of this majestic orchestral number. Things finally slowed down on “Speed Kills,” showing a softer side, but not for long as they erupted into the powerful combo of “Superchrist”/“United States.” The bass and drum started off as a killer twosome before the entire band joined in. The light show matched the intensity of the music, almost creating too much stimulation, causing the need at moments to look away and squint. Members of the band trickled off, until it was just Chamberlain and Corgan dueling, like they have for 20 years, with them finishing off the song by revealing their inner Hendrix with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

As the band returned, they gathered close together in a small circle. Before getting going, Corgan started to talk about his knowledge of the local freeways, giving the audience a kick. He segued into joking around about Sammy Hagar. Schroeder intended to play under his conversation, but Corgan quickly called him out for playing Roth-era Van Halen. Audience members understanding an acoustic portion was coming began to sit down, causing Corgan to playfully chastise them about it because they were so old. He understood it wasn’t the ‘90s anymore. Just give up, he tells everyone. It’s so easy to do. He announced they were going to play something off Adore, and points out that this was when the fans gave up on them, giving Chamberlain a laugh and drawing a couple of hisses from the crowd. He then pointed out that the band gave up on the fans in 2000. Harriton’s keyboards took the lead on “Once Upon a Time.”

After a couple of more songs in that setting, they returned to the loud rock. As they began “Today,” Corgan had the audience sing the opening chorus. They then followed with another huge hit, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” Many people loved this one-two punch of classic Pumpkins — except Corgan. His singing of the question, “But can you fake it / For just one more show?” struck a chord because his vocals on both songs sounded forced and sloppy, as if he was pissed to play such big hits. I know there has been an artistic struggle of walking the line between doing what he wants and giving the audience what it wants , but are people expected to apologize because they love these songs (which he created) so much?

The expectations on a band are a tango between performer and audience. No one forced Corgan to reform Smashing Pumpkins. I know he said he wanted his songs back, but Roger Waters and David Gilmour each tour under their respective names and are able to pack the setlists with Pink Floyd tunes. Calling it an “Anniversary Tour” creates connotations of a celebration of the past. Besides, Corgan chose to wear his iconic Zero shirt, and while it may well have been completely subconscious on his part, when the touring band plays as a foursome, they look like the previous version of the band, with a woman on bass and an Asian-American fellow on guitar. Both are very talented musicians and are absolutely deserving of their place on stage, but surely I can’t be the only one who noticed the similarity. The bottom line is if you don’t want to play certain songs, don’t, but be prepared to deal with the effects on audience turnout.

Chamberlain’s thunderous drums returned on “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning.” Corgan incorporated rock influences into “Heavy Metal Machine” as he sang the ELP line “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends,” then offering up his own Van Halen take by playing a part of the instrumental “Eruption.” “Glass” was played at a punk-rock pace.

The set ended with a brilliant cover of Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” After all the lyrics were done, they ventured through a glorious musical universe of their mutual creation. Corgan moved onto kettledrums; Reyes-Pooley played her bass with a bow; Schroeder manipulated a theremin; McNair’s trumpet had a mute giving him a Bitches Brew sound. Then at one point, everyone in front of a microphone grabbed some device that made bird noises, bringing to mind another Floyd song, “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.” They returned to playing their instruments and Corgan began scraping his guitar against the edges of the kettledrum. The band began to trail off, finally leaving Corgan alone. He set the guitar to feed back onto itself and walked off. It was a spectacular performance and the highlight of the night. I hope it was captured in some manner because I would love to experience it again.

For an encore, the band came out to the front of the stage and sang “We Only Come Out At Night” backed by keyboards and an accordion. They closed with an instrumental of “Close to You” on kazoos, and Corgan thanked everyone for attending.

Considering their body of work, Smashing Pumpkins did a great job covering their catalog while clearly demonstrating the new material stands right alongside of it. This was a marvelous concert on its own, even though the two-night stands are connected. I can’t imagine night two in L.A. matching this one because of how high they set the bar, but I wouldn’t bet against the band’s talents after seeing this performance and would have loved a chance to find out.

Everybody Clap Your Hands
Tonight, Tonight
Speed Kills
Stand Inside Your Love
United States
Once Upon a Time
The Crux
The Rose March
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
The Beginning is the End is the Beginning
Heavy Metal Machine
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
We Only Come Out at Night
Close to You

About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Founder and Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at

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