In the first four years of their existence (1988-1992), the Smashing Pumpkins weren't known for epic shows. Yes, they rocked hard and were good enough to open for Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Nirvana and even Guns 'N' Roses, but lack of onstage chemistry and offstage problems almost spelled the end of the band before their breakthrough album Siamese Dream came out.
But from 1993 until 2000, as their songs became more memorable and well-known, so did their shows. Ask anyone who saw them in their hey day or bought the classic video/DVD Vieuphoria (1994), which was a must-have for any true Pumpkins fan.
Fast-forward to 2007, seven years after mastermind Billy Corgan broke up the band and you'll find this new version of the Pumpkins to be anything but a letdown; they are as tight as ever, even with three new members for this year's tour.
The Pumpkins returned to the Orpheum Theater in Boston for the first time in more than nine years and did an unprecedented three-night stand (October 13, 15, and 16). I was lucky enough to attend the latter two shows, and this review will be based on the October 15 show, which in my opinion was the best of the three.
Things got off to a rapturous start when opening instrumental rockers Explosions In The Sky took the stage at around 7:30 p.m. Their loud-quiet-loud formula was reminiscent of Mogwai, and the half-hour or so set they played won over a good chunk of the audience. The people in front of me even gave the band a standing ovation once they finished around 8:05 p.m.
Afterward, while waiting in line for an SP shirt, it was apparent that many in the audience this night are in their 20s and 30s, with some older folks mixed in as well.
Two old high school friends – in their mid-20s now – ran into me and said they never saw the Pumpkins back in the day and were really excited about this night. And so it occurred to me that Corgan and company had a tough job to do: win over the old fans while attracting new ones. It was a packed house at the Orpheum, so whatever the mix of old and new fans was didn't really matter. They were all here and ready to rock.
At around 8:50 p.m., original Pumpkins Corgan and Chamberlin took the stage behind their respective instruments (guitar, drums), while new members Lisa Harriton (keys/backup vocals), Jeff Schroeder (guitar/backup vocals) and Ginger Reyes (bass/backup vocals) took their places as well.
As a long-time Pumpkin fan myself, it was clear by the opening riffs of the first song that all in attendance were in for a special night. The show began with "Where Boys Fear To Tread," a simple, steady yet rather obscure hard rocker from the band's platinum double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness that hadn't been performed live in almost ten years. Next was "Hummer," a long-time fan favorite from one of the most beloved albums of the 1990s, Siamese Dream. Good to the last note, it felt like 1993 all over again.
"Bring The Light," one of the highlights from the Pumpkins' new album Zeitgeist allowed Schroeder to show off his guitar chops and shred along with Corgan during the solo section. Its extended ending, complete with another guitar solo from Billy and Harriton's warm synths underneath made the song even better than the album version. In fact, I wish a version like this made the album instead of the chorus of Corgan voices that ends the studio recording.
Speaking of light, the triangle-based, multi-colored lights that shone above the band could have fooled you into thinking Pink Floyd was playing below. It was different, and very cool to watch as the night went on.
"Neverlost," another new one and "Lucky 13 (from the Internet-only <i>Machina II</i> album) got respectable applause, and then it was Harriton's turn in the spotlight, as she played a pretty and short piano intro to "Tonight, Tonight," one of the band's biggest hits and videos.
Later, Corgan took a minute to tell us he spent some time at Boston Common earlier in the day and ran into some SP fans from Quebec – fans that didn't get a chance to see SP "in the old days" but came to the show tonight.
The crowd initially booed when he said they were from Quebec, at which point the Chicago native shot back (pardon the pun) that unlike America, at least in Quebec he knows he is less likely to be vulnerable to gun violence. But the boos turned to cheers when Corgan thanked the fans for making the trek to tonight's show.
In perhaps the coolest moment of the show and a moment I'll never forget, Jimmy Chamberlin came out from behind his enormous drum kit and all alone with Corgan played tambourine while the crowd clapped along to a perfect rendition of the Adore favorite, "Perfect."
Like many fans of a great band, I live for the times when a band plays a song or two so rare that your friends (who weren't there) are envious of your luck and "I was there when they played…" moments. This was such a time.
The moonlit magic of the bass-heavy "1979" (CD single) b-side "Set The Ray To Jerry," a dark and dreamy, longing-for-love song that rarely gets played live was a great treat for die-hard Pumpkins fans. In fact, this being Halloween season, the Pumpkins gave this audience more rare treats on this night than anyone could've anticipated, along with plenty of tricks courtesy of that bright, colorful and triangle-shaped light show above the stage that complimented every song.
Speaking of "1979," Corgan performed it during a second encore with just a mic and an acoustic guitar, and realizing the audience was into every note and word, stopped playing to let them sing out the last chorus. Talk about striking a chord with an audience, Corgan not only realized he had done so, but made the most of it as well.
Just a few songs earlier, Corgan had thanked the fans for coming and dedicated "That's The Way (My Love Is)" to them, especially to those of us who came to this show instead of watching the Red Sox-Indians playoff game that night.
By the time Corgan finished "1979," the Pumpkins had given you more than your money's worth – 22 songs! With tracks like "Zero," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," "Today," "Thirty-Three" and newer radio singles "Tarantula" and "That's The Way" already played and a few more to come, you begin to realize how strong the group and in particular Corgan's catalog of songs are after all these years. [Keep in mind that though the band played "Drown" and "Starla," they did not even play a single song from their first album Gish, which was one of SPIN's top 10 albums of 1991] I'd put them up there with any of the top alternative groups of the day or yesteryear.
The last of the Pumpkins' special treats came right after "1979," when they played another song from Machina II, "Let Me Give The World To You." Many in the Pumpkin fandom remain puzzled to this day as to why this track never made either Adore or Machina I. It sounded like a hit then and sounds even better now, like a cross between "1979" and "Cherub Rock," the latter of which was the night's last and 24th song during a third encore.
From "Today" to "Starla" to "STRTJ" to "Let Me Give The World to You," it was almost like seeing one of your favorite Pumpkins mix CDs played live before your very eyes. It wasn't a dream, it was very real and of all the Pumpkins shows I've been to over the years, this one was the best, by far.
* Where Boys Fear to Tread
* Bring the Light
* Lucky 13
* Tonight, Tonight
* To Sheila
* Set the Ray to Jerry
* Bullet with Butterfly Wings
* That's the Way (My Love Is)
* Heavy Metal Machine
> On the Road Again [Canned Heat]> I Love Rock 'n' Roll [Arrows]
* United States
* Let Me Give the World to You
* Cherub Rock