Billy Corgan hasn't kept his opinion about artists touring back catalogues to himself. Calling out reunion act and old foes Pavement, he's stated that the Smashing Pumpkins are not an "oldies business" and are still inspired to write new music. And so, on tour for their latest album, Oceania, Corgan made this point very clear, choosing to perform the entire thing every night. It's a good way to test a fanbase that can fill the majority of the arena that houses the Maple Leafs, and his fans for the most part showed patience and allegiance throughout the hour-long set. (That said, a guy next to me shouted "play songs that we know" more than once.)
Photo: Fil Zuzarte
In return, the Pumpkins (Corgan plus guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne) performed Oceania with proficiency and passion. Halfway through, Corgan poked fun at the crowd, noticing the young fans and teasing that they probably wouldn't want to hear the old stuff later on. A giant orb provided spectators with eye candy, shifting visuals of a scientific nature. Really, if you knew the album, there were no surprises, other than just how adept this 2.0 lineup he's put together is. You could even go so far as to argue that they might be the best live band Corgan has ever had.
For the next set, they began with a droning cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity," which even with the overwrought guitar screams wasn't as dreadful as one would expect. Still, people were getting restless, and when the band finally settled into their own golden oldies, the mood swung to elation. "X.Y.U." was heavy but did not benefit from extended solos, a mini Hendrix tribute and an off-the-cuff poetic reciting of "Mary Had a Little Lamb." "Disarm" made the girls dance all sexy and everyone sing along for the first time. "Tonight, Tonight" sounded triumphant, as did "Bullet with Butterfly Wings," which sent every person — present company included — into a frenzy.
Some hockey strike banter got the crowd stirred, with Corgan offering up his "apocalyptic music" as an alternative to fill the void. Less stirred was the audience when he promoted his wrestling organization, Resistance Pro. Then came discussion about the band, and how no one believed they could survive "under this guise." Corgan said he had proven the naysayers wrong, using the 15,000 strong as justification.
When they got back to the music, the Pumpkins played the exhausting "A Song for a Son," an inexplicable choice that killed the buzz dead with torturous soloing. "Today" came to the rescue and reeled us back in, followed by "Stand Inside Your Love" and "Muzzle."
The official encore kicked off with a heavy-rockin' "Adore" that was devoid of the electronic programming but full of guitar wanking — an unfortunate constant with Corgan still. Thankfully, straight and boisterous takes on "Cherub Rock," which transported us back to 1993, and final song "Zero," made up for the nonsense.
Corgan demands a lot from his fans on this tour. Not every band can get away with a stunt like playing the entirety of an album likely less than half the crowd knows. And while the band put on an impressive show (minus all those damn solos), it's hard not to think of just how much more adoration and respect Corgan could squeeze from fans if he were a bit less selfish. Because what he has after 23 years is pretty special. Once Corgan fully realizes that, he'll have us all eating out of his palms like we did 17 years ago.
To see Exclaim!'s Smashing Pumpkins photo gallery, courtesy of Fil ZuZarte, head here.
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