Battling Illness, Smashing Pumpkins Deliver in Hometown

The Smashing Pumpkins triumphant return to Chicago started on an ominous note. At their first of four shows, Billy Corgan chastised the audience for not being “into it” enough. That didn’t go over so well. Come Friday, I didn’t know what to expect.

When Billy came out in what looked like a wedding dress and some sort of halo-crown-japanese fan-type device on his head, I have to say, I wasn’t surprised. It kind of reminds me of Liberace and, who knows, a similar revelation might be down the road. But I digress. The headpiece came off and the gold coat, to reveal his signature “Zero” shirt and apprehensive applause from the audience. The show had begun and so emerged several revelations about this latest version of the Smashing Pumpkins.

  1. Jimmy Chamberlin remains a top-flight percussionist. The show opened with a drum solo (unusual) and it was great. Chamberlin was smooth and he remains the engine that drives the Pumpkins.
  2. Billy Corgan hasn’t lost his penchant for pushing boundaries. This set was hard, heavy and fast. Billy has been practicing his guitar because there were several solos and even some shredding. It wasn’t the Pumpkins I’m used to, but I actually enjoyed this new sound. And I can appreciate any artist that decides its more important to innovate than simply appease the masses.
  3. The “old” Pumpkins are still the favorite. “Tonight, Tonight” was one of the highlights of the night (that’s a lot of ‘ight’s’). And I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. Their new stuff is interesting, their old stuff is iconic.
  4. Even though ill (Saturday’s show was postponed), Billy wanted to deliver. Corgan is an interesting beast: he’s defiant, yet craves approval. He made a point to tell us he was sick, and disappointed that he couldn’t perform for us the way he wanted to. Yet, his primal scream during “Rat in a Cage” was intense, and my personal highlight. It must have taken a lot out of him – and it was worth it.
  5. Chicago loves, hates … and fears Billy Corgan. The audience clearly knew about Billy’s hissy fit from Tuesday. Applause was dished out liberally, sometimes before songs ended. And it’s not because the audience was confused, it was because they didn’t want to be ridiculed. Or did they? Billy returned in kind by telling us we were a great audience, much better than Tuesday. “They don’t know what rock and roll is,” he said. “But you do.” Awww, thanks Billy.

It was the Pumpkins in Chicago. A very good show, not a great show. But hey, I’ll see them time and time again. Do I feel obligated? Maybe. But I never know what I’m going to get, and I like that.