Updated: Jul 7, 2020
Aug. 25, 2018 - Moda Center - Portland, OR
Concert-goers at the Moda Center were treated to a marathon set by The Smashing Pumpkins last weekend.
It started on Saturday night with Billy Corgan, the band's musical vision, wielding an acoustic guitar, stepping between a gap in a mobile LED screen that adorned the stage. As the instrumental from “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” wrapped, the first, full-bodied chords of "Disarm" played. Images from Corgan's life blinked on the tall screen panels, showing not only his life, but the events that spawned his band 30 years ago.
That LED screen, the whole stage that night, was a symbol of Corgan's songwriting.
Fat, singular guitar riffs on "Zero" and “Rocket” locked together to form one solid slab. But on tracks like “Soma” and “Tonight, Tonight”, with high crescendos that fill the stage, the panels were split, revealing set designs that were lurking, hidden from the audience behind blaring monitors. The band’s aortic logo periodically beats along with the erratic tempo of a three-plus hour show.
The Smashing Pumpkins' 2018 “Shiny And Oh So Bright” Tour is a reunion, with three of four founding members on the same stage for the first time in nearly two decades, since the group’s first split in late 1999. James Iha (rhythm guitar, backup vocals) and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums) received trumpeting applause as the crowd was introduced to members of the band, a ritual that didn’t happen until about an hour into the show.
“This is just the tip of the music here tonight,” James Iha said before launching into the show’s second act.
Longtime Pumpkins collaborator Jeff Schroeder shredded on a third guitar and Jack Bates (of New Order) rounded out the show on bass in place of founding member D'Arcy Wretzky.
But the show's scope was that of a magnum opus specifically for the Pumpkins frontman. Corgan's stylistic crooning and experimental composition were on full display, quite literally, with a spotlight always trained on the singer/guitarist as he led the audience along a journey 30 years in the making.
While he tends to lavish praise on other songwriters of his generation, Corgan has written music with more than just staying power, even amidst the turmoil that has rocked his Smashing passion project over the years.
Perhaps it was the band’s well-publicized and much-debated divorce, or its struggle to find a unified direction after it’s first decade came to a close, but the real appeal of The Smashing Pumpkins seems to have been lost in the shuffle of other bands of its era.
Heavy radio play for hard rock tracks off of Siamese Dream (1993) and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) lumped the group in with the Seattle Grunge scene, despite the group being from Chicago and largely moving away from those punk and metal influences.
It was ballads like “Today” and “1979” (both of which also got plenty of air time), however, that really showcased what new thing the Pumpkins had to bring to the alternative music scene: triumphant scores, not just alternative rock songs.
It was these kinds of tracks that filled this mammoth show. “Thirty Three” and an extra long “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” lifted us into a swan song for the band that the Pumpkins were, while saluting the band that they are now.
It's a testament to the determination and surprising longevity of this music.
Take a stroll through YouTube and see just how many hits, and range of musical styles, The Smashing Pumpkins have cranked out since 1988. Admittedly, their experimentation wasn’t always great, as the more techno-industrial sound of the late ‘90s and early 2000’s showed us. But songs like “For Martha” deserve to be recognized as much as tunes that fit in the denim and flannel era.
Yes, the Pumpkins played a majority of the tracks off of both Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie -- even some of their biggest hits. But the audience was only given a few of those popular tracks at the top of a very long night. The well-known jams were peppered in, after we’d first addressed the band’s growing pains.
Corgan's own influences were even on display. A fittingly strange cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" and a piano-heavy homage to "Stairway to Heaven" took up a cumulative 15-plus minutes of stage time, each stamped with the Pumpkins' centric guitar and weeping vocals. Other covers, like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Betty Noyes’ “Baby Mine,” were also featured.
Half of the stadium cleared out before the band even played “Today” or “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” (some of the sole tracks I’m sure many people, to their folly, associate with the Pumpkins.)
Admittedly, this author left the venue as the show was well into its third hour, after the clashing sounds of “Try, Try, Try” and “The Beginning is the End is the Beginning” led to another grunge deep cut, “Hummer.”
Three hours and an encore is asking a lot of an audience, and the show's focus on hidden gems and covers hints at a band that's tired of being associated with the punk and heavy metal influences that initially got the Pumpkins their claim to fame.
It may not have been the reunion concert that everyone in attendance wanted, but it's the one the band needed to forge ahead with buried hatchets and an aged vision.
This is the "Shiny And Oh So Bright" era. This is a fuller, more matured band, that blends its previous sounds into a sonic orchestra. The band’s new single, “Solara,” the first collaboration of the reunited members since 1999, best exemplifies this.
The band's always been able to pass a complex track or two behind the curtain of channeling the pop sounds of the day. But it scuffled off of the path and nearly didn't make it back. Corgan and company seem more focused on continuing that legacy, not the battered old sounds driven by substance abuse and internal strife.
In total, The Smashing Pumpkins played 32 songs. One member short of the original group, they fittingly stopped short of Thirty Three.
Portland Setlist (Source: Setlist.FM)
1) Instrumental: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (eponymous album)
2) Disarm (Siamese Dream, 1993)
3) Rocket (Siamese, 1993)
4) Siva (Gish, 1991)
5) Rhinoceros (Gish, 1991)
6) Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
7) Drown (1992 single)
8) Zero (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, 1995)
9) The Everlasting Gaze (Machina/The Machines of God, 2000)
10) Stand Inside Your Love (Machina,2000)
11) Thirty Three (Mellon Collie, 1995)
12) Eye (1997 single)
13) Soma (Siamese Dream, 1993)
14) Blew Away (James Iha single, 1994)
15) For Martha (Adore, 1998)