If The Smashing Pumpkins are now irrelevant has-beens, the thousands who bought tickets to their five sold out shows - their first proper Chicago shows in eight years - must have missed the memo. I attended the first night at the Chicago Theater, the add-on night at the Aragon Ballroom and the final show at the Auditorium Theater, and each concert was a completely unique experience. I feel I must preface this review by saying that The Smashing Pumpkins are the band that made me begin to love music for the first time when I was 11 years old, and therefore I frequently romanticize this band. That being said, I was a bit apprehensive about Smashing Pumpkins v. 2.0 and feel that Zeitgeist was overproduced and lacked the personality that made the original band so great. Still, of the three nights I saw them in Chicago, I feel they put on a good 2.5 solid performances.
You could feel the excitement in the air November 18th, when the band made their first appearance at the Chicago Theater, with the "Black Sunshine" themed show. The moment Billy Corgan walked onstage wearing a wedding dress and golden headdress, I remembered one of the main reasons I began to love this band in the first place - they don't take themselves too seriously. Unfortunately, the band lost the interest of the majority of the audience with their long jam songs "G.L.O.W." and "United States" (even when Billy played the national anthem with his teeth during the latter), and the crowd was completely dead the rest of the night. Those looking for a 'Greatest Hits' night left disappointed, though several gems were played, including "Transformer" and "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning".
Then came the encore. The band played "We Only Come Out at Night" on kazoos, which was charming during the last tour, but this time fell flat. Then Billy felt it necessary to yell at the crowd for twenty minutes, ranting about no one appreciates them anymore. Long-time fans have become accustomed to (and possibly even look forward to) such antics, and I might feel differently if this outburst had occurred in the middle of the show rather than the end. After the first five minutes of this, I started to get bored, and many in the crowd were starting to get angry. Most left the show confused, and if Billy could have just kept his mouth shut, I feel many would have an entirely different outlook of the show altogether. At this point, though, the night was spoiled, and the band just walked offstage without playing another song. Luckily their following performances more than made up for this one bad night.
December 7th, the add-on date at the Aragon Ballroom, was marketed as a complete break from the "Black Sunshine"/"White Crosses" theme. Sadly, the band just combined the best songs of the two set lists into one show, which would normally leave me a bit grumpy, but the crowd, atmosphere and attitude of the band made it feel like a completely different show. This may be due to a lack of seats (as opposed to the Chicago Theater or Auditorium Theater), or possibly the onslaught of negative attention in the media brought by the Billy's rant at the Chicago Theater steered away the casual fans, but the crowd on this night came to rock, and each song drew a large cheer from the crowd and actual movement in the sea of bodies. The Pumpkins delivered, playing fan favorites "Bodies", "Soma", and "Medellia of the Gray Skies" (which I believe is the second time this song has EVER been played live by the band). I've been a long-time Pumpkins fan, but feel like Machina and Zeitgeist both lack the honesty and emotion of the band's earlier albums. Thus the debut of "99 Floors" and "A Song for a Son", both heart-wrenching tunes, left me ecstatic for the future of the band (Billy Corgan can still write good music!). The highlight of the night, though, was when Billy's little brother Jesse, "Spaceboy" himself (pictured above), joined the band for the encore, paying tribute to their late grandmother with "Disarm". This is The Smashing Pumpkins I know and love.
December 8th, the last night at the Auditorium Theater with the "White Crosses" theme, had by far the best set list, and again the crowd was pumped for each song. The band opened with the powerful "Ava Adore", with Billy dancing and throwing glitter at the audience out of a jack-o-lantern. The band played many surprises throughout the night, including "Cupid de Locke", "Galapogos", "Crestfallen" and "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness". The ended the show with "That's the Way (My Love is)", a song I hated on Zeitgeist but is played in an entrancing stripped-down version live. Afterwards, Billy changed into a priest costume, and along with the rest of the band and a throng of demon-esque costumed people, brought out a coffin with the Smashing Pumpkins logo painted on the lid, saying goodbye to the old band so they can finally start fresh. The coffin opened to the tune of "Christmastime", revealing a stack of presents inside, which the band then threw out to the audience (reportedly including signed t-shirts, and even an Etch-a-Sketch, puzzle, and other toys).
Billy Corgan & Co. are constantly criticized in the media, but one thing which has always been true for The Smashing Pumpkins is that they repeatedly take risks and put their hearts and souls into the band. I may not always agree with their decisions, but at least they are pushing boundaries, which make them entertaining to follow through good times and bad. At the end of their last show at the Auditorium Theater, Billy said that they hadn't played in Chicago for so long because they wanted to wait until they were sure they were ready. These last two shows proved that although the line-up may have changed, the spirit of The Smashing Pumpkins is still alive.