Concert review: The Smashing Pumpkins live at 1ST Bank Center
Posted on October 19, 2012
Since the release of 1991’s “Gish” The Smashing Pumpkins have been delighting fans with what can only be described as their own sound…….or more to the point Billy’s sound. The Smashing Pumpkins sound started out as guitar heavy alternative rock that changed to a more electronic sound in later years, only to go back to a heavier guitar sound again on “Zeitgeist”……but each album, no matter how different they sounded from each other, still had that undeniable Smashing Pumpkins sound.
Through ups and downs, drug addictions and lineup changes Billy Corgan has somehow managed to take The Smashing Pumpkins name to new heights year after year. His incessant drive, determination and work ethic has been, and probably will continue to be the main reason The Smashing Pumpkins name has not only endured but thrived in today’s cutthroat music world. Armed with new band members and the new album “Oceania” Billy and company have headed out
on tour to promote the new album and one of those stops just happened to be in Denver last Tuesday night.
Whether it was for less than stellar ticket sales or for some other reason the stage was moved almost all the way to the back of the arena leaving very little floor space to stand and only a fraction of the usual seating available. That didn’t seem to matter though because before the Pumpkins went on there was still a lot of standing room on the floor and there were big chunks of seating still not claimed lending an almost abandoned empty feel to the building. In general, the turnout seemed dismal at best, and what crowd was in attendance seemed sullen and quiet by concert standards. Anberlin opened the show and did their best to liven the mood but when you’ve got less than a half full house it seems to dampen the spirits of not only the bands on stage but the concert goers as well.
All was not as it seemed though. Almost inconspicuously the big black curtain hiding the Pumpkins set was pulled away and almost like magic Billy Corgan, Jeff Schroeder, Nicole Fiorentino and Mike Byrne were on stage. Some of the crowd noticed right away and started cheering but the majority of people at the show didn’t realize the Pumpkins were on stage and there was a slight hesitation before the crowd erupted in cheers and applause. By this point the floor had filled to canned sardine status and there were not many seats left to be taken. Gone was the abandoned, empty feeling and in its place was a crowd awakened and excited for The Smashing Pumpkins to get on with their set. And get on with their set they did.
For almost an hour The Smashing Pumpkins sent us on a dreamy little trip, playing “Oceania” in its entirety while the gigantic, glowing globe above drummer Mike Byrne’s displayed constantly changing images and colors. Some of the images were of man, sea life and weird little bacteria looking things drawn in scratchy sketch that was kind of futuristic looking but at the same time gave off a gothic feel. All were drawn in straight lines with no curves which were in stark contrast to the big, dimly lit orb that the “movies” were played on. Some of the images would break apart, almost disintegrating before another image would take its place. Listening to “Oceania” played live while watching these images you could almost catch a story taking place. It was like watching life – the very beginning of life – begin and then fade away. Through certain parts you could imagine a world of water and sea life, free of man. In other parts you could feel desperate love and even disdain. Through it all the music matched the images on the globe to a T and vice versa. The experience is very hard to explain other than to say it is very Pink Floyd-esque. I suggest you see it for yourself because I have no doubt in my mind that you will get something entirely different from it than I did.
The songs were played beautifully with each member of the band (which Billy jokingly called, “the 87th, 88th, and 89th members) playing certain parts on keyboards that were stationed right in front of them. Maybe it’s because of the name of the album but the keys brought to mind whales and other sea life noises you may hear in the deep blue. Most of the songs from “Oceania” are slower and more melancholy; hence the dreamy feel of the first part of the show.
Just a short time into the show Billy stopped and addressed the crowd. “For those of you that really know us, you know we’re going to play the new album “Oceania” first. And then if I’m in the mood……I have been known to be fickle…….If I’m in the mood we’ll play some of the classics”. But that is not what happened. Yes they did play “Oceania” as I have already said but when the last song from “Oceania” rang out they did not start ripping out the classics. Instead they pulled off one amazing, bad ass cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, tweaked Pumpkins style but done with finesse nonetheless. For those of you that don’t know, Billy Corgan is actually quite the shredder when it comes to guitar and he did this song justice giving it an almost bluesy intro before all out whaling on his guitar.
Bald pate dimly reflecting the purple lights that dominated the show Billy hammered on his guitar as The Smashing Pumpkins pounded out another seven songs before ending the official set with “Cherub Rock” which just about everyone sang along to. In fact the last eight songs ended up being one great big sing along as the crowd belted out “Disarm”, Tonight, Tonight”, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and more.
C’mon, this is The Smashing Pumpkins, or more to the point Billy Corgan after all. This man along with original band mates helped to put alternative rock on
the map while simultaneously putting it on its ass. They didn’t follow a clear set of rules when it came to writing music, they just did what felt good, and right, and I believe that is why they have been so successful.
Before saying good night The Smashing Pumpkins had one more surprise to show us. I figured they would play some obscure Pumpkins song for an encore but instead whipped out a really great rendition of KISS’ “Black Diamond”.
Over all it was an excellent show and I have to admit that while I like a lot of The Smashing Pumpkins earlier stuff I had heard a few negatives about their live show. I was pleasantly surprised at how good they sounded and I was equally surprised, and astounded at Billy’s versatility on the guitar. I also know now that as different as “Oceania” is from “Siamese Dream” they are both collections of killer music from the mind of one of the hardest working and intelligent people in the music biz.
Would I go see them again? You bet your ass I would and I urge any fan of the Pumpkins to do the same. It will be one of the most honest, down to earth live shows you will ever see.
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Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
Photo by Paul Edmisson