Adieu, Smashing Pumpkins, Adieu
By Jim DeRogatis
And so it ended pretty much where it had begun: onstage at Metro.
With a marathon four-and-a-half-hour set on Saturday night, one of the most
successful rock bands Chicago ever produced put an end to a career that spanned 13 years
and six studio albums with 22 million copies sold.
The Smashing Pumpkins will forever stand as a cornerstone band of the
alternative-rock era, but the zeitgeist has changed since their mid-90s heyday.
Alternative has given way to sickly-sweet teen-pop and testosterone-crazed rap-rock, and
the cynical, angst-ridden Generation X has yielded to the cheerfully consumerist
Always an astute student of rock history, 33-year-old band leader Billy Corgan
well knows that its better to burn out than to fade away. Thankfully, he did not
define that well-worn rock cliche like his peer Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.
Instead, the Great Pumpkin decided to pull the plug on the band that was his life
before it could live on past its prime. In so doing, the Pumpkins made history again,
becoming one of the rare rock groups with the fortitude to retire while it was still at
its artistic prime.
Sorting through the ashes of the Smashing Pumpkins, theres a lot of
beautiful stuff there, and thats the most important thing, the
guitarist-vocalist said toward the end of a night designed to make that case.
Divided into three acts and including a middle acoustic set, the
38-song performance spanned the groups career, touching on every aspect of its
complicated legacy: the laser-focused, ultra-melodic hard rock and the self-indulgent,
artsy noodling; the petulant, self-obsessed whining and the poetic outpourings of
heartfelt emotion; the great, the awful, and pretty much everything in between.
It was as if the Pumpkins decided to play the entirety of their inevitable box
set. But the friends, family members, industry insiders, and lucky fans didnt mind,
nor did the approximately 500 faithful without tickets who sat in the cold outside Metro.
(They were accommodated with speakers that broadcast a portion of the show, which was also
recorded for a potential live album.)
The highlights were numerous. Chief among them: a duet by Billy Corgan and his
father on the breathtakingly beautiful For Martha, an elegy that Billy Jr.
wrote after the death of his mother from cancer.
Corgan and James Ihas guitars never sounded better than on the roaring
versions of Siva (from their debut album Gish) and
Starla (a rarity included on the Pisces Iscariot collection).
Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was as always an astounding force of nature; the crowd singalongs
on The Everlasting Gaze, Today, and 1979 were
inspiring, and the moving hometown homage in Tonight, Tonight (And your
embers never fade in the city by the lake) was never more poignant.
On the flip side, however, were numerous stretches of merciless bombast of the
sort that gave 70s rock a bad name and prompted punk to rise up in opposition. The
nadir was the last song of the night, an endless, 20-minute-plus version of
Silverf---, Corgans epic meditation on love and pain. It found the
artist erasing the new levels of musical and lyrical maturity that he reached with the
Adore and Machina albums and reverting to the insufferable mode of
the tortured soul who loves to be miserable. Ugh.
Before the rosy glow of nostalgia sets in, it also needs to be said that minus
the emotion and history of the occasion, there have been many more memorable Pumpkins
shows. Among those that I witnessed: the Siamese Dream record release gigs at
Metro, the Lollapalooza tour, the pre-Mellon Collie show at the Double Door,
and the Adore show at the New World Music Theatre.
Despite the rampant pre-show speculation, there were no real surprises Saturday.
Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen and former touring drummer Matt Walker came out for
cameo appearances, but founding bassist DArcy Wretsky did not. Corgan did offer her
a heartfelt thanks, as well thanking just about everybody else whod helped in his
career, including his enemies--for pushing us to try harder and be better.
When the music stopped, the band members filed off one by one, tossing guitar
picks to the fans as they left. (Concertgoers also got a commemorative CD of the
Pumpkins first show at Metro in October, 1988.) When the mighty Chamberlin tried to
toss a drum stick up to the balcony, it actually lodged in the ceiling above the dance
floor, where it will no doubt stay forever as a testament to the evening.
At the very end, Corgan stood onstage alone, looking awkward in his silver and
black outerspace priest outfit. He basked in the adulation of his Chicago fans, took their
hands, made the I love you sign from his heart, and finally broke down in
And so it ended pretty much where it had begun--the climax of a week that
witnessed more farewell hoopla since Michael Jordan retired for the first time.
Remember, though, that Jordan came back. And so, too, will Billy Corgan.
Originally published in the
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