The year was 1995. I was in fourth grade, and although it was a little early, I often experienced my fair share of Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness. My mother would sometimes pass my room with a concerned, stern look on her face and ask, “Don’t you ever listen to anything else?” I’d often reply, “The world is a vampire, sent to drain,” and the song would continue to play on repeat for several hours. It may have been a strange song for a nine or ten year old to be obsessed with, but it was not uncommon for those in the Chicagoland area to love the Smashing Pumpkins. The problem is, do the Smashing Pumpkins still love Chicago?
Many people in and around Chicago grew up with the Pumpkins. I remember watching the news and seeing all the people lined up in front of the Metro – the same place the band started off their career 12 years earlier – during the unkind Chicago winter to get tickets for the Pumpkins’ final show on December 2, 2000 . I never got the chance to see them live.
Among the troubles that plagued the 12 years prior to the 2000 break-up included cocaine addiction, constant internal tension, and the fact that Corgan was often cited as a control maniac. At one point drummer Jimmy Chamberlin left the band to battle drug addiction. He later returned to the band, but bassist, D’arcy Wretzky, quit the band in 1999. Although the band continued to tour with a new bassist, the Pumpkins soon fell apart completely.
Corgan went on to participate in the unsuccessful side project Zwan and released a solo album that also did poorly. In 2005, along with the release of his first solo album, Corgan also took out an ad in the Chicago Tribute and Chicago Sun-Times that hinted at a reunion of the Pumpkins. Although Iha and Wretzky did not sign on to the reunion, Corgan and Chamberlin started work on new Smashing Pumpkins material in 2006 with new guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Ginger Reyes, and keyboardist Lisa Harrington.
When the newly formed Pumpkins scheduled a tour to support their new release, 2007’s Zeitgeist, they did not schedule a date in Chicago. Instead, the closest date was approximately two hours away in Bloomington, Illinois at Braden Auditorium, a strange move for a band that calls Chicago home.
Last Thursday, the Smashing Pumpkins took that very stage ISU and played a never-ending musical entrance. The opening was musically and visually more fitting to an X-Files theme; with its futuristic sound and colored triangles that hung above the band, an eerie green glow was cast in the less than 4000-person capacity auditorium. The colored triangles started to change light patterns and color, and the intensity of the green triangles were almost memorizing. It felt more like I was facing the Wizard of Oz than seeing a concert.
The second song sounded like a carnival song, and although the crowd clapped at the small break between music, the auditorium was a sea of blank faces; no one was singing, dancing, jumping around. Corgan finally spoke, “Good evening. Thank you for coming. We have lots of songs for you.” The crowd finally went into an uproar as the Pumpkins went into their first song by the original Pumpkins, “Drown.”
Only a few people in the audience responded to the majority of new material, even the singles. The show was becoming more and more of “The Billy Corgan Show” as the stage would go dark and Corgan would play extended guitar solos, and the other members would leave the stage or be buried in the shadows of light focused on Corgan. All of the new songs somehow became 15 minutes long as the band turned the show into more of a jam session.
Finally my moment had come. I had waited 12 years to hear it live, and there it was: “The world is a vampire.” But something was off. Something was different about my favorite song. – Corgan was speeding the song up, zipping through my favorite song while he took nearly 20 minutes on his new material.
Needless to say, at this point I was pissed. There were far too many unnecessarily drawn-out solos, and too much focus on Corgan. I felt like this show should feel different, it should be a beautiful experience after these fans have waited nearly seven years or more to see the Smashing Pumpkins, and really, it was just getting boring. I think at that point, the crowd was memorized by the strange, color changing triangles, and falling asleep from Corgan’s drawn-out solos. The audience was scattered by emotionless faces, silent lips, and slowly people started to sit back down.
At one point, Corgan walked to the edge of stage and talked to someone in the crowd for more than a few minutes as the rest of the auditorium sat silent, left to wonder about what the hell was going on. He then walked to the side of the stage, and started posing and waving for photos.
After the strange photo session, the band played another new song, and for the first time, Corgan spoke for an extended period of time. “Thanks for missing the Cubs game to be here, fuck the Cardinals! Who here is from Chicago? This is our first gig close to Chicago.we’re never coming home, but thanks for coming.”
What? We’re never coming home? The same man that announced the reuniting of the Pumpkins in Chicago newspapers, and was going to release a series of songs about the city called ChicagoSongs, what? At least his Chicago comment brought more old material in the form of “Perfect,” and their biggest hit to date “1979.” After the dragged out solos that made up the intermediate portion of the show, the concert started to get interesting again, even good. The band played an acoustic version of “Tonight, Tonight,” followed by “Stand Inside Your Love.” Corgan also invited about twenty fans from the balcony into the front rows.
“Most of you should remember this song,” said Corgan, then paused and said something along the lines of, “except you Cardinal fans won’t remember this song from hitting your head so many times out of frustration for your team,” and went into their first single off the new album “Tarantula.”
The Pumpkins wrapped up the show with a cover of “I Love Rock and Roll,” and “Today.” The band left the stage except Corgan, who clapped and walked from one side of the stage to another clapping and pointing at the audience for a good five minutes, he even touched some of the fans hands. He continued to go on another rant about Illinois and after about 10 or 15 minutes of standing on the stage talking about nothing or not talking at all, the band came back for more encore songs. Certainly, it was the strangest encore I’ve ever seen.
The show ended with “Zero,” which I assumed they had to play because the band was selling new versions of their signature zero shirt for 35 dollars in the lobby; not as much of a rip off as the 100 dollar sweatshirts.
I didn’t know how I felt after two and a half hours of Pumpkins, I felt pissed because they had spent so much time playing musical scores that dragged on when they could have fit in some of my favorite songs like “Disarm” and “Ava Adore,” not to mention they ruined my favorite song. It was an interesting experience, it reinforced that Billy Corgan is insane, it also inspired me to look more into the Pumpkin’s history; but I cannot help but wonder how their shows were different when they were more than 2/4th Pumpkins. If they had cut out about an hour in the middle and played more songs it would have been a much more uplifting experience. Even though their set had a lot of good songs, the show was only mediocre. The Bloomington, Illinois experience just leaves me wondering, how come the Pumpkins will never return home when Chicago fans hold them so dear in their hearts?