Anyone expecting the Smashing Pumpkins to use their 20th anniversary tour to revisit their greatest hits is in for a surprise.
That much was apparent from the tour's first show in Cleveland Saturday night, as frontman Billy Corgan strutted out with an acoustic guitar and harmonica for the first three tunes of the band's two-and-a-half-hour set. "That guy lost his virginity to '1979' [and wants to hear it], but it ain't gonna happen," Corgan said in response to one fan's request. Ouch.
Wearing a fresh pair of black Nike tennis shoes and a skin-tight shirt with a spider emblazoned on it, Corgan approached the show with child-like exuberance. And when his band (only drummer Jimmy Chamberlain remains from the original group) flubbed intros or missed cues, he merely laughed and shook his head.
Corgan has a voice that can tend to screech, but he reined it in for poignant versions of "Disarm" and "Tonight, Tonight," which was often overwhelmed by Chamberlain's powerhouse drumming. But for the most part, the ensemble, fleshed out with horns, keyboards, and electric violin, brought a symphonic quality to even the most raucous moments, including an impromptu cover of Rush's "Tom Sawyer."
Corgan proved capable of veering from post-punk anthems such as the fist-pumping "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" to the quiet Zeitgeist ballad "That's the Way (My Love Is)," which he delivered acoustically and dedicated to vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. "I believe the term is MILF," he said of Palin. "There's something about a woman with five kids. You know she has the passion."
"This is the greatest show we've ever played," Corgan said sarcastically before beginning a haphazard two-song encore that included "We Only Come out at Night" and a cover of Ray Stevens' "Everything is Beautiful" that the band played with kazoos. "We're so deeply touched by your love and affection," he said at the crowd's response.
The fact that Corgan obviously didn't mean a word of it proved that, in the end, he's a guy who's going to do things his way, a point that was evident in the concert's self-indulgent moments (gratuitous jams, rambling banter) that detracted from an otherwise great performance.
Smashing Pumpkins, "Everything is Beautiful"
Smashing Pumpkins dedicate song to Palin:
Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight"
Billy Corgan / Photo by Jeff Niesel