The Smashing Pumpkins that kicked off their new tour at Cleveland’s sweltering House of Blues Tuesday night aren’t the same Smashing Pumpkins you know and love. But for parts of the 20-song, two-hour-plus show, it didn’t matter.
Billy Corgan and the new band (guitarist Jeff Schroeder, drummer Mike Byrne, and bassist Nicole Fiorentino) ran through the Smashing Pumpkins songbook — spanning 1993’s Siamese Dream to the recent Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, an online work-in-progress that has Corgan releasing free downloads of new songs as he finishes them.
The tour will take the band to 15 U.S. cities for shows in intimate venues (read our review of their Viper Room warm-up set here). It’s a welcome change from the arena-size bloat of recent Pumpkins tours, but Corgan’s songs often reach for arena-size grandeur. Because of this, much of Tuesday night’s blitz and blast in front of a sold-out audience seemed a little excessive in such small confines.
Still, there were some strong moments throughout. Opener “Astral Planes” (from Kaleidyscope) was a great intro to the refurbished Pumpkins. Drums crashed, guitars howled, and Corgan smiled his way through the entire song. In fact, Corgan was playful and genial during the show, especially when the crowd sang along to older songs. He’d throw up his arms in a triumphant cheer or make like a guitar god with a particularly seething solo.
Corgan occasionally chatted with a bandmate, but for the first part of the concert, not much happened between songs. He opened up a little toward the end of the show, thanking fans for “sticking with us” and coming close to sharing groupie stories.
Unfortunately, the band settled into a lethargic groove during the middle section of the concert. New songs didn’t fare as well as the old ones: “A Song for a Son” especially dragged, and only “Freak” — the fifth Kaleidyscope song, which was released on the Pumpkins’ website yesterday — played as well as familiar favorites like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” and “Tonight, Tonight.”
But these were mostly loud, fast, and hard Pumpkin tracks last night. And self-indulgent ones, too, with plenty of lengthy jamming to share — “United States” stopped for a bit of orchestrated feedback and noise, “Gossamer” went on forever.
But even with the lulls, the concert was a promising start to Corgan’s new project, the Smashing Pumpkins 2.0, or whatever you want to call them.