The lights dim, the distortion kicks in, and the curtain drops with flawless timing to reveal a floating moon lighted up by stage magic. The Smashing Pumpkins launch their live performance with “Quasar”, the opening track off their latest album, Oceania, kicking off the night with a very familiar “Siamese Dream” vibe. Smashing Pumpkins (or Billy Corgan and his new backing band), played through the new album to a less than enthusiastic crowd Wednesday night October 10, at Everett’s Comcast Arena.
The night opened with crowds slowly trickling into the half-closed venue; a far cry from a sold out performance. The General Admission (GA) standing room area was half full, and a handful of patrons sat in the upper deck of the venue. “VIPS,” who paid $350 to see the band perform prior to the show got their own “VIP viewing section,” essentially a cage next to the sound people and a distance from the stage itself. I couldn’t help but chuckle as they were caroled into their “exclusive” holding cell.
The band Anberlin opened for the Pumpkins with a solid and cohesive stage presence and (at times) some catchy guitar riffs but that’s where the positives stopped. The band played some of the whackest tunes I have ever heard. Think if Nickelback and Maroon 5 had a love child… I sat their dumbfounded as my friend and I gave one another looks of disdain at the horrendous car wreck unfurling before our eyes. Not everyone shared our opinion, though, as the lady behind us was quite enthused and fist pumping throughout their “performance”.
That fist pumping lady was one of the more energetic expressions from the crowd for the night. As the Pumpkins took the stage, many remained seated, and stayed seated throughout the entire concert… even during the encore, garnering at most some nodding and talking heads. Corgan and Co had warm and pleasant stage presences that emulated comfort but had what appeared to be some sound issues. On “My Love is Winter,” one of the songs I was looking forward to seeing live, the guitars did not meld and blend as they did on the album, actually blending too much as the distinct rhythm and lead guitar parts from the album became almost indistinguishable live. It left a lot to be desired.
The down-toned track “Pale Horse” hit the mark with a sweet melting of vocals, and a deliciously timed click-clack of minimalist drumming. The song featuring a sweeping and spacy guitar over a rhythmic riff and ended seamlessly as Corgan sang to the crowd, “please come back, Pale Horse.”
The Pumpkins moved on to rockier pastures as they kicked it into high gear playing “The Chimera,” and mixed it with an incredible light display projecting an array of image sequences on a 3 dimensional floating orb/moon. The light display was designed by the same technical wizards who worked on Roger Waters’ “The Wall” tour, and did so at this event with amazing effectiveness. The band ended the Oceania segment of the show with closing track “Wildflowers” leaving good feeling on one’s mind.
The latter part of the show saw the group revisiting their old catalog and a somewhat odd cover.
An impassioned performance of “XYU” got the crowd moving, and even inspired some attendees to hurdle the seating area into GA and run into the crowd to get closer to the band. Security was displeased with these people moving into the half-filled standing area, (Ya know, not paying that extra $30 pisses security off), and violently grabbed some while others dispersed quickly and hid among the crowd. Corgan remarked between one song, “I see him” sarcastically observing a man who did just that and was arguing with security after multiple attempts to evade capture.
Corgan and guitarist Jeff Schrorder would go on to have a playful solo off to a hollering crowd; Schroder seemed to come out on top, schooling Corgan in the styles of finger dexterity. A fan went on to yell at Corgan, “Play Cherub Rock!” to which he jokingly remarked (something along these lines), “I was but I am not so sure since I had an effect on your life.”
This is where things got interesting!
The band played a vamped up cover of “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, laden with distortion that gave me a new found appreciation for the song. “It was interesting to hear them play it,” my friend observed. The change in tonality lent the song a grandiose “epic-ness” which left me murmuring to myself, “hell yeah.” Check out this video of them playing it live.
The show “ended”, and about a fourth of the crowd began filing out, unaware of the concept of an “encore”. The Pumpkins returned to stage and drew a huge crowd response when busting out “Zero,” the gravelly shouting of “INTOXICATED! With the madness” made the crowd stand-up and take notice. The show ended with the quintessential Pumpkins song “Cherub Rock.” (Guess that attendee got his wish!)
It has been over 15 years since the songs came out and Corgan brought it – channeling his teenage angst and the love sewn emotion that made the Smashing Pumpkins a household name.
The group bowed gracefully, and thanked the audience, despite the mellow audience throughout. “I appreciate their devotion…what a warm band they are,” my friend said, “it’s crazy to watch their music transform over the years, it’s so emotionally driven.”
The lighting was amazing, The Smashing Pumpkins tore up the stage, but holding the event in Everett’s Comcast Arena was a mistake. The lack of promotion of the event and its distance from Seattle played a large factor in the shows small attendance and the lack of rapport with the crowd. Nonetheless, this fan and friend had a great time. “I have gained a lot of new respect for them. I always thought they were great but I have meaning to attach to it, a human element which is the most beautiful part of expression,” my friend observed. I drew the same conclusion, and the music’s connectivity to me allowed for an enjoyable show that left me wanting more.
In the future, the Paramount would likely play out better for the touring group, and with such a solid stage presence, and excellent album on their backs, they deserve a good crowd with whom they can establish a concrete “human” connection because that’s the “most beautiful part of expression.”
All photos (C) Sebastian Garrett-Singh