I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or heard Billy Corgan as loose musically or humbled emotionally as he was Friday night in Rosemont, IL. Flanked by his new(ish) incarnation of the Smashing Pumpkins, it wasn’t uncommon for Corgan to smile so great that you didn’t need (and didn’t get) full screenshots of his face to know that he was present for every moment of their show at Allstate Arena. It’s hard to imagine this Corgan persona existing four years ago, during the fabled and oft-polarizing anniversary run. But here he was in his standard, long-sleeved black shirt regalia, doing just that.
Halfway through Oceania, which was performed in its entirety to open the show, Corgan promised, “If I’m in the mood… if I’m feeling that special love… then we’ll play a few classics at the end.” Aside from that delivery, he was a man of few words during the run of the new album, allowing the new music and state-of-the-art projections to do the talking. A large, globe-like screen reigned above the band, displaying mazes (“Quasar”), a make-out session (“Panopticon”), roots of the earth into the unknown universe (“Inkless”), and recurring images of a turtle constellation (maybe a Dark Tower reference?).
The contributions from Pumpkins Mach 2 were more than essential to the overall experience. In addition to playing their main instruments, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino, and drummer Mike Byrne also chimed in on keyboards throughout the show, notably during the gorgeous Oceania closer, “Wildflower”, when they played as Corgan yearned on. Schroeder even teased Van Halen’s “Eruption” early on in the show, much to the delight of Corgan, who engaged in cock-rock guitar duels throughout the performance. Fiorentino is the best bassist the band has ever had, and while Byrne will never be Jimmy Chamberlin, he added propulsion to “Pinwheels” and filled in admirably on the “classics” promised later in the set, especially “Tonight, Tonight”’s coda.
In order to catch his breath, Corgan chatted it up with the audience. He thanked the longtime fans for sticking with them, congratulated two men on getting engaged during the show, used a Twitter-rant to declare, “I didn’t fucking follow anybody,” and got a mixed reaction when sharing, “We just got a text from Mitt, and he’s cool with your marriage.” And, as a devoted Cubs fan, he couldn’t help but spit out, “Fuck the Sox, man.” None of this was released with vitriol — only fun and love from Corgan on this night.
In addition to “Tonight, Tonight” (complete with A Trip to the Moon imagery) and a fast-paced “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Corgan brought out Mellon Collie deep cut “X.Y.U.”, raising his guitar in tribute to the crowd who responded enthusiastically. The encore of a grungy “Ava Adore” and “Mayonnaise” closed out the proceedings. The latter cut was played with precision by the band, but especially Corgan, whose vocals were on point all night and whose guitar on this particular track sticks with me a day later.
With Halloween quickly approaching, it’s only fair to steal from Peanuts’ Linus when summing up The Smashing Pumpkins Friday night: The Great Pumpkin rose out of the Allstate Arena pumpkin patch, only to find he was the most sincere. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see.
Photography by Michael Roffman.
My Love Is Winter
One Diamond, One Heart
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
A Song for a Son