Maybe it’s just where Billy Corgan is as a musician and a person that has manifested as one of the most deeply satisfying, career-spanning tours of Smashing Pumpkins existence. He has gone on record saying he is uncertain if the band will exist beyond 2015 because fans were fixated on the past, and seen some of his most experimental and strange moments both inside and out of the music world used to bolster arguments that the Smashing Pumpkins were losing (or had lost) their luster. Has Corgan been listening all along, and is The End of Times tour a response to critics that Corgan does care about his audience, that he does aim to please?
Or maybe it is touring with old friend (and brief enemy) Marilyn Manson, who got into hot water with Corgan after suggesting in 2013 that the bald singer sell Charlie Brown t-shirts at his merch stand. The tour puts that in the past, with Corgan thanking Manson during the Pumpkins encore, referring to Manson as his “brother.” Manson’s 65-minute set featured more costume switches and set changes than you could count on one hand, glitter cannons, cross-shaped confetti, a burning Bible, a joke about fucking Jesus, and a declaration that rock is not dead. And aside from the entertaining theatrics, Manson mixed his hits, other people’s hits that he has famously covered, and a spattering of newer material from The Pale Emperor to a well-rounded, captivating presentation. Whether fans were there for Manson or Corgan’s bands was irrelevant; every night on this tour will mean the Smashing Pumpkins having to rise to the occasion to show why they should be the headliners over Manson, and this could be feeding in to the inspired, 19-song run from Corgan and co.
Or even still, maybe it is the reunion with original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. Chamberlin was famously kicked out of the band at the height of their popularity in the ’90s because of drug problems, but has since rejoined multiple times, last playing with the Pumpkins in 2009. But looking at the setlist, the songs obviously lean heavy on albums that Chamberlin played on, namely Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and Machina/The Machines of God. Maybe having Chamberlain around has been grounding for Corgan in making the setlists, in returning to many of the songs that made the band well-known in the first place, in learning that you can balance the excitement of playing newer material that you are more passionate about with the tracks that mean deeply personal things to your fans. Maybe Chamberlin has helped Corgan see the value in older music that helped shape their musical tastes of people in their youth, that would become measuring bars for all the music they have heard since the ’90s.
But regardless of the reasoning, for nearly 90 minutes, Smashing Pumpkins were the band that fans wanted them to be. After opening with a run that included some of their most beloved hits — “Cherub Rock”, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, “Tonight, Tonight”, and “Ava Adore” — fans could be heard chanting “greatest hits!” back to the band, while Corgan addressed the audience to only say that he was going to keep chatting to a minimum in order to play more music. He wouldn’t really say much more until the beginning of the encore, where he joked about DeAndre Jordan, joked that Manson doesn’t like sports, and made fun of the small contingent that left after “1979”, calling them typical Laker fans. Corgan then showed genuine gratitude for all the fans that didn’t leave, appearing to enjoy entertaining in a way that just hasn’t been displayed by the songwriter in a long time. After the single, fantastic encore closer of “Geek U.S.A.”, Corgan took his time leaving the stage, basking in the applause, waving to all corners of the sold-out Irvine Meadows Amphitheater.
And fans responded to Corgan’s effort to be there for them. During “Mayonnaise”, the soaring deep cut from Siamese Dream that is arguably one of the strongest in the Pumpkins’ canon, Corgan paused at the near-climax, right after singing the line “can anybody hear me?” The audience erupted on cue, allowing the singer to lead the band back into the song’s huge peak, singing “I just want to be me/ When I can, I will/ Try to understand/ That when I can, I will.”
The song could have been speaking to the moment now rather than when it was written some 23 years ago. On this night, Corgan had found a balance in being himself and being generous, allowing long-time fans the pleasure of hearing tracks like “1979” and “Geek U.S.A.” and “Mayonnaise” that hold legitimate significance for a generation. And in doing so, newer tracks like “Run2Me” and the only real trashed-out jam of the night, “United States”, became welcome moments in the set, changing the pace, working towards something more than just the whim of the artist. The result was that Smashing Pumpkins lived up to the esteem their records are held in, making the eccentricities of the frontman felt like moot points, like Corgan suggested early in the set, that this was about shutting up and playing music.
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Drum + Fife
One and All (We Are)
The Everlasting Gaze
The Crying Tree of Mercury
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Thru the Eyes of Ruby
Stand Inside Your Love