In the wake of finding out that The Smashing Pumpkins Oct. 7 Rogers Arena show had been cancelled only a week before the event, I spent several days harbouring the feeling that I’d been kicked hard in the stomach. That was until I made the last minute decision to go see them in Calgary. I pulled out of the bus depot in downtown Vancouver at midnight on Oct. 4 and arrived 17 hours later at the Saddledome.
For those unfamiliar with The Smashing Pumpkins: they were founded in Chicago in 1988, 40 million records sold, countless world tours, Grammy’s, MTV Awards, Much Music Awards, Billboard Awards, American Music Awards, radio awards, soundtracks, featured in the highest ever rated episode of The Simpsons, and have made regular talk show appearances.
With a 45-year-old Billy Corgan (singer, songwriter, lead guitarist, and only remaining original member) starting to divide his interests between current recording and touring, an ongoing program of re-mastering and reissuing classic Pumpkins albums with extensive bonus material, creative duties as head writer for Resistance Pro wrestling, owner of the French-Chinese style tea shop Madame Zuzu’s, and author of a soon to be completed autobiography, I realize any tour of Canada could be the band’s last.
They took the stage led by Corgan with Nicole Fiorentino (The Cold and Lovely, Veruca Salt, Light FM) on bass, Jeff Schroeder (The Lassie Foundation, The Violet Burning) on guitar, and 22-year-old super-prodigy Mike Byrne (Bearcubbin) on drums. All four members shared keyboard duties at various points in the show, showcasing The Pumpkins’ lesser known prog-rock and new wave influences.
They immediately launched into “Quasar”, the opening track off Oceania, their new album that’s sold over 100 thousand copies and has received the best opening reviews of any Pumpkins album ever. As a long time fan it’s always exciting to hear the new songs and with a giant “orb” floating above the stage projecting a series of 3D images. The show was an incredible experience visually. Refusing to become what Corgan terms a “nostalgia act,” The Smashing Pumpkins are virtually the only major rock band touring on new music, much less starting a show by playing their entire new album from start to finish. During the Oceania set Billy points to a fan giving him the finger: “Oh we have the angry guy. Angry guy? He comes to every show, angry guy! I’m so sorry angry guy! I’m so sorry angry guy. Go back to the ’90s angry guy. Go back, go back, the ’90s is waiting, it’s waiting for you. Eddie Vedder’s waiting…if you could go back in time there’s Eddie with a goatee, he’s waiting to hug you.”
Following the final song off Oceania entitled “Wildflower” (a song inspired by the recent death of Corgan’s friend Mark Tulin from the band The Electric Prunes) they performed an epic rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” before exploding into the classic Pumpkins metal track “X.Y.U.” In typical Pumpkins fashion, darkness, and humour manage to co-exist as Billy addressed the crowd: “What’s that (freakin’) (stuff) you people do up here with the broom? Anyone know what I’m talking about? Curling? Curling! It’s like an Olympic sport! Nicole, do you know anything about curling?”
Nicole: “umm…I curl my hair sometimes?”
The stadium crowd grew to a fever pitch as the Pumpkins then played some of their classic tracks including “Disarm,” “Tonight,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Today,” and “Cherub Rock.” After 26 songs in nearly three hours, the final song was a cover of Kiss’s “Black Diamond” with Mike Byrne on drums and vocals.
I watched people pour out of the Saddledome with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes, probably still hours away from remembering they live in a time that has little more to offer musically outside of shallow pop stars and the “cooler-than-you” hipster-indie world.