Corgan, Pumpkins deliver at Riverside Theater
The Riverside Theater was bustling Thursday evening as patrons queued up for the latest incarnation of The Smashing Pumpkins. The line to see one of our generation’s wounded poets circled round the corner, winding between dripping scaffoldings, ticket scalpers, and yellow-shirted security personnel.
While some disdain the fact, Corgan is the sole continuous member of the 90s rock legends, making him responsible for their sound. Backing him on this go-round, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, drummer Mike Byrne, and bassist Nicole Fiorentino held their own. While Corgan undoubtedly took painstaking control of the project, it’s safe to say that the new group was able to deliver a consistent sound true to the original vision of the band.
The 20-plus song set began with “Quasar.” The crowd was on its feet in seconds, spanning all ages and races. We pulsed and moved together under stage strobes designed to induce seizures in crowd members with no prior history of epilepsy. In tune with the name of the Pumpkins latest project, Teargarden By Kaeidyscope, vibrant pinwheels of lights flickered and shone while two giant mirror-glass daisies spun loopily around the frame. Behind drummer Byrne, a psychedelic kaleidoscope pattern undulated, recalling acid-trip-inspired art circa Woodstock.
Audience members cheered as the group rocked hard through “Panopticon” and “Starla,” but madness struck when the initial chords of “Geek U.S.A.” rang out into the crowd. Moving further into the set, the band managed to juggle pensive indifference and stellar musicianship. The sound was rich, complex and loud, just the way it should be.
Corgan plays guitar with often overlooked technical proficiency; his body and style somehow changed with age. He has become older, wiser, more serene and less gaunt — more like a father and less like a wandering son. His face shone with contentment as the crowd cheered on the Midwestern demi-god; he thanked us graciously for making him feel like he was home.
Between songs, atmospheric noises like thunder, calliope music, and heavy reverb fill the air. All the elements of ear-bleeding rock and roll meld with a tone of warmth and compassion. This recipe, along with Corgan’s ability to reinvent himself, is what has kept the group up to date for more than 20 years. Time after time, Smashing Pumpkins deliver unexpurgated sensuality mixed with bacchanal force.
The group played through songs old and new, including work from their 44-song concept Kaleidyscope project. Fans were well-versed and sang along with fervor. At one point, there was a pause, and an impromptu Brewers chant began. Corgan smiled, and continued to play through the remainder of the set.
In the opera seats above the left side of the stage, I watched an older pale man take in the show. He looked to be in his mid-70s, but his age didn’t seem to stop him from fist-pumping as though his life depended on it. At the encore, Corgan recognized the man as his father, blues guitarist William Corgan, Sr. He said that “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was inspired by the words of his father. The band then proceeded to blow the roof off the theater, while Corgan Sr. beamed and fist-pumped himself into joyful oblivion.
All in all, the show was beautifully executed, and everyone got what they came for. To me, the Smashing Pumpkins sound will forever transport me to my adolescence. Even now, listening to the soulful outpourings of Corgan and the Pumpkins is the audio equivalent of watching a sunrise from a sewer — dark, but ever hopeful.