Reunion tour finds the rock vets still worthy of the arena setting
The Smashing Pumpkins came into the Schottenstein Center on Saturday like it had something to prove. Namely that, 30 years since its formation, the band can still be an arena rock act.
It seemed like a tall order, particularly when tickets for this show went on sale the same day as the on-sale date for Radiohead’s recent stop here. That’s some pretty big competition for your ’90s alternative concert dollars.
But this is no ordinary Smashing Pumpkins tour. Lead singer/guitarist/dictator Billy Corgan finally got (most) of the original band back together.
For the first time in 18 years, Corgan was flanked by guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The stories conflict on whose decision/fault it was that founding bassist D’arcy Wretzky wasn’t there to make it full reunion, but here we are.
Added to that, the “Shiny and Oh So Bright” tour would only feature material from the band’s first five studio albums. This is pure, crowd-pleasing “shut up and play the hits.”
And Corgan and company did just that in a sweeping three-hour set that let the band’s ample body of work do most of the talking.
After a brief and sorely underseen set by openers Metric, the arena filled out substantially (with a couple of third-deck sections curtained off to increase the crowd density).
Corgan is not known for his modesty or small ego, but opening the show with a solo, acoustic “Disarm” was more of a tone-setter than self-celebration. But lest we think Corgan has gone full humble, there were onscreen graphics literally depicting him as a saint.
When Iha, Chamberlin and the supporting musicians joined, the sound launched into the full, layered richness that is the Pumpkins’ signature.
As promised, the setlist leaned heavily on the early years, particularly selections from Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. For younger fans who missed out, take it from a grizzled vet who saw the Pumpkins original lineup in those days: The band has never sounded better.
Chamberlin is one of the great drummers of the era, and his return is probably the most essential. Iha’s warm personality shone as he handled the majority of the stage banter.
But Corgan’s voice somehow seemed more assured and powerful than when he was in his 20s. And while the ’90s scene didn’t always appreciate it as much as he deserves, he’s an absolute shredder on guitar.
The set was also peppered with cover songs that went just as big: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and, in the night’s most absurdly rock ’n’ roll moment, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.”
It was in that moment that I thought of a line from the concert-opening “Disarm,” Corgan intoning, “I used to be a little boy.” What could more fully embody a kid living his rock dreams than covering freakin’ “Stairway” in an arena?
And for three hours the Smashing Pumpkins reminded us it belonged there.