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The Smashing Pumpkins, Madison Square Garden, New York, August 2018

Thomas Dambro
Live Reviews
July 17, 2018

Reunion tours are tough. Bands get back together for another trip ‘round the country for a variety of reasons – money, nostalgia, an attempt to maintain relevance, sometimes to be the main vehicle to support another album (which at times can seriously dampen the excitement for new material). So here we are in 2018 with The Smashing Pumpkins, one of the world’s biggest and most revered acts, getting back together for what has been labeled a “reunion tour” of sorts.  All of the original members - Billy Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin - with the exception of bass player D’arcy Wretzky are back. The question is, what does it mean in terms of their legacy and the fact that they have a brand new single out?

Well if you were at the SOLD OUT Madison Square Garden show in New York City, you’d realize it meant this isn’t a reunion tour at all.  It’s not even a “we’re back” tour.  It’s the Pumpkins embarking on yet another massive tour to give the fans what they want with the original lineup that has been treasured by fans since the 90’s.  Corgan and company overserved the crowd with a near 3-hour set filled with all the songs diehard Pumpkin fans would want to hear.  Hell, they opened the set with Corgan playing “Disarm” solo accompanied by a montage of pictures of him as a child.  It’s a heartbreaking song to open a show with but that’s all part of the power.  From there on out fans were treated to all of the favorites: “Today,” “1979,” and “Mayonaise” among others and even some cuts from the underrated Adore album.  They also threw some covers into the set doing a near-perfect rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” as well as “Stairway To Heaven” in full.  Yes that’s right, “Stairway” in full.  Solo and all.  For that number, the band had a crew in the audience carting around some kind of religious statue as part of the spectacle.  It was weird, but it is the Smashing Pumpkins after all.

One of the best moments of the night was when the band played “Zero” from the masterpiece album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  The band absolutely ripped through the song and when they paused for the song’s rallying cry “Want to go for a ride?” a sold out MSG yelled that back at them.  It was without a doubt a highlight concert moment in terms of being in the crowd, which begs the question how good did that feel for the band?  Also hearing the band play “Tonight, Tonight” was one of those live moments that could give even the most passive fan chills.  All of the songs throughout the set were marked by an ever-changing stage setup which included a great light show, sliding screens, Corgan appearing in a tower.  There was even a portion of the show where Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray appears in a video message dressed as a carny hyping up the crowd.  The audience surely did not know what that was about but it didn’t really matter.  It was strange, it was funny, it seemingly had nothing to do with anything, but it worked.

It also must be noted how truly talented this band is.  James Iha is a wonderful guitar player and Jimmy Chamberlin is the unsung hero of the band whose jazz drumming background made the Pumpkins’ sound what it is today.  With that being said, a lot of credit has to be given to Corgan.  As the lead singer and lead guitarist of the band, the man is a special talent.  His guitar playing alone was enough to knock the crowd out but put that on top of his vocals which sound as good as they ever have.  The guy hasn’t lost a step and delivers a masterful live performance.  It’s hard to encapsulate what an amazing performance he gave with only so much space to write, but it was genuinely great.

As the set came to a close, the band played the massive “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” followed by an encore that consisted of their new single “Solara”. Seeing the crowd responding to the new music was exciting and proved a good indicator that this band has another big chapter in their career coming.  There was a lot to take in throughout the night and a lot more to mention, but sometimes the magic of a live show is just being there.  You can’t always put it in a review.  The Smashing Pumpkins captured that magic.

Thomas Dambro

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