The Smashing Pumpkins, or what is left of them, graced U Street’s Lincoln Theatre with a plainsong showing on April 10th. The venue in itself was a smart choice given the mainly acoustic renditions, as ample seating and pleasant atmosphere quelled the rebellious vibes of the rocker audience. After every track, the absolutely packed theatre erupted with applause—something even the opener, Liz Phair, got to thoroughly enjoy. The only strange aspect of the venue was that most traces of sound were erased from the building with every song interlude, and random people capitalized on the quietude. Billy Corgan did not care to converse with a massive audience masked in darkness, so calls to the band just hung in the otherwise silent space. Some of the shouts were understandable, like chants of “Jimmy” to Jimmy Chamberlin—the only original member of the band to take the stage alongside Corgan. Others, though, pulled a certain ambiance from the performance; for example, an overly wine-drunk woman kept screaming “Silverfuck” in an effort to affect the setlist. She did not seem to get the memo that Corgan does as he pleases, and, in looking at previous setlists, varies the performance minimally from show to show.
Theatre aside, the Pumpkins put a few items of note on full display. Firstly, the plainsong format emphasized both the power of individual tracks and the centrality of focus upon Corgan. His raw vocal power and guitar ability was thrust unto the listener with solo acoustic renditions of “Stumbeline” and “Tonight, Tonight.” I was worried that the show would be lackluster, as I thoroughly enjoy the grunge-side of the Pumpkins. However, I was pleasantly surprised and satisfied as I just listened to Corgan’s iconic voice. His outstanding performance of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” magnified my deference, and in itself made the night a success.
The Pumpkins did not focus on hits like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; rather, the band took the audience on an in-depth exploration of their 1993 release, Siamese Dream. The show’s inner-setlist of “Mayonaise,” “Soma,” “Rocket,” “Spaceboy,” and “Today,” was nicely assembled and I happily realized I would not have to deal with concert-ear after the show.
Sadly, as the Pumpkins’ “Siamese Suite” came to a close, things went downhill. Corgan did a solo performance of “Disarm” on the keys—a really strange choice considering that the song’s original composition would have paired well with the previous acoustic performances of “Tonight, Tonight” and “Stumbeline.” Further, his avoidance of hit material seemed to go too far, as he dove into a weird abyss of electronica. Chamberlin left the stage for a while, and Corgan ditched his guitar in favor of singing over strange electronic beats. As Corgan was doing an awkward lanky-guy dance away from the microphone, I found myself wondering where I was and what I was doing there. The performance had become fundamentally different, and the new style began to detract from such a strong beginning. Thus, an additional item of note came to surface—Billy Corgan is a strange bird, edging on Styx “Mr. Roboto” strange. A few songs nearly stole the otherwise excellent set, and if not for a return to normalcy with “1979”, the Pumpkins may have lost their audience completely.
Past “1979,” the little that remained of the show was forgettable, as it included multiple unimpressive covers. Yet, the performance as a whole was still laudable. The Pumpkins could drop an album on the modern day musical universe and still find success. Billy Corgan, the rogue artist he is, still possesses the pipes to captivate full houses.
photo credit to pitchfork.com