Live Review: Smashing Pumpkins

by Mitch Goldman

Key Arena, Seattle, WA 1/6/97

Talk about long waits: thanks to the highly publicized events of last August, the Pumpkins postponed their Seattle show from August to January, nearly six months of anticipation adding to the thrill of seeing Billy Corgan and company triumph over the dismissal of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain and the heroin death of keyboardist Jonathon Melvoin.

And triumph they did; with the addition of Filter drummer Matt Walker, the Pumpkins are heavier than ever. The delicate melodies and layers that made Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness so charming turn positively savage live; D'Arcy's bass lines and James Iha's screaming guitar parts fill out the mix with a thick foundation (and Walker is a huge addition to the sonic palette), but Corgan is the real show. Screaming his lungs out, churning out feedback and snarling, piercing solos, Billy's onstage personna is all edge. The production tools that make him a studio genius gone, Corgan bares himself in a cathartic display of madness and melody. Even when the band plays an acoustic number like "1979", the sharpness remains brutal.

Opening with "Tonight, Tonight", the Pumpkins started the lengthy show in all their melodic glory, but things turned harsh and heavy with Siamese Dream's lead-off track, "Cherub Rock". "Who wants honey/As long as there's some money?" Corgan asks ironically; the big bucks that poured in after selling four million copies of Siamese did nothing to quell the ambition that fuels the two hours of stunning songwriting diversity that is Melon Collie. And that album dominated the show; from the absurdly intense heavy numbers like "Zero" and "Fuck You" to the sweeping majesty of epics like "Porcelina of the Vast Oceans", Melon Collie is clearly the watershed album that every great band wants to make. The latter song in particular showcased the amazing marriage of music and visuals that is the Pumpkins' show in 1997: the huge screens that flanked the rear of the stage showed hypnotic green and blue ocean images while the band took us on a sonic journey through the musical seas of this brilliant tune.

And while older tunes garnered great crowd reaction (the incredible version of "Siva" in the encore reminded the fans that the Pumpkins were founders of the alt-rock scene; the delicate "Rhinoceros" was a great surprise; and the half-hour feedback laden "Silverfuck" ended the show in finest post-Sonic Youth style), it was the newer songs that defined the melodic reach of Corgan's aesthetic. "Thirty-Three" and "1979" were positively heartbreaking (both "number" titles!) and contain the kind of yearning that made the earlier hit "Today" so powerful (a song regretfully deleted from the Seattle show). Perhaps the most telling moment came in "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", where Corgan screams through the agony of his shattered voice "Despite all my rage/ I am still just a RAT IN A CAGE!!!". While previous songs may have seemed like a compositional dead-end for the versatile Corgan, his ample body of newer work is anything but a trap for Billy; rather his rage is in fact an open door to a vast array of emotion and melodic strength.

By the time "Silverfuck" ended the show in feedback and confusion, the Pumpkins had conquered the Key Arena fans. Few shows are worth leaving the house for these days; one that was worth a five month wait is rare indeed. The Pumpkins can not only rock as hard as ever, they're one of the few club bands who have made a musical and visual transition to the big arenas and seem all the more larger-than-life for the change.



Tonight, Tonight
Cherub Rock
Where Boys Fear to Tread
Fuck You (An Ode to No One)
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans->
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Thru the Eyes of Ruby



By Starlight

The Aeroplane Flies High->

Copyright © 1997

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