Madison Square Garden, New York City, August 1, 2018
The idea of Smashing Pumpkins‘ original line-up ever getting back together seemed ridiculous only a few years ago. Frontman Billy Corgan had made his feelings clear about his former bandmates in interviews over the years, calling guitarist James Iha a “piece of shit” and claiming drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had lied in a statement about why he left the band for a second time in 2009. And yet, slowly they came back into the fold – first Chamberlin returning to the live setup, then Iha appearing at an LA show to play a handful of old songs. Even bassist D’Arcy Wretzky was reportedly back in contact with Corgan.
There’s been more drama along the way, specifically regarding Wretzky’s involvement, but, somehow, three-quarters of the classic line-up have made it through all that enough to hit the studio and head out on an arena tour of North America. Despite new music in the offing, the ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’ tour is pure reflection – the setlist is made up of songs almost exclusively from the Chicago band’s first five albums and a chance to remember how great the Pumpkins were before they let themselves get sidetracked by issues outside the music.
Because of that, there is no chance their New York stop tonight (August 1) is going to be anything other than a total nostalgia trip. That much is obvious before the band even come onstage, as a starlit montage of old album graphics plays on the big screen. The ‘Siamese Dream’ twins, the ice cream truck from the ‘Today’ video, the girl in a star from the ‘Mellon Collie…’ artwork all fly past until the screen splits down the middle and Corgan creeps into the blinding light, milking the drama for all its worth.
The wait to finally see him, Iha and Chamberlin reunited lasts a little longer as the band’s leader kicks things off with a solo performance of ‘Disarm’, the rest of the band hidden in the shadows in the wings. It’s an emotional, brilliant start that’s accompanied by childhood photos of Corgan, although it does feel like this song in particular – one of the Pumpkins’ best – could have been saved until the audience was a little more warmed up. The idle chatter finally disperses when the screen cracks again at the end and the rest of the group join Corgan in the spotlight.
If you were worried the band might not be in the best spirits given all the drama leading up to the tour and reports the shows weren’t selling well, you’d be wrong. If tonight isn’t a complete sell out then it must be nearly there, with barely an empty seat in sight. As for the band, they look happy and relaxed from the get-go and there are plenty of touching moments that prove this isn’t just a cash-in. During ‘Siva’, when Corgan completes a gigantic guitar solo, Iha breaks from playing to join the crowd in applauding him. The frontman returns the favour during ‘Eye’ when he takes a pause from prowling the stage to stand next to his friend, arm around his shoulders. Chamberlin has a huge grin on his face as Corgan stands chatting to him as ‘Stand Inside Your Love’ begins, and an even bigger one appears as he deftly manoeuvres through ‘Solara”s drum solo. It’s wonderfully heartwarming to see.
The songs sound great, too. ‘Zero’ is fierier than ever, Corgan emphasising its “God is empty just like me” line with a guttural power. ‘Ava Adore’ is a unifying moment, the room joined in screaming along to its chorus, while ‘Hummer’ shifts from fizzing intensity to soft and tender. A subdued piano section featuring the likes of ‘Blew Away’ and ‘To Sheila’ shows the band can still break your heart as well as make you sweat, and covers of Bowie‘s ‘Space Oddity’, Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Landslide’ and Zeppelin‘s ‘Stairway To Heaven’ are all neat moments of homage.
If tonight means a lot to those in attendance, it might just mean more to the people on stage. They rarely speak between songs, but when they do it’s to express their sincerest gratitude. Iha is first to do so, sharing a story about stepping in “a pool of vomit” as he stepped out of his hotel earlier that day. Not even that mishap could lower his mood, though. “I was like, ‘It’s good to be back,'” he jokes. “Thank you so much for coming.”
During a rousing and perfect rendition of ‘Tonight, Tonight’, Corgan points at various sections of the room in front of him before clenching his fist to his chest, right where his heart is. Later, as the band prepare to break for the encore, he delivers his own speech. “Friends, what an incredible evening,” he begins, before joking that Iha would “like to play for another three hours.” “We love you, we appreciate you,” he continues. “This is the stuff dreams are made of.” A (mostly) reunited Smashing Pumpkins, happy and at their best? He’s not wrong – there are very few ways this could get any dreamier.