By Kohan Eybergen
Music fans born in the 1990s were likely introduced to music at a young age by their parents, cool young aunts and uncles, or equally as cool elder cousins (usually, as in my case, all three). There are many memories that I have of listening to something I’d never heard of before with an older family member when I was young, but possibly one of the most striking was the first time I head the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock” cranked up in my uncle’s Tacoma.
Up until that point in my life, I was, as most kids were, exposed to the music that my parents were listening to. Not that that’s a bad thing. David Bowie, The Cars, and The Stranglers are all great artists and groups. However, my first time listening to the Pumpkins was one of the first times I was exposed to some really high-energy alternative rock music. And I was hooked. Through various relatives I was introduced to music by other nineties bands: Alice in Chains, TOOL, Pearl Jam, The Breeders, Stone Temple Pilots, Audioslave, etcetera…
Reminiscences aside, I was ecstatic to find out that the Smashing Pumpkins were coming to Edmonton, especially during the current climate of alternative rock music (don’t get me started). It was also fantastic that they were playing at the new Rogers Place arena. Surely a band as big as the Pumpkins would sell out the venue; TOOL did a year previously, and they’re a bit more of a niche band.
Man, was I wrong. Walking through the doors of Rogers Place, I was extremely underwhelmed by the audience size. I was prepared that the majority of fans would be older millennials and Gen Xers recapturing the feel of nineties nostalgia, but I was not prepared for how few people were there. The entire upper bowl of the arena was closed, the lower bowl was about two thirds full, and there were empty seats scattered throughout the floor area.
What I was not disappointed by, however, was the show itself. No opener was scheduled; the Pumpkins started at 7:30 and played till 11:00. It was an absolute monster of a show length. Three and a half hour show to finish off their forty-show tour! And more importantly, they still absolutely rock!
Billy Corgan opens the show on his own with “Disarm,” an easy way to instantly win the crowd by starting with a radio hit. And holy, can Corgan still sing–especially considering he’s been singing and screaming for thirty years. They then open the curtains of the stage to reveal the rest of the band as they blast into the riff for “Rocket.” I’m already absolutely psyched; they’re starting with songs from my favourite, and arguably their best album, and the crowd is feeling the same excitement. Here’s the generation that I grew up with as a major influence on my life–the generation that thrived on loud music in weird keys with weird time signatures and shocking surreal lyrics.
The band doesn’t take a break before diving into the second track off of the album Gish, “Siva.” A dynamic song filled with screeching guitar parts, as well as quiet breaks and monstrous Jimmy Chamberlin drum fills. They follow up “Siva” with track three on Gish, “Rhinoceros,” another rocker of a song that starts slow and dreamy, which then builds into a storm of guitars, bass, and drums. Another crowd favourite with its refrain of “she knows, she knows, she knows” being sung back by the crowd.
Although the Smashing Pumpkins may not be as energetic as they once were, their visual art on the stage makes up for it. Projections of trippy kaleidoscope images dance on the screens, and purple, red, and green lights bathe the stage in colour. Not shocking coming from a band whose lead singer dropped acid with Steve Jobs.
There’s a quick break in the music and the curtain conceals part of the stage. They begin to start playing some softer, intro-sounding music. Some members of the crowd, many of whom have been smashing multiple (over priced) beers, begin to groan and become antsy in preparation for some of the band’s slower (typically less popular) dream pop material. Wrong. The curtains open up again and they begin playing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”
Oh my god, one of my favourite bands is playing music by one of my all time favourite musical artists! And the crowd is appreciating it too! Goosebumps cover my skin while the Pumpkins cover Bowie–and cover Bowie WELL. Very well. It’s obvious that Bowie’s music influenced the Smashing Pumpkins sound, but it was still unexpected to hear a Bowie cover at a Pumpkins show. The wrap up “Space Oddity” to tons of cheers and applause, and kick into “Drown.”
Accompanied by trippy and dark visuals of underwater images, “Drown” is beautiful and flawless. There’s another break in the music, and a prerecorded video of Billy Corgan dressed as a carnie is projected onto the screen. He gives a short speech about the nobodies and downtrodden, and introduces “Zero,” one of the many hit songs off of the album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and an absolute banger of a heavy alternative rock song. This generates a massive crowd response from the undersized crowd. They then play a few songs from the album Machina, released in the year 2000.
The crowd starts to lose interest with the song “Thirty-Three” from Mellon Collie. Which is a shame, because it really is a beautiful song, and some of the Pumpkins’ best songs are slower paced and quiet. They follow with “Eye,” a slower electronic tune, much to the dismay of some of the crowd who want to hear loud guitar based songs. Then “Soma” is played, another slower-tempo song, but a really good one that builds into a loud climax–too slow for some of the crowd who start yelling and throwing cups from the higher seats onto some unfortunate people in the lower seats. Which is really a bummer, but these annoying people were the first to bail on the concert, as well as some of the other more respectable folks who probably had to work in the morning. Their loss.
The band continues on, unperturbed by the streams of people leaving up the stairs. The cover of the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide” soon makes an appearance, another fan favourite from Pisces Iscariot. Then “Tonight, Tonight,” followed by…
“STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN!!!” The Smashing Pumpkins covering Led Zeppelin! And nailing it! Wow…another unexpected twist. Then, one of my personal favourites, the absolute ass-kicker “Cherub Rock.” I hope the people who left early in frustration with the quiet songs know that they missed out, and that they feel ashamed for being dicks.
“1979” is played shortly after, and “Today” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” towards the very end of the show to much applause. The Pumpkins then follow the typical (and somewhat clichéd) act of leaving for a bit, waiting for the fans to demand an encore, which obviously we did. They close the show with the songs “Solara” accompanied by a wicked drum solo by Jimmy Chamberlin, and “Baby Mine,” a cover of Betty Noyes.
Despite the assholes yelling and throwing stuff, the $45 t-shirt cost, and the underwhelming crowd size, I was certainly not disappointed, and neither were the fans who stuck it out and waited to the end of the exceptionally long show. Although the Pumpkins don’t have the stage energy they used to, which is understandable after almost thirty years of rocking out (which mirrors many of their fans), they were still top-notch performers, and this was, overall, an enjoyable show.