Free outdoor concerts in downtown Minneapolis never got any bigger than the Smashing Pumpkins show on July 17, 1998.
As headliners of the Aquatennial Block Party, the Chicago alt-rock titans played to a crowd of more than 100,000 people that day, with the stage set up at Block E during its parking lot era. The quartet (who would eventually break up in 2000) delivered a nearly two-hour set for fans who hung off rooftops, billboards, street lights, and any other edifice that gave them a better vantage point within that sprawling mass of humanity. The entire performance is captured in the YouTube clip posted below.
Bassist D'arcy Wretzky announced during the show that Minneapolis was the only city in the U.S. that agreed to host a free show from one of the biggest bands in the world at the time. All the other cities said no, she reported, despite the fact the Pumpkins had just returned from a European tour that featured a series of free outdoor shows. They all went off without a hitch.
In fact, instead of seeing a rise in crime that day, the Smashing Pumpkins concert actually helped catch an escaped murderer. Seriously! Pamela Keary bragged to fellow inmates at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Shakopee that she was going to escape and see this show, and police eventually apprehended her downtown at the concert.
In the video, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton even makes an appearance on stage, declaring the day to be Smashing Pumpkins Day in Minneapolis. It's a move that prompts frontman Billy Corgan to say "you guys have a really cool mayor," with D'arcy adding that the band has played many benefit gigs over the years, and those cities always send a "representative," and not the real thing. "This is the first time that the actual mayor of the city has bothered to show up."
While my personal memory of the festivities is admittedly a bit hazy (due to two chalices of Wanderers Punch from the Nankin), it's nice to relive the entire show via the fan-shot video taken on a rooftop across the street from the stage. The set draws mainly from the Pumpkins' just-released Adore album, as well as a smattering of hits from 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (skipping Gish and Siamese Dream entirely, much to my frustration that day). Interestingly, the set ends with a loose, sprawling cover of Joy Division's "Transmission" that works in fragments of David Bowie's "Let's Dance," as well.
"We hope that you make us your band for the apocalypse," Corgan exclaims as he leaves the stage. And while the end of the world has yet to befall us (check back with us come November, though), this free Smashing Pumpkins show was a spectacle that downtown Minneapolis will likely never see again.
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