There are “Smashing Pumpkins” concerts and then there are Smashing Pumpkins concerts.
The Twin Cities has seen three of the former in the past decade or so, with singer/guitarist Billy Corgan leading whoever happened to be in his band at the time. But Sunday night’s Xcel Energy Center show, the St. Paul stop of the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour, which finds Corgan onstage with his co-founders James Iha (guitar) and Jimmy Chamberlain (drums) for the first time in nearly two decades, felt like a Smashing Pumpkins concert.
Having Chamberlain and (especially) Iha back in the fold is a major selling point for a 41-date North American trek. (The former left the group in 2009 before returning in 2015, while the latter had been gone since 2000. Founding bassist D’Arcy Wretzky is the only original member not currently with the band.) But it always helps to play the hits, too. When the tour was announced, the ’90s alt-rock gods vowed that their setlists would only include selections from their first five LPs—1991’s Gish through 2000’s Machina/The Machines of God—and, save for new single “Solara” and a few curious covers sprinkled throughout, they stuck to that promise across three hours and 31 songs.
Corgan came onstage alone at approximately 8:15 p.m., serenading the crowd with the acoustic beauty of “Disarm” (from 1993 commercial breakthrough Siamese Dream) as a large screen behind him projected poignant images from the 51-year-old’s childhood. After that, the six-piece, rounded out by guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Jack Bates, and multi-instrumentalist Katie Cole, powered into the same record’s “Rocket” before digging into “Siva” and “Rhinoceros” from Gish.
But it wasn’t until the fifth number that the show began to take shape. As the rest of the band noodled around and tuned their instruments, Corgan draped himself in an oversized mylar jacket that seemed inspired either by Michael McKean’s “space blanket” in Better Call Saul or one of the costumes from the singer/wrestling magnate’s own National Wrestling Alliance.
Then, he ascended a staircase wheeled in by the roadies and the group started into David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” It wouldn’t be the last time Corgan donned an outlandish outfit (a large cowboy hat during “For Martha” and an Ottoman Empire-inspired look for the encore were the highlights) or reached into the classic rock canon—the band also played “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which was better served by a Pumpkins reimagining than the other two.
None of those covers was the gig’s biggest oddity, though. That honor must go to the two pre-recorded speeches by Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath, who is surprisingly a dead ringer for a younger Corgan when wearing a top hat. Apparently this night of nostalgia wasn’t just about reminding fans of some of the best music the ’90s had to offer, but also some of the worst.
Speaking of the best music of the ’90s, Siamese Dream and 1995’s diamond-certified Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness dominated the proceedings. The set included seven songs from each, as mega-hits like “Cherub Rock” and “1979” mixed in nicely with deeper cuts like “Mayonaise” and “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans.” In fact, the main set-closing suite of songs from those two records—“Hummer,” “Today,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Muzzle”—elicited more audience enthusiasm than any other stretch of the show.
Because the only thing Minnesotans love more than Prince is telling and hearing stories about Prince, Corgan’s recounting of meeting the Purple One in a tent inside a club went over famously, as well. “He wanted to meet me, so I go in the tent and he goes, ‘I really like “1979,”’” the similarly eccentric singer said, also joking that Prince used to sit in with the Pumpkins at the Entry “but no one was there to see it.”
At almost any point over the past 18 years, seeing Corgan, Iha, and Chamberlain jam out on Gish songs in 2018 seemed about as likely as seeing Prince do the same in 1991. Minnesota sure seemed glad to witness this one.
The opener: Metric are opening the whole Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour, promoting the upcoming release of their seventh studio record. Their electrifying 40-minute set included new singles “Dark Saturday” and “Dressed to Suppress” alongside such indie bangers as “Gold Guns Girls” and “Help I’m Alive.”
Overheard in the crowd: As the concert passed the two-hour-and-45-minute mark, “This is officially a Phish show now.”
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
The Everlasting Gaze
Stand Inside Your Love
Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin cover)
Try, Try, Try
The Beginning is the End is the Beginning
Bullet with Butterfly Wings
Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)