The Smashing Pumpkins at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 10/20/12
Photo By Erik Hess
The Smashing Pumpkins
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Sometimes, you go to a show and get much more out of it than you expected to or even hoped to. Other times maybe you expect too much and are left disappointed and with a bad taste in your mouth. The Smashing Pumpkins' two-hour performance on Saturday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium improbably settled somewhere in between: it wasn't a stellar show by any means but it wasn't exactly terrible either. Certainly, parts of it were unexpected but not in a necessarily good way. The taste left in a lot of peoples' mouths by the end was likely vaguely unpleasant rather than outright awful.
The first half of the show found the band--like all stops on this tour--playing their new Oceania front-to-back, while an incredibly large globe hung above them, upon which clips from old films, machine/nature animated sequences (often featuring turtles, for some reason) and, at one point, Death Star blueprints, flashed and morphed through the shows first hour. And overall, Oceania proved to be a bit of an enigma.
There was a sleepy, unsettling vibe from the opening notes of "Quasar" which continued throughout, though there were few highs or lows, making parts of it seem like alternate takes of the same song. It was light years better than anything they've had to offer in roughly the last dozen years, but it was a far cry from anything contained on their first three albums. However, the band is essentially just Billy Corgan and the Hired Guns for all intents now--it's the Smashing Pumpkins in name only, really. But like Corgan noted at one point from stage after they had finished "One Diamond, One Heart"--his now-legendary, often hideous ego on full display--"They said this band couldn't continue and they were wrong. See?" Well, we did and we didn't.
Photos By Erik Hess
The first half of the show ended fairly strongly, "Glissandra" proved to be as toothy live as it is on record, and 'Inkless", a throwback of sorts to their early days, got the crowd moving more than it had for the previous 50 minutes before the down-tempo, haunting "Wildflower" slowed everything down again. "Wildflower" made a feedback-infused transformation into a fairly terrible cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" that dragged out into Pink Floyd-jam territory and from there, and the show lost quite a bit of steam and direction.
Corgan had informed the crowd early on in the evening that after playing Oceania, the band would perform "some of the old dusties," as he put it, referring to the early-era songs that, judging by the overall age of the crowd, many had come to hear. Beginning with "X.Y.U." from 1995's Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, though, it was obvious that the "classics" portion of the night wasn't going to be what everyone expected. "X.Y.U." did a good job of reclaiming the crowd's attention, but with a deep back catalog of better songs (and songs that could dovetail much more easily with both the new album and "Space Oddity"), the bumpy, aimless end had only begun.
"Disarm" and "Tonight, Tonight" followed, inspiring sing-alongs from the crowd that were so loud and spot-on Corgan needn't have even sang them himself, but everything ground to an abrupt, whiplash-inducing halt with the treacly, downright awful "A Song For a Son" from their Teargarden by Kaleidyscope (yes, that's spelled correctly, unfortunately), the ongoing concept album they began in 2009 that is being recorded and released in pieces over the course of the next several years (Oceania is actually an "album-within-an-album" on Teargarden). They ended the set on a fairly thunderous, mostly high note with "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", "Mayonaise" and "Cherub Rock", the still-lovely opening track on Siamese Dream, but the crowd looked to be growing tired at this point (save for the guy who was "directing" the show like a maestro) and the encore did nothing to fix that general vibe.
Photos By Erik Hess
The encore started with the decidedly non-classic "Ava Adore" from their protracted, wart-filled 1998 offering, Adore, and from there moved into the punishing, still-venomous "Zero," but redemption was not to be had on Saturday. They ended the encore with a cover of KISS's "Black Diamond" with drummer Mike Byrne on vocals--fitting, as Peter Criss handled them on the original. Ultimately, though, it was the oddest choice in a night that proved to be full of them. The show just sort of happened and seemed to leave many in the crowd (this writer included) feeling hardly anything at all in the way of an emotional response by the end. All told, it wasn't exactly good, it wasn't exactly bad, it just was and then it wasn't.
Critic's Bias: For years, the Smashing Pumpkins were my favorite band on the planet and then, from Adore onward, I denounced them at every given opportunity. I've softened on that a bit over the past year or so and while the new album is far from great, the band is headed in a direction that I'm genuinely curious about.
The Crowd: Mostly in their mid-30s, likely fans of the band since their '90s heyday.
Overheard in the Crowd: "This looks like an advertisement for Sea World." (At one point, the giant globe was displaying an animated, ocean fauna-filled underwater scene with human limbs being enveloped by tentacles and the like.)
Notebook Dump: They completely ignored Gish in the second half and no "1979". What the hell?
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