July 5, 1998
Story by Tony BonyataJust when one might get the impression from their latest album that Chicago's own Smashing Pumpkins are mellowing out, they proved last Sunday on the final night of Milwaukee's Summerfest that they haven't lost any steam created over the course of their tumultuous seven year career. In fact, they are probably the one band to properly take this thing called rock into the next millennium.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
The two hour-plus show turned it's back on old favorites and instead focused intensely on material from their new album Adore.At first passing Adore seems to abandon the sonic sand-blasting crunch of their past in favor of melodic tunes and softer ballads. But after deeper listenings it turns out that their fuzzed-up noise is still there, it's just more slyly orchestrated into the songs. The lack of their trademark assaulting rhythm may also be a direct result of the loss of thunder-drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (Chamberlin was fired from the band before this album was made due to his addiction to heroin).
The Pumpkins, lead by singer / songwriter / guitarist Billy Corgan and featuring bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha, were augmented at their Milwaukee performance by keyboardist Mike Garson (from David Bowie's recent band) as well as a 3-piece percussion outfit which included drummer Kenny Arnoff (from John Mellencamp's band). Corgan, dressed in an ill-fitting black suit and combat boots, looked like he just descended from another planet with his clean shaven head and child-like features as they opened up with the number "To Sheila". The band turned this quiet lullaby into an almost anthematic monstrosity as Corgan mortared down fat slabs of rhythm guitar as Ih's sonic tones darted in and out of the mix. On the pre-industrial, new wave sound of "Pug" drummer Arnoff, along with the other two percussionists, whipped themselves into a lather as D'Arcy, who was wearing a pair of black devil horns over her white pinned-down hair and a very revealing see-through lacy black top, hypnotized the audience with her quirky, yet seductive bass-line.
On "Ava Adore", the first single and hardest rocking song from the new album, Corgan upped the ante and threw in an excessive, but delicious, go-for-broke guitar solo that was reminiscent of the best of the seventies hard rock acts. Sounding similar to their previous single "1979", the band stripped down their latest hit "Perfect" into a leisurely acoustical Sunday drive.
Corgan's voice has seemed to have gotten a lot stronger over time. Whereas just a few years ago his voice was dominated by tyrannical shouting that was prone to crack during a live performance, he now has a more stable voice that seems more natural and mature, even when ranting.
The only songs from their past that were performed that night, all from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, were transformed into entirely new creatures. "Tonight, Tonight" soared above the stadium with Corgan on acoustic guitar. "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" was injected with Iha's frenzied, fuzzed-up tones as well as Corgan's angst ridden 'rat-in-a-cage' screaming. And during their encore they speed-balled through the song "1979" with an unbridled punk urgency.
They may not be selling out stadiums like fellow contemporaries Pearl Jam (they had to move their hometown show from Chicago's Soldier Field to the smaller venue of the New World Music Theater in Tinley Park due to slow ticket sales, not to mention quite a few empty seats visible at their Milwaukee show), but make no mistake, The Smashing Pumpkins possess a magic that no other band today has.