Concert review: The Smashing Pumpkins accentuate the positive at Chaifetz Arena, Thursday, October 18
Billy Corgan seems like a new man. At last night’s Smashing Pumpkins show at St. Louis’ Chaifetz Arena, Corgan appeared free of angst or rage, performing his superb new record “Oceania” with a flash of positivity and swagger.
The Smashing Pumpkins opened with “Quasar,” which grew from the squeal of Jeff Schroeder’s atmospheric soloing, exploding into a heavy blast of rock reminiscent of tracks featured on 1993′s “Siamese Dream.” Corgan’s buzz-saw vocals crested on “Panopticon” with fury and introspection creating a tone that slipped easily into the romantic radio-hit “Celestials.” The song shone brightly with a kick drum beat paired with undistorted guitar strumming and bassist Nicole Fiorentino’s dulcet harmonizing. The song took a pithy turn when Corgan sang, “I’m going to love you, 101 percent.”
A giant orb dangling behind the band served as a huge screen for a series of projections. The images shaded celestial, psychedelic and even romantic, often supporting the theme of a particular song with octopus tentacles, eyes, stars, bodies in motion, wires, tendrils or sunflowers. The globe lightly distorted each image with its massive curves to create a host of creepily familiar yet foreign images.
From a wall of guitar soloing and fuzz came “Violet Rays,” which featured ’70s-inspired scaling keys before melting into a booze-addled guitar overload. On “My Love Is Winter” Corgan begged his love to return before engaging in a playful guitar battle with Schroeder. “One Diamond, One Heart” unwound with wires scoping into a man’s skull projected on the globe-screen and a drop-time house beat from drummer Mike Byrne. The nine-minute-plus “Oceania” had the crowd cheering along as Corgan and Schroeder set off on another squalling guitar odyssey.
After satisfying renditions of “Pale Horse,” “The Chimera” and “Inkless,” “Wildflower” rose like a happy surprise at the end of Corgan’s one-way “Oceania” trip. The song, forgoing drums, bloomed with digital keys layered atop one another as Corgan sang, “I’m wasted along the way,” conjuring the ephemeral vibe of early spring and coupling it with self destruction.
During the second half of the set, Corgan led fans through a well-selected group of his old, standby hits — but before that came a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Corgan’s voice slid over the cover with ease and purpose as the song built behind his wailing.
“X.Y.U.,” from 1995′s “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” was the darkest song of the evening and found Corgan firing off onomatopoetic “Rat-tat-tats” between bursts of caterwauling, black-out guitar solos. “Disarm” opened with classic church bells slathered with organ, but soon Corgan unleashed an unexpected crescendo as he sang, “The killer in me is the killer in you!”
Corgan joked about receiving texts from Albert Pujols asking if he made the “right decision leaving the Cardinals.” Corgan remarked, “But seriously, since my beloved Cubs are out of the running, I wish you all the best.” “Tonight, Tonight” built from another of Schroeder’s vast guitar leads to attain a warm grandeur. George Méliès’ 1902 film, “A Trip to the Moon,” danced across the giant orb behind the band.
The ballad-based “A Song For a Son” chugged a bit, but nonetheless snowballed into full cacophonous rock before it closed in on itself. “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” surged out of a bass lead-in that didn’t match the record, but lent the old hit a certain playful newness. “Zero” and “Cherub Rock” found the audience headbanging to two of Corgan’s more angst-laden tracks, excited to see the man, who has suddenly achieved happiness post-”Zeitgeist,” still channeling some of his old rage into powerful screams and subtle barbs.
Before he left the stage, Corgan exclaimed, “I’ve spent a lot of years not having fun, but I’m having fun now.” The Smashing Pumpkins encored with “Ave Adore” and “Muzzle.” Corgan’s lyrics were clear and present, the songs’ tempo and power right on. Corgan and company did an excellent job of not only showing off the entirety of their new record, “Oceania,” but also in transporting the audience back to the Smashing Pumpkins’ glory days.