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Concert review: Smashing Pumpkins treat longtime fans to a dose of pure nostalgia

With the pricier tickets topping $100, the long overdue, mostly original four-piece lineup — bassist D’arcy Wretzky wasn’t included — reunion tour of Smashing Pumpkins counted on crowd members in their 40s and 50s longing for some 1990s nostalgia. 

And founding members Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin and James Iha did not disappoint fans Sunday night at Duluth’s Infinite Energy Arena, playing songs from the group’s inception through 2000 - “Gish,” “Siamese Dream,” “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” “Adore” and “Machina.” 

Legacy tours can be tough to pull off and the alternative band known most for hits “Zero,” “Today” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” struggled with ticket sales as the Shiny And Oh So Bright Tour started. A venue representative said the band sold out about half the arena, roughly 6,000 tickets, and few fans arrived before Metric finished its set. But, an hour into the Pumpkins’ set, three-quarters or more of the seats were filled. 

Corgan graced the stage alone for the opening number. Behind the singer/songwriter and guitarist, a slideshow of childhood photos were one-by-one displayed as “Disarm” filled the arena with that soulful angst for which the band is known.

Watching the mini show-behind-the-show gave a poetic insight into Corgan’s mindset. For a reunion tour to begin with only Corgan on stage betrays something about his ego, but the 51-year-old man dressed in black with what looked like a half-skirt made of duct tape strips let us in with pictures from his early years. Each image of a gentle-looking and smiling boy was scratched over with words like “burnt.” The eyes X-ed out in favor of phrases such as “I am here.” The number 666 was literally scrawled across the innocence of youth. The dichotomy was raw and aggressive. 

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Singer Billy Corgan was his usual theatrical self. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC

Many of the Pumpkins’ songs revolve around themes of isolation, depression and anger. The dynamics of the lyrics and the musical crescendo, sliding in and out of quiet reflection and impassioned rage, make “Siamese Dream” and “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness” staples to anyone who came of age in the mid ‘90s.

And those were the songs the crowd wanted to hear. 

Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin rejoined Corgan in 2015, so some fans may have heard the Pumpkins’ roar with half its foundation in place. But when James Iha walked on stage Sunday night, the crowd erupted. It had simply been too long and many in the audience likely never heard the band at its peak.

Corgan has covered “Space Oddity” at previous shows, including one in the Atlanta area in 2013, but after David Bowie’s death the song took on the tone of homage and goodbye — another theme the songwriter loves. From the top of a staircase, dressed in a silver cape with a hood, Corgan with his back to the audience faced the screen like an astronaut staring into the abyss of space itself. He sang perfectly, channeling Bowie for anyone who’d missed him.

The arrival of guitarist James Iha on stage thrilled fans. Photo: Ryan Fleisher/Special to the AJC

A man of few words at many of the shows, Corgan preferred on Sunday to address the crowd via pre-taped videos with multiple visions of himself speaking out of synch. The effect was a disconnected feeling, considering the man hadn’t bothered to say as much as hello, good evening or thanks (he did say “thank you” after playing “For Martha,” which was the fourteenth song of the set).

Butterflies flew across the backdrop as “Soma” raged and ballerinas danced in graveyards during “To Sheila.” The crowd rose to its feet every time a “Siamese Dream” song started. 

If you’ve never seen The Smashing Pumpkins, go now and buy tickets. The band brings more than nostalgia to its lengthy set. These guys are longtime friends and musicians who’ve made up for more than just the money. They are juxtaposing past and present while still trying to make sense of just who they are as individuals. The journey continues with shows in Miami and Tampa, Fla., before heading north again for Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and New York among other cities. 

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