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This is part 2 of a 4 part piece I am writing, inspired by a pair of Smashing Pumpkins concerts and a DVD documentary. As you may or may not know, I am a big Smashing Pumpkins fan, I always appreciate their work. I feel the need to preface this piece by saying that as it will give you an insight into the context of my commentary.
After night one of the Chicago Smashing Pumpkins 20th anniversary shows, some fans were left scratching their heads, while others were left swearing off the band for good. Others still, like myself, left thrilled and wanting more... and we would get more on night two: White Crosses.
During the course of the night Billy Corgan asked who had seen the previous night's show. There were more than a few people who raised their hands thing time too and he thanked for coming back with a bit of satirical bite and a laugh, suggesting with his tone that maybe more than a few people weren't satisfied the night before. This time though, the majority seemed absolutely thrilled to be back and happy with the way the second show was progressing.
In case you missed it, you can find part 1 of this piece, my review of the first night, here: The Dividing of the Pumpkins Fans, Part 1: A Concert Review
Walking into the venue for the second time, I think I was even more anxious than the first night. Even though I had been psyched to see this band live for so long prior, something about the first night really resonated with me and I was really excited to see how the Pumpkins would take things on night 2. I wasn't disappointed, and I even think that a few of the naysayers who still came after being put off by the first show, had their faith in the band rekindled... maybe, just maybe.
Here's the set list from White Crosses:
Cupid De Locke
I of the Mourning
A Song for a Son
As Rome Burns
The Sounds of Silence
The March Hare/Suffer
Age of Innocence
- Encore -
That's the Way
I am One pt 2
Compared to the first night, this set list is, on first glance, much more "crowd friendly" with many well known songs throughout. Don't let that fool you though, this still wasn't a "hits show" by any stretch of the imagination. The band was still getting deep and psychedelic with stretched jams and new versions of songs, but for whatever reason, the crowd was much more receptive this time and I think most people left feeling satisfied.
"Ava Adore" led things off sounding awesome. For whatever reason, this song just sounds so amazing live, and this was no exception. It wasn't the playful fun of the first night's opener, "Everybody Come Clap" (post drum solo), but it was just as great if not better, and got the crowd excited right off the bat. A stirring, and slightly psychedelic version of "Cupid De Locke" pulled things back a little bit, before leading into "1979" in all it's glory. As you would expect, this got people on their feet and excited, plus the band was sounding tight and expressive, locking in early on.
Where the first night contained a true "acoustic set" of sorts towards the middle of the show, this time they kept things a little quieter early on, breaking out acoustic numbers without the formal distinction of a separate set. I think of the lighter songs the band wrote during their residency experience, "99 Floors" is my favorite. It's catchy and just seems to fit into the band's catalog so well. "Owata" I hadn't heard much of before, but it also sounds pretty cool, while the sweet "Sunkissed" is soft and beautiful in it's simplicity and subtlety. Definitely a great track to hear live and the band built layers of sound upon one another creating a dense mix.
And then Billy had his electric out with the soft subtlety of "Soma" drifting over the crowd as the lights created a dreamy landscape to surround the band. Seeing this song live was an extra special treat for me because it's one of my all time favorite Pumpkins tracks, and the band certainly did it justice. Those softly picked melodies starting off and building slowly towards the ultimate guitar eruption that everyone knew was coming. It was like they were transitioning from lighter material to the heavy stuff, and when that trademark thick Pumpkins guitar sound kicked in, you could tell the crowd was with them the whole time... they were ready to rock.
The band would keep that energy going with "Cherub Rock". All I can say is... crowd explosion... this is obviously what they were waiting for and the entire place was singing along from the first word till the last... incredible... and they kept it going with two more back to back rockers. The transition to "Zero" was almost immediate, with the band playing the slightly faster version they have been doing for a while now (since back in the 90s, at least to my knowledge), with plenty of spit and snarl that would be carried over into the pounding, "Bodies". Both these tracks were everything you'd expect from the Pumpkins... they totally delivered all the power and raw grind you want from these tracks, and the crowd was very appreciative.
"Crestfallen" was a definite surprise for me, and a very pleasant one as I find Adore as a whole to be a very underrated album, and not just when compared to other Pumpkins works. This was a beautiful performance, with the band showing just how good they are at weaving a dense fabric of sound, even when they're not using on the massive guitar sound. "I of the Mourning" was great too, and another personal highlight because it happens to be one of my favorite songs from MACHINA I.
After that, just like last night, things started to get really interesting, but this time, I think they had the crowd coming along with them the whole time.
"A Song For a Son" sounds like it's going to be amazing when actually released. Sort of a slow brooding number that builds into something massive by the end, I was really digging this one and hope that it won't be too long before the band decides to release it for real. A beautiful duet (Billy and Jeff) version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" came unexpectedly, but was a welcome addition and beautifully performed. For whatever reason, I actually prefer the Pumpkins version to the original... not that that's a knock against Fleetwood Mac, I just think that the Pumpkins seem to really capture the essence of this song, especially live.
Billy talked to the crowd before the next one, having some fun playing up the rivalry between the Cubs and the White Sox here in Chicago, and joking how it was "shout dumb stuff time" and that they should all shout stuff together. He also commented on how the band wouldn't be playing a lot of everyone's favorites during the night, but that maybe the next one was someones... and then went right into "Disarm," to wild crowd approval. It seemed to me that during this little talk, Corgan was using a little of that satirical wit again, but unlike the previous night, this time the crowd seemed to be joking and laughing with him... kinda interesting to think about when things got slightly hostile the night before.
After the amazing version of "Disarm" we were treated to a unique version of the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness theme, with melody played on violin and accompanied by keyboards. It was a welcome instrumental addition and a great transition into "Galapogos". This is another favorite of mine and it was great to see as by this time the crowd seemed really into the show and so there was a certain electricity in the air pushing everything that much higher.
The band would close with another massive assault, starting with what has become my favorite of the new Pumpkins material since the first time I heard it. Although I thought the epic jam of "Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun" from the previous night, was intense and compelling, "Gossamer" is that much and more. The melody is incredible and although I don't know exactly how long it went on, it was definitely an extended jam (past versions have passed the half hour mark). However long it ran, every second was engrossing and I find that the mystic flavored, soaring melody with it's heavy guitars; the center atmospheric, psychedelic section in the middle and the lyrics just all work so well together. This song might just be the reason why I find the recent Pumpkins just as, if not more, intriguing and compelling than the original band.... awesome.
It wouldn't stop there though, as they tore right into another new track "As Rome Burns". This is a hyper progressive rocker that hits hard and has some great riffs. I was looking forward to hearing it live because I've seen clips of them playing it from other dates on this tour and it definitely delivers... please have a studio version of this track for us to check out out soon?
A twisted, futuristic, heavy version of "The Sounds of Silence" came next, and was once again turned into a great psychedelic jam, but still kept the energy up. "The March Hare/Suffer" would get things going even more as both were full of jungle style drumming from Jimmy, while Billy rocked out to the beat, dancing with his top hat. The jam was sort of a Doors meets Santana meets Pumpkins moment, so much so that I didn't even recognize "Suffer" at first at all. It was completely unexpected and definitely got the crowd moving and having fun.
The set would close properly with the highly underrated "Age of Innocence". I love all Pumpkins music, but MAHINA I & II have been getting a lot of listens by me recently, so I was happy to see this one included as it's another favorite of mine. A great acoustic version of "That's the Way" led off the encore, before the band broke into another massive sounding jam. "I Am One pt 2" didn't really remind me much of "I Am One," another they both do share a mystic flavored guitar riff, but it definitely rocked and has me psyched to hear future versions of this one (UPDATE: it's been revealed to me that this is actually an old song from way back in 1989, only done in demos... who knew? not me... that's for sure). Others may have wished they closed with something more well known, but this seemed like a killer closer to me, leaving with the band pointing towards the future an emphasizing their new artistic, psychedelic direction... not that I think it's really such a huge departure for the Pumpkins.
Overall, I think this show was slightly better than the first night, but not by much. Some people might say it was a ton better because of the set list, but I thought both were intense, artistic, surprising, funny, experimental, powerful, and NOT hits shows. That by itself has sort of divided the fans between those who wish they were playing more old stuff, and those who are thrilled with the new directions they're taking and are looking for more. With the first night I was left wanting just a touch more, but after this show I felt more satisfied.... and really really excited about the new material. Having attended both though, I can't say if someone who only saw the second one would feel the same way, so my satisfaction may be a product of both shows, or just the fact that the crowd seemed much more into the music on the second night. I can understand if someone was still disappointed, but there definitely seemed to be a little more electricity this night than the previous one, leading me to believe that the majority of the crowd was digging this show.
Together I think these two nights together paint an excellent picture of the Smashing Pumpkins as a band. They captured both their quirky satire and tendency to anger their fans by doing whatever they want on stage, combined with their ability to deliver beautiful, powerful and compelling music whether it's a hard hitting bit of proto metal, or a massive psychedelic space jam. I think that was part of the original intention of doing these two night sets and so I'm glad to have gone to see both. If I could have only seen one though, I don't think I'd be disappointed with either, but might learn towards choosing the second night if I could.
Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that I think neither show could stand on its own, as some other reviews I've read have suggested. Instead, each was a unique evening with the Pumpkins, both reaffirming in my mind that I do indeed trust this band to deliver incredible music that I will enjoy, even if I might not be that drawn to it at first.
As I mentioned, I'm really excited about the new material and the new artistic directions that this band is pursuing. They really seem to be enjoying themselves throughout it all and that is producing some amazing musical results. I don't know what it'll be but whenever the next new album from this band comes around, I'll be there ready to let them show me what they've been working on... it should be interesting to say the least.
So in conclusion, if you're Pumpkins fan, you might be a little more content seeing a show like this second night than the first, but if you're willing to go on the ride, laugh and see everything this band has to offer, you might just be blown away and having a great two night experience. At the same time though, I definitely think that these shows have divided Pumpkins fans, pushing some casual fans over the edge, perhaps never to return to the land of Pumpkindom.
After these two nights, I'm even more a Smashing Pumpkins fan than ever, but it doesn't stop there. They've also recently released a 2 disk DVD set, which I've checked out and will be reviewing in part 3 of 4 of this piece. So we'll pick this discussion tomorrow with that.
Go back to part 1 here: The Dividing of the Pumpkins Fans, Part 1: A Concert Review
UPDATE: You can find part 3 of this piece here: The Dividing of the Pumpkins Fans, Part 3: A DVD Review