Smashing Return! Smashing Pumpkins at the Aragon, 12.7.08

Posted by on Dec 13, 2008 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Smashing Return! Smashing Pumpkins at the Aragon, 12.7.08

No one quite knew what to expect from The Smashing Pumpkins upon entering the Aragon on December 7th 2008 for a special added show to their 20th anniversary tour. The Pumpkins had recently completed 3 shows in Chicago, receiving both praise and criticism, for their less than eclectic set list.  On this night, they would re-establish their reputation as the best rock band to ever come from Chicago.  They have survived over 20 years through ups and downs and have never lost their determination for survival.

Upon arriving to the floor of the breathtaking Aragon Ballroom, I couldn’t help but stop and take in the fact that I was once again at a Smashing Pumpkins concert.  For me, The Smashing Pumpkins is more than a band, the band represents amazing childhood memories, great concerts, and anthems of my generation.

The Frogs opened the show with their own brand of love me hate me alternative music.  No one can deny that The Frogs have built a rabid cult like following.  Singer Jimmy Flemion, looking as strange as ever, sported his signature wings.  I was, however, impressed by his guitar work. A notable part of the set is when drummer/percussion player Dennis Flemion went off on the crowd, shouting profanities, and proclaiming “We know this doesn’t sound good, it didn’t 10 years ago, why would it now?”    After such odd remarks, I found it extremely difficult for the duration of their set to take them seriously. Later on in the set, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan did come out and join them on percussion, showing support for his long time friends.  After 45 min The Frogs concluded there set and it was time for the main attraction of the night, and who everyone had come to see, The Smashing Pumpkins.

The first 3 shows the Pumpkins played on this 20 yr reunion turn did not necessarily garner the response many were expecting.  It was as if the older Pumpkins fans needed these shows as proof that the band was back and they meant business. They wanted the hits.  What they got at the first three shows was plenty of new material and 10 min rants from Corgan at the end of the night. Tonight would hopefully be different.  After about 10 min of set change, the house lights went off, and chants of “Pumpkins!, Pumpkins!” could be heard under the twinkling stars of the Aragon Ballroom.  It was as if time stood still in anticipation of what was to come.

The lights flashed on in blue and red colors as The Smashing Pumpkins opened the show with their timeless hit Tonight, Tonight. For the moment it seemed as if the haste, anxiety, and doubt from the other Chicago shows had left the air. The Pumpkins were back and they were better than ever. It was as if the near capacity crowd (made up of people in their mid 20’s and above) were reliving the best days of their youth.   It seemed as if there wasn’t a single person in the room who wasn’t singing along to Tonight, Tonight.  There was something different about this show, and about this night. This was a show for the fans, a show people had been anticipating for a long time. At the shows previous to this, Corgan had taken ample time to reflect after each song.  Tonight, the band jumped from one hit after another. The music said what Corgan didn’t have to. The band ripped through song after song, including a memorable version of Mayonnaise .  Every song became a giant sing along among friends who felt as if they hadn’t seen each other in years.  In these moments I saw both tears and smiles on the faces of fans that needed this reaffirmation and declaration of existence from the band they loved very much.
The night continued with a new song that people had become slightly afraid of titled Gossamer. Gossamer at its incarnation was a 45 minute  jam song that included many different riffs and recurring themes.  This evening, It felt even Gossamer was different. It lasted a mere 24 minutes and was tight and crisp. The recurring themes in the music and the switch between clean sounding and distorted riffs were embraced by the crowd. They had been injected with energy throughout the entire show, thereby having no problem embracing this new avenue of expression given to them by the band they loved.  Upon Gossamer’s conclusion, Billy played the acoustic song 99 Floors, which had become a fan favorite at both the San Francisco and North Carolina Residencies.   Following 99 Floors was another new song entitled Owata. The audience stood captivated in the night and truly embraced for the first time the new songs the band had written.  It was a new time in the history of The Smashing Pumpkins. Yes, this show was an opportunity to remember the past, but it also was part of the process of moving forward.   The acoustic guitar was put aside and the band continued on with a heart pounding performance of Soma.  This was followed by more familiar songs including Cherub Rock, Zero, and Bodies.

Next were the pounding drums and the screaming guitar riffs of United States.  The song went over well and was followed by the new fan favorite called A Song for a Son. This song felt special and well received. Next was Medellia of the Grey Skies, which is a B-Side from Meloncollie and the Infinite Sadness, followed by Communion.

Following Communion, it was back to the hits with a special rendition of Bullet with Butterfly Wings. The entire crowd once again sang along to the timeless classic.  Superchrist was a highlight of the night, with its dirty grunge guitar riffs and driving beats, played ably by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

Pink Floyd’s song Set the Controls to the Heart of the Sun was performed following Superchrist.  Among the highlights in this song was bassist Ginger Reyes playing with a bow and the inclusion of Corgans’s half brother Jesse Anderson, who joined the band on stage, playing the tambourine and the timpani.  During this song it became evident that Corgan was enjoying every moment of the show.  He kept peering over at Anderson as to reaffirm that he was really on stage playing music with the band.   The song concluded and the band except for Corgan and Anderson left the stage. They began the encore by taking turns playing timpani solos and then joining in together in rhythmic euphoria. It was hard to miss the gigantic smile that appeared on Corgan’s face as he shared in such a wonderful night with his step brother whom he loves so much.

The rest of the band joined the brothers on stage again for one of the best Smashing Pumpkins encores I have ever seen.  The encore included Ava Adore, during which Corgan put down the guitar, grabbed the microphone and moved from one side of the stage to the other as if he was directing the audience like it was a choir.  Next came one of the most popular songs the band had ever written, 1979. There wasn’t a person in the entire ballroom that did not sing with to this song.  The night concluded with Corgan dedicating Disarm to Jesse and his grandmother who had passed away. It was the most heartfelt performance of a song I have ever seen from Corgan. Prior to the song beginning, I watched as Anderson made the sign of the cross with his hand and pointed to the sky making the dedication to his grandmother tangible.  The crowd sang along, led by Corgan, and at the conclusion of the song he hugged Anderson and walked off the stage.  The band came back on stage for a final bow and then walked off as the house lights came on. It was a night that no one in attendance, including this reviewer, would ever forget.

You can view Shawn’s Photo album from this show here.