Concert Reviews

Review: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden Theatre, 10/10/11

It took Billy Corgan 21 songs, or until halfway through the encore, to acknowledge his audience last night. It's unclear whether this is a bad thing or a bad-ass thing -- though more than an hour and a half without a direct address is certainly an unusual thing. At the very least, it's an indication of where the Smashing Pumpkins' longtime leader, legendary think tank and only original member is coming from these days -- something like the best possible combination of a god complex and a Napoleon complex.

The god part came out early. Whatever Corgan and his latest cast of bandmates lacked in crowd interaction, they made up for with heart-rending extensions of the band's traditional jams. "Siva," for example, takes on a life beyond its lyrics, only allowed to end when Corgan has bent its original melody and tortured his own vocals, when a pained and violent screech curdles the crowd's blood and announces its own end. Every song goes for its traditional length, followed immediately by approximately three minutes of aggressive rock posturing.

More Photos: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden

If you are attending a Smashing Pumpkins show at which Billy Corgan is the sole survivor in 2011, you have undoubtedly already formulated an answer to the question that divides the band's modern fans: How many members does it take to maintain relevance? Your answer is not just "one," but "Billy Corgan," and you know better than to even think about "Disarm" or "1979." The rules of the game the band has run for years seemed to escape only one gentleman, who, like some Lone Masochistic Ranger, shouted in vain for "Tonight, Tonight" in the front row until he must have gone hoarse. If you are a Smashing Pumpkins fan in 2011, you either don't care or you have resigned yourself.

You've moved on to concept albums. Oceania, what Corgan has called "an album within an album," has rotated through several scheduled release dates at this point, and the band, always focused on new material, played four of its tracks in the sound spaces not occupied by "Muzzle" and "Cherub Rock." Immediately after the jarring emotion of "Siva" came "Oceania," a stunning but melancholy spiral that finds Corgan on the keyboard. The songs, particularly the title track, are lovely, flexible melodies less derivative of the band's font of undiluted agony than previous work.

In the meantime, it's hard to pick the correct verb for what Corgan does with his mouth. To say he wails would be at times too kind, at others too generous, and at others still even unfair -- but it's the closest approximation of the action that creates his wild but timid tone. Between songs, always tied together by a series of almost overwhelming instrumentation, the pace changes so quickly it's as if it was responding to emotion. Corgan is endlessly earnest, even in the strange moment in which he recited the alliterative lines of "Peter Piper" and "Sally Sells Seashells." "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," he asked the crowd, waiting for some sort of response, "where the fuck are the peppers?"

Dude has gotten a little Hare Krishna in the years since, well, ever, and the result is a brutally zen frontman who would look equally comfortable taking vengeance on Uma Thurman and slinging the "rock arm," unpretentiously, around his guitar like Chuck Berry. There's a line between righteous and self-righteous, and some nights, Corgan crosses it. Last night he just toed it, until, in a strangely visceral sing-along, he took the audience on a tour through catharsis.

More Photos: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden

After thanking us, thanking us again, bowing, nodding, grinning and redeeming all the time in which he seemed not to even know we were there, Corgan straightened himself and welcomed the opening bars of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." Left to our own devices on the chorus, the audience was asked to sing about our rage, though most of us still chose to scream about it instead. But it was Corgan's job, joining us with an ungodly howl, to end it all.

Click through for Critic's Notebook and the full setlist


Personal Bias: Despite my love of the deeper cuts, a feeling akin to ecstasy took over when the band launched into "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." There's nothing quite like it and "Muzzle," even still. I said it. By the Way: It's an unavoidable truth: The farther you move back in the crowd, the more Billy Corgan resembles Moby. At about the halfway point, you reach a grey area in which Mr. Clean might be involved. Random Detail: When he finally did speak to the audience, Corgan also gave us two thumbs up. The effect was a goofy and strangely human one coming from a man who tends to operate somewhere between hysterical and immortal.

More Photos: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden


Smashing Pumpkins Ogden Theatre - 10/10/11 Denver, CO

1. "Quasar"* 2. "Panopticon"* 3. "Starla"
 4. "Geek U.S.A."
 5. "Muzzle"
 6. "Window Paine" 7. "Lightning Strikes"
 8. "Soma"
 9. "Siva" 10. "Oceania"* 11. "Frail and Bedazzled"
 12. "Silverfuck" 13. (Strange "Peter Piper"/"Sally Sells Seashells" outro) 14. "Obscured" 15. "Suffer" 16. "Thru the Eyes of Ruby"/"I Am One" 17. "Cherub Rock" 18. "Owata" 19. "My Love Is Winter"* 20. "For Martha"

ENCORE 21. "Pissant" 22. "Bullet With Butterfly Wings"

*denotes a track from forthcoming album Oceania

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple