Concert Reviews

Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden Theatre

Photo: Chad Fahnestock

Smashing Pumpkins
Friday, December 6, 2008
Ogden Theatre
Better than:
the band's Red Rocks show last year.

Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan said he the stomach flu the day before Friday's show, but it didn't stop the guy from soldiering through nearly three hours of new songs, hits, obscurities, solo acoustic cuts, covers and psych-rock jams during the band's stop in Denver on its 20th anniversary tour.

Original Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin ignited the set with some thundering drumming on newer songs "Superchrist" and "As Rome Burns." He kept stoking that fire through "Siva," the only song the band played from its 1991 debut, Gish. Corgan kicked in some fiery guitar on the cut as well.

Early in the set, the band also knocked out a few cuts from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, like a bass-heavy version of "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" and a killer take on "Bodies." After asking the crowd what time it was, Corgan said, "It's time to play a hit song" and then the band launched into "Tonight, Tonight" with Lisa Hamilton playing string parts on the keyboard.

Photo: Chad Fahnestock

The first part of "Gossamer" might've been the closest the band came to '80s hair metal with Corgan and guitarist Jeff Schroeder played harmonized guitar lines. Halfway through the song, the band ramped up the intensity with Corgan taking an extended guitar solo, which segued into Hamilton playing an organ interlude while Corgan beat the body of his guitar with the sides of his fists. The 13-minute rock tour de force was miles away from anything the Pumpkins did two decades ago.

About an hour into the set, Corgan started a short acoustic set with "99 Floors," one of the five songs the band played from the two-disc If All Goes Wrong documentary/concert DVD, which was released last month. He switched up the lyrics a bit and sang "Ain't is sad when your choice is Denver." After playing "Owata," Corgan did a great solo acoustic version of the hit "1979" with the crowd clapping and singing along.

Corgan paused a few times, almost as if he'd forgotten the lyrics, on the more obscure "Medellia of the Gray Skies," which is from the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness box set, but it was one of the night's highlights nonetheless, as was "Communion," a new song that he said he'd never played before.

After building up the vigor on "Soma," the band completely blasted off on "Cherub Rock" and kept the momentum pumping into "Zero," which would've been an ideal place to end the show. "Heavy Metal Machine" and "Glass' Theme" were all right, but the extended psych rock jam on Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" got a bit tedious. Corgan de-tuned his guitar, then banged on a pair of timpani drums and a few band members used what sounded like birdcalls.

The band went backstage for about ten minutes before coming back out for "Ava Adore" with Chamberlin playing along to electronic drums. They closed the night with rocking version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" with Corgan and Schroeder trading off guitar solos. Corgan, by the way, displayed some outstanding guitar work throughout the show. 

Even though original members guitarist James Iha and bassist D'Arcy Wretzky didn't play, the show was a fine example of how the band has grown and changed over the last two decades. As Corgan said on a recent blog post: "This tour is a celebration of where we are, not where we've been. We are HERE! (With a big smile and a foot in your back). Enjoy it if you will, we realize its not for everybody. For that you have a whole army of fellaciators (is that even a word?) to gratefully service you. These are not angry words, by the way. We are having fun. Yes, who would have thunk it that after 20 years (or 21, who's counting?) we would not only be alive, but also loving our jobs and our shows and our experience of being in this group."

--Jon Solomon

Critic's Notebook:
Personal Bias:
Save for few cuts, Corgan and company impressed the hell out of me.
Random Detail: In between acoustic songs, a few people yelled out song names and Corgan said something like, "You should know by now that I don't take requests. I'm 41 years old. I don't do requests."
By the Way: I heard a few people in the audience say that Friday's show was a lot better than last year's Red Rocks show.


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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon