Smashing Pumpkins' Denver concert opened with a plea for sympathy from frontman Billy Corgan, whose reputation has taken a hit in the wake of his appearances on far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones's Infowars.
The stage was empty as a new song played. Then Corgan came out alone with his acoustic guitar to open the show with "Disarm," the first song he wrote that deals with his childhood experiences of physical and psychological abuse. As he sang, childhood photos and home videos were projected behind him; words like 'broken boy," "blank," "assassin" and "Christ child" were laid over images of him as a smiling kid.
The montage served as Corgan's ultra-condensed childhood diary and gave the audience a sense of where he came from long before the group formed when he was just 21 years old. It distracted the audience from his late-career reputation as a has-been turned wingnut and reminded fans that he was human.
The song was over, the mood was set, and the rest of the band came out.
Roadies wheeled the drum kit, piano and organ on stage as original guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin along with longtime Pumpkins guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Jack Bates (son of Joy Division/New Order bassist Peter Hook) and keyboardist Katie Cole took their positions. Although original bassist D’arcy Wretzky wasn’t part of this Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour, the chemistry between Corgan, Iha and Chamberlin, who were touring together for the first time in nearly two decades, was evident early on in the three-plus-hour set, particularly on “Rocket” and “Siva.”
About half of the set comprised material from the albums Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; the band peppered the show with a few covers, like David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which Corgan sang in a robe while standing on a platform in front projections of earth from the space. There were fairly faithful takes on rock warhorses like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide." The group closed out the show with Betty Noyes’s “Baby Mine.”
The band concentrated on songs from 1991’s Gish through 2000’s Machina (as well as “Solara,” the first recording to feature Corgan, Iha and Chamberlin in eighteen years). There were enough hits like “Tonight, Tonight,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Cherub Rock” and “Today” to placate the casual fan. Still, the act dipped into deep cuts like “Blew Away,” for which Iha sang lead vocals, during the 32-song set.
About an hour into the show, after “Stand Inside Your Love,” Iha was the first member to talk to the audience.
“We’re happy to be here, elevated at such high altitude,” he said. “So lightheaded. We’re about a third of the way through the set. We’re just kind of cruising right now. We’re going to get to the good part of the set.”
It didn’t feel like the Pumpkins were cruising that first hour — things were dialed in. Chamberlin was thundering away on the kit while the three-guitar attack between Corgan, Iha and Schroeder sounded massive. Cole helped buoy the songs with her keys and occasional background vocals.
Near the three-hour mark, Iha said, “It’s a long-ass show.”
Then Corgan finally jumped in and spoke for the first time of the night. “Do you not want to me to talk to everyone?” he said, hinting that he knew that his public comments as of late — comparing social justice warriors to the Ku Klux Klan, as an example — may have alienated not just fans, but bandmates, too. “Are you trying to cut me off from talking to everyone?”
Iha replied, “No. Say whatever the hell you want to say.”
Corgan joked that Iha knew what happens when Corgan talks: Trouble ensues.
But that didn't happen. Instead, Corgan espoused gratitude and humor.
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“We started this band thirty years ago,” Corgan says. "Thirty years of mayhem. Thank you for making it all happen for us. At the very least, you got us out of fucking Chicago. Thank you for getting us out of Chicago. Jimmy would personally like to thank you for getting him out of Joliet.”
Schroeder then started playing some Chicago blues, and Corgan told Iha that he should rap over the blues. Chamberlin kicked into a beat, and Iha started freestyling about Denver and the clouds and the sky. Hell, they were just having a little fun after muscling through a long-ass show, in what seemed like a lifetime from when they started playing.
With that, Corgan introduced “Muzzle" from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.
“Released in 1995,” Corgan said of the album. "It got two and a half stars from Rolling Stone. And as you all know, the album was a dismal failure, and we appreciate over the years fans have kept the music alive.”