“This guy is fucking great.”
I overheard this pithy little nugget while the Smashing Pumpkins were putting the finishing touches on a show that was apt to go down as one of the top-three I’ve ever consumed at Darien Lake Amphitheatre. The “guy” in question is William Patrick Corgan and the fan’s assessment is accurate when you consider he’s the architect behind some of the finest rock formations of the last 30 years.
Of all the eccentric personalities to emerge from the 1990s, Corgan continues to compel, because his intellect and self-awareness are such that any acquiescence to clickbait culture is never going to happen. He knows what people think of him and his well-publicized exchanges regarding former bassist D’arcy Wretzky being absent from the reunion, and, quite frankly, he doesn’t care. His focus is on the Pumpkins as they are in 2019, which is exactly how it should be.
After all, the hive mind’s motive for wanting D’arcy to return has more to do with its own selfish thirst for nostalgia than any empirical evidence suggesting she would be better than the lineup that asserted its collective dominance on Saturday night. If their chemistry is really no more, they shouldn’t be roped into faking it for just one more show.
What WAS evident from the opening salvo of “Today,” “Zero,” and “Solara,” however, is that this material has lost none of its multi-generational bite. Corgan’s signature snarl and undervalued six-string fury were in full bloom throughout the evening, as he and fellow OGs James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin reminded the fans why they fell in love with this music once upon a time. Old wounds appear to have healed and the joie de vivre with which they resurrected these tracks made for a resplendent experience.
The acoustic devastation of “Disarm” peaked my dopamine levels in a way that few other pieces can while a psychedelic re-imagining of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” was as stunning as it was unexpected. Corgan’s voice has always been a polarizing ingredient for the Pumpkins’ recipe, but I couldn’t envision him expressing the pain, yearning, and deep-seated introspection behind those lyrics in any other style. We’re hearing the ghosts of his dysfunctional childhood manifested in vocal form, so, when he cries out “The killer in me is the killer in you,” his authenticity is never in doubt.
Other gems culled from the catalog included “Ava Adore,” “1979,” and “Tonight, Tonight,” the last of which was still B-E-A-Utiful despite missing the 30-piece string section heard on the original recording. By the time Jimmy Chamberlin’s drum roll dropped on “Cherub Rock,” the audience had already been treated to a set that demonstrated the Pumpkins’ ability to transition from alt-rock chaos to expansive instrumentation with equal aplomb.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds provided a strong lead-in with a set comprised of both Oasis classics and various original compositions that were bolstered by a buoyant brass section intent on making the people dance. A ferocious spin on “Little by Little” and a muted “Don’t Look Back in Anger” were easily the best of the bunch as Gallagher’s performance remained committed throughout.
California rockers AFI worked hard to rally a half-empty venue, but, outside of the 2006 crossover hit “Miss Murder,” the crowd never felt invested enough to care one way or another about what was happening.
Is that fair?
Not at all, but it’s difficult enough for Smashing Pumpkins to compete with smart phones in 2019, let alone a band whose name appears in significantly smaller font on the marquee.