After a good, but less than memorable show by Noel Gallagher and his High-Flying Birds (QRO photos), it was time for headliners; The Smashing Pumpkins, as the tour hit Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, outside of Atlanta, on Wednesday, August 21st.
Mournful orchestral music introduced Billy Corgan and company as three massive figures, akin to giant Russian nesting dolls, inflated and towered over the stage.
The band’s current line up were front and center; leader Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin with guitarist Jeff Schroder rounding out the core band, along with touring support; keyboardist Katie Cole and bassist Jack Bates (son of Joy Division’s Peter Hook). Unfortunately, original bassist D’Arcy Wretzky was missing from the group, due to legendary bad blood between her and Corgan.
As rainbow-colored lights washed over and emanated from the massive ‘dolls,’ the band played a pitch-perfect rendition of their mega-hit, “Today”. Corgan was in fine form, as he emoted through the song with his strange, signature falsetto – as clear and strong as it has ever been. He wore loose, wide legged black pants and a long, black, back-buttoned tunic with “SP” emblazoned in red on its arm and charcoal smeared in a spider-like pattern around his eyes and on his forehead, somehow reminiscent of both a holy man and a supervillain.
Iha and Schroder flanked Corgan, looking sharp in white and black, respectively, their skillful guitar riffs and those of bassist, Bates, created a bulwark of sound that puts the rock in ‘Alt Rock.’ The soulful songs and melancholy lyrics can lull one into a false sense of indie ‘folksiness’ that is quickly belied by the driving and furious rock they produce. The exceptional group of musicians moved from “Today” to “Zero” to “Solara”, which featured an incredible, six-minute drum solo by Chamberlin. By the time they got to “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”, Corgan had 10,000 “ATLiens” eating out of the palm of his hand. The audience, who have been starved of Smashing Pumpkins in Atlanta for over seven years, stood, moved, cheered and sang along with Corgan, who despite being known for his dark, contemplative demander, seemed genuinely joyful as he serenaded the masses with the voice (and guitar), receiving his well-earned adulation.
The set list included mostly crowd-pleasing hits, with a few surprises, including a rendition of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” as only the Pumpkins could play it. The cover also served as a playful showcase for keyboard player, Cole and Corgan, who handled the song with optimism and sincerity – but as any SP fan knows, the mood turned more reflective, as it must, with “Ava Adore” and the beautiful, timeless, “1979”. The evening peaked with “Tonight, Tonight” and the band brought it home with “Blue Skies Bring Tears”, “Cherub Rock”, and “The Airplane Flies High”.
From beginning to end, the Pumpkins did not disappoint. They gave the people what they wanted, and maybe a little more. As the song “1979” so eloquently put it, “We were sure we’d never see an end to it all” – and although all good things must come to an end, many of the crowd left the amphitheater feeling a little less mortal, and a little more like the grungy teenagers they once were.
4. Knights of Malta
6. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
11. Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
12. Ava Adore
14. Tonight, Tonight
15. Blue Skies Bring Tears
16. Cherub Rock
17. The Airplane Flies High