Thursday, August 09, 2018

A Smashing Good Time

There was the Sharon, Lois, & Bram concert when we were preschoolers.  And when we were slightly older kids, our parents took us to see Phantom and Joseph, if those count as “concerts” per se.  So it’s not exactly true that my brother and I have never been to see a concert together, though never at a proper rock show.  Finally, however, the time came — his beloved Smashing Pumpkins were back together* and touring again, and he talked me into tagging along with him to the show. 

* = minus D’Arcy “The Wreat One” Wretzky, who is more than done with dealing with Billy Corgan

The Pumpkins might’ve technically been my favourite band back in high school, or potentially even my first favourite band.  I’ve written before about how I didn’t really get into music at all until ninth grade, and since that was in 1995 at the height of the Pumpkins’ stardom, I hopped onto the bandwagon and listened to Melon Collie & The Infinite Sadness ad nauseam.  That’s right, even the 5-6 tracks that everyone skips!  After that brief spurt of fandom, however, U2 came along for me, and then “Adore” was kind of a weak record, and that was basically it for me and Corgan & company.  I liked a few singles, I had no ill will towards the group, I’d just fallen out of interest.

It’s for this reason that I had to kind of be arm-twisted into attending this concert.  If anything, I was more interested in seeing opening act Metric, one of my current favourite bands.  The Pumpkins kind of felt like yesterday’s news, and I didn’t really have high hopes going into the show…

…and forget about that, since good lord was this concert wonderful.  Easily a top-10 live show experience of my life.  The “original” Pumpkins (Corgan, James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlin) were joined by a few side musicians and at least one other person who’d joined the band in the post-Original Four era, and they combined to rip through just about every notable track in the group’s discography.  The heavy focus was on the two classic records with 14 songs from MC&TIS and Siamese Dream.  There were also four covers, one new recording, and then 12 other tracks from the original Iha era, so nothing from Zeitgeist (no big loss, though “Tarantula” is a great song) and that other random disc I can’t even remember the title.

If you’re counting, this is a whopping 31 SONGS over THREE-PLUS HOURS.  What a marathon!  The band actually came out for a final encore and I was legitimately puzzled as to what they had left in the repertoire.  The answer ended up being “Solara” (their new single) and, of all things, a cover of Betty Noyes’ “Baby Mine.”  Sure, why not.

The show’s length explains why Metric were on promptly at 7pm just as the doors were opening at the Air Can….er, Scotiabank Arena.  This actually caused me to miss the first song or two, which was unfortunate, yet the rest of the set was excellent.  Heavy focus on their newest and, in many cases, unreleased material, and the quality sound bodes well for the next album.  This was my first Metric experience, believe it or not, despite them being one of my favourite bands for over five years now.  This technically counts as losing my Metric concert virginity, though I still feel I owe them a proper full concert at some point.  Their set: Love You Back, Risk, Dressed To Suppress, Breathing Underwater, Art Of Doubt, Gold Guns Girls, Now Or Never Now, Dark Saturday, Help I’m Alive.

And then onto the Pumpkins, bought forth by Corgan emerging from between two large panels at the back of the stage, which cracked open for a Twilight Zone-esque shaft of light effect.  The stage was pretty large, though often cut in half by these multiple panels, which acted as video screens, one big video screen, or ran through various images (i.e. shots from old Pumpkins videos and album liner notes) as well some videos that seemed to be shot specifically for the concert.  If you’re a fan of the Pumpkins’ general delicate goth aesthetic, this was definitely for you.

Though it’s hard to have an “odd” setlist when you basically just play everything, it was kind of an unusual setup.  There were a few outright pauses between songs, no transitions or anything, while the band set up instruments and some staging props for the next tune.  I saw the same thing with Radiohead at another recent show, which maybe worked a bit better with them given their music’s general ethereal quality, though with the Pumpkins it was a bit of a stall to have a hard-rocking number that got the crowd fired up, only to have a brief pause in the action.

(Speaking of that Radiohead show, you may recall my complains about my sore knees and back after four hours of standing.  No worries this time around, and my brother and I were comfortably seated in the arena’s upper level.  I was upset, however, by the fact that the Pumpkins’ general seating area was filled by proper seats.  “Where were these three weeks ago?!”, cried my aching body.)

The other criticism, as it were, was a bit of a mid-show lull.  Seemingly half the arena went for a bathroom & snack break during Iha’s “Blew Away” number,* and following that up with a couple of not-super-well-known Adore songs didn’t help with the momentum.  Stacking most of the biggest hits in the back half of the setlist meant for a great build, yet maybe if it’s me planning the show, I stick one of the megahits just before “Blew Away” to at least head into that slower period on a more of a high than “Soma” (a good song, mind you) could provide.

* = the band didn’t really have a full encore break until the very end, as they did take a couple of brief interludes while a video of a Vaudeville-style MC played.  Some internet research has discovered that the MC was played by, of all people, Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray and TV hosting fame.  This is one of the most head-scratching “of all peoples” of all time.

But those at the quibbles, in general this was just a blast of a show.  I knew the setlist would be focused on the older stuff, but I thinking it would be more or less a Siamese Dream/Melon Collie reunion tour, not a trip down memory lane of ALL the older stuff.  Everlasting Gaze!  Stand Inside Your Love!  Eye!  The freaking Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning?!  I probably shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to hear Ava Adore, yet it was a delight, and honestly one of the crowd’s big favourites of the evening — that beat is just unreal to hear live.  It might be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins song.  My brother’s favourite, incidentally, is Cherub Rock.  Amusingly, he was so excited about hearing the song that he was somehow worried they wouldn’t play it.  I was like, “are you serious?”  Then again, Radiohead played maybe one of their five biggest songs at the concert I just attended, so maybe I have no point.

Kudos to the Pumpkins for this absolute crowd-pleaser of a concert that left everyone kind of exhausted and stunned at what we just witnessed.  The setlist!

1. Disarm
2. Rocket
3. Siva
4. Rhinoceros
5. Space Oddity (yep, a Bowie cover)
6. Drown
7. Zero
8. The Everlasting Gaze
9. Stand Inside Your Love
10. Thirty-Three
11. Eye
12. Soma
***interlude #1***
13. Blew Away
14. For Martha
15. To Sheila
16. Mayonaise
17. Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans
18. Landslide (yep, the Fleetwood Mac cover)
19. Tonight, Tonight
20. Stairway To Heaven (yep, a Zeppelin cover)
21. Cherub Rock
***interlude #2***
22. 1979
23. Ava Adore
24. Try, Try, Try
25. The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning
26. Hummer
27. Today
28. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
29. Muzzle
30. Solara
31. Baby Mine (Betty Noyes cover)

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