Photos by: CatMax Photography, LLC
Review by: Ellen Eldridge
I really forgot to pay too much attention to the opening act, Polica, because I was taking in the cool night air and the ambiance of the amphitheatre. I eagerly anticipated The Smashing Pumpkins’ set and wondered inwardly if the band would play “Soma,” the one song I longed to hear live. I did tune in to the visual display of a monochrome light setting for each song. Red, yellow and blue lights took turns bathing the band. By the last song of the set I sort of slapped myself for not realizing sooner the dual drummers battling out the rhythm of the evening. I made a note to myself to check Polica out online.
From the immediate cheers at the drum roll for “Cherub Rock,” I knew I wasn’t alone in not recognizing the first song played. Solo founding member and frontman Billy Corgan enjoyed himself playing the 1993 hit by strumming the chords of his guitar in time with the cymbal crashes like he was playing air drums on his guitar.
After starting the main riff for “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” Corgan spoke to some people seated in the orchestra section below the stage. He declared, “To the people in the expensive seats, I don’t mix the band,” and advised disappointed fans to take it up with the sound guys. I’m still unsure what happened because from just a few rows farther out everything sounded great.
During this third song it occurred to me the reason so many people prefer the live show to watching videos on YouTube or even streaming the sound through an amazing stereo: the exchange of air between those affected by songs of rage and heartache in the immediacy of the moment. Standing there singing along to the lyrics “despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage,” brought back memories of high school, college and adolescent turmoil.
A cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” gave Nicole Fiorentino a spotlight with backup vocals on the countdown. The crowd was either introduced to Bowie or reminded of why he is so influential.
During “Disarm” the background screen toyed with images of tornado like funnel clouds as audience members braced themselves for the possibility of rain. A moving version of “Tonight Tonight” really drove home the idea of experiencing The Smashing Pumpkins reformed after a hiatus, and in the glow of the 2012 release many fans from the height of the band’s career might not know. Personally, I started to remember and relive The Smashing Pumpkins when the band released its reissue of Gish and Siamese Dream in deluxe boxed sets.
After the song, Corgan addressed the entire crowd for the first and pretty much last time (he did announce that the encore was the final song as it ended the set). “Good evening” Corgan started as he then referenced Hotlanta and rambled a bit saying things like “drink up and party down” and “that’s what you guys do in the South—get drunk and make a baby.” His banter went over well with the crowd, and when Corgan continued to say that though he is 46 years old, he is still a surprise to his parents. Corgan thanked the Lord for “not raining on us,” which occurred to me as a bit presumptive.
When Corgan started to announce the next song in dedication to those fans “on drugs,” I became curious as to whether or not The Pumpkins would play a song from the 2012 release, Oceania. Though I loved The Smashing Pumpkins throughout their early career, I fell out of touch and didn’t even realize they had reformed until I heard they were coming to Atlanta. “Oceania” has been described by Corgan as a song about alienation in love and in culture, but that really encompasses much of the thematic content across albums as far back as Gish to me.
Sitting in that audience Friday night, absorbed by the cool breeze and the alcohol on its breath, I took in the solace of heartbreak as it permeated the night over a sprawling nine-minute song. That relenting of anger heard in songs like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” was replaced by forgiveness and a relinquished sense of release. Much like the growing up many fans must have done after the popular Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness and between the fan base dividing Adore—that really started the spiral toward the Pumpkins’ breakup—and the present.
In acknowledgement of that juxtaposition the crowd was reawakened by “Zero,” a song that originally released right around the time I graduated high school—never letting on that, I too, felt that I was on a sinking ship. Listening to Corgan cry out that “Emptiness is loneliness…and God is empty just like me,” reminded me and possibly others in the audience that so much has changed; we really have grown up. The rage has dissipated into calm acceptance of what isn’t and quiet pride for what is. The irony of feeling an epiphany of coming full circle and rocking out to the encore, “Today,” made me smile in reflection as I sang along in my mind to the opening lyrics “Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known,” because, seriously, today is all we ever had and ever will have. The subtle implications toward suicide served as a catharsis to those who’ve truly grown up with The Smashing Pumpkins. Behind his rage, Corgan had a great time alongside his fans.