Review and Photos by Mike Bax
Smashing Pumpkins is a band that, for me, are two things: 1) an amazing studio band and 2) a disappointing live band. Until last night, that is. The sound and representation of the material presented at Massey Hall this evening sounded superb.
Touring In Plainsong as an acoustic-electro evening, Billy Corgan along with Jimmy Chamberlin and Jeff Schroeder, Katie Cole and Sierra Swan presented an orchestrated assortment of new and old material, along with some Zwan, David Bowie, Natalie Imbruglia, Hole and Rolling Stones’ covers. Zwan, being Billy’s band, and the Hole song (which he co-wrote) seem a bit silly to call covers, but in the context of this show being a Smashing Pumpkins tour, covers they most certainly were. We also got to hear ‘The World’s Fair’ and ‘Sorrows (In Blue)’
Opening the evening was Chicago native Liz Phair, she of 1993’s Exit in Guyville fame. It’s been a while since Phair has been on tour, and this performance showcased eleven songs from her repertoire of albums, her set leaning heavily on Exit in Guyville. Armed with only her guitars (Phair played with an assortment of electric and acoustic guitars) and her witty banter, Phair charmed her way through 11 songs, ‘Fuck and Run’ and ‘Divorce Song’ being the highlights for me. She introduced ‘Polyester Bride’ with some background to the song, disclosing that the track evolved from conversations she’d have with a barista at a coffee shop. Before leaving the stage, she told the audience they were in for an amazing Smashing Pumpkins show and thanked the Toronto audience for being so warm.
The almighty Billy Corgan, armed with a smile and a dizzying 25-song set list, performed for just over two hours, utilizing stark lighting and wonderfully illustrated backdrops to accent this tour’s set list. Taking the stage on his own for the first few songs, he was then slowly joined by his band. The cherry-on-top for this show was that they played an assortment of different orchestrations; the Siamese Dream set, appropriately dubbed the ‘Siamese Suite’. ‘Mayonnaise’, ‘Soma’, ‘Rocket’, ‘Spaceboy’, ‘Today’, ‘Whir’ and ’Disarm’, all of which utilized acoustic and electric guitars, electric piano and synthesizer. Schroeder’s solo on ‘Rocket’ was totally surreal, more Emerson, Lake & Palmer than Pumpkins, but it worked superbly.
Everything was a joy, quite frankly. The vibes coming off the stage and the audience were great. The songs performed were a treat to behold. Even the overzealous ‘Jimmy’ chanting throughout the evening couldn’t dull the effect the musicians were having on the Toronto crowd.
Liz Phair joined Corgan and Schroeder for ‘Thirty-Three’, both she and Corgan hugged after the song and he looked at the audience and smiled, saying ‘Liz Phair’ like it was a both a statement of fact and a bit of disbelief.
Before performing the Hole cover of ’Malibu’, Corgan joked that he kind of wrote half of the album, jesting at his hot and cold relationship with Courtney Love. The song came off as one of the best of the evening, Katie Cole steeping in masterfully to perform Love’s parts with Corgan.
Tonight was everything the audience could have hoped for and more – a loaded set of musical exploration spread over songs loved and lost with time. After 25 years, I can honestly say I’ve seen a Smashing Pumpkins show that sounded amazing. The over-slathering of Siamese Dream material was a total win, and the inclusion of Liz Phair as both an opener and collaborator elevated the evening from great to amazing.
Liz Phair set list:
Fuck and Run
Our Dog Days Behind Us
Why Can’t I?
Smashing Pumpkins Set list:
The World’s Fair (Billy Corgan song)
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover)
Thirty-Three (with Liz Phair)
Jesus, I / Mary Star of the Sea (Zwan cover)
Sorrows (In Blue) (Billy Corgan song)
Identify (Natalie Imbruglia cover)
Stand Inside Your Love
Lily (My One and Only)
Malibu (Hole cover)
Angie (The Rolling Stones cover)