Review / setlist: Smashing Pumpkins crash Tampa's Ritz Ybor with an oversized alternative spectacle
Even when he wants to go small, Billy Corgan can't help going big.
As the mastermind of Smashing Pumpkins, Corgan was one of the '90s' poster boys for oversized artistic excess: Double albums, blockbuster videos, grandiose arena shows, unmatchable riffs, a supermodel girlfriend or two.
But the band's original lineup crumbled under Corgan's enormous, uncompromising genius, and new bandmates and forgettable albums came and went. Today, with Smashing Pumpkins struggling to regain their standing in the alt-rock world, Corgan hatched a minimalist plan: Dish out new singles one at a time, and embark on a short tour of smaller venues to show the new, leaner, meaner Pumpkins. Get back to basics, Chicago-style.
Well, that was the theory, at least.
In actuality, Smashing Pumpkins' concert Wednesday at the sold-out Ritz Ybor in Tampa -- a venue they last played in 1993 -- was another night of extravagant alt-rock bombast, an explosion of ear-gnarling, eye-searing rock 'n' roll that reminded fans what made the band great in the first place ... and why it's been so hard for Corgan to return to relevance.
Years after ousting original bandmates James Iha, Jimmy Chamberlain and D'arcy Wretzky, Corgan has recruited another new lineup -- guitarist Jeff Schroeder, bassist Nicole Fiorentino and drummer Mike Byrne -- for this tour. All filled in capably Wednesday night, in the sense that (A) they were fine musicians, and (B) they were smart enough to hang off to the side and let Corgan do his thing.
Chrome-domed and hunchbacked as always, Corgan spoke little throughout the night, instead slouching intently over his fretboard like a D&D geek brandishing his brand-new +5 Axe of Hendrix. He played to fans early, dishing out three oldies and goodies -- Ava Adore, Today and Hummer -- within the first four songs, turning Adore and Hummer, especially, into fret-punishing shred-a-thons.
The setlist stuck largely to fierce, amp-scorching rockers like Tarantula, Cherub Rock, As Rome Burns and, of course, the stadium-sized Bullet With Butterfly Wings. Lighter fare like 1979 and Disarm didn't make the cut, which was probably a good thing -- the show dragged the most when Corgan pulled out endless, proggy dirges like Eye and A Song for a Son. The harder the show rocked, the better.
The two-plus-hour concert was an assault on the eyes, too, as the stage was nearly overwhelmed with epilepsy-inducing lights, rigs and two gigantic mirrored propellers. Half the time, the lights coming from behind the band were so blinding it was easier to stare at the Ritz's tile floor than the stage. (One imagines Corgan thinking, "Avert your eyes, mortals!")
The pre-encore set closed with Tonight, Tonight. With no backing orchestra, the band turned up the guitars and managed to make the soaring single sound even bigger than it does on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which is no easy feat.
Conveniently, the song's lyrics also offer a succinct summary of the Pumpkins circa 2010: "Our lives are forever changed / we will never be the same / the more you change, the less you feel." One wonders, perhaps, that if Corgan hadn't so willingly pushed aside Jimmy, James and D'arcy, if he'd only managed to subjugate his ego for just a few more years, whether fans might feel more of a connection to the Smashing Pumpkins brand. The more they change, the less we feel.
But if Wednesday's show proved anything, it is that Corgan bows to no one; that even humbled, he is huge. At no point was this more evident than the night's final song, Gossamer, a 19-minute (!) Gothic-industrial-tribal-jam that even Jim Morrison might have deemed excessive.
Still, even in these moments, you had to marvel that such a cavalcade of sound was coming from only four people onstage, just as it did in 1996. For better or worse, these are Billy Corgan's Smashing Pumpkins, now and forevermore. He will have it no other way.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*SETLIST
1. Astral Planes
2. Ava Adore
5. As Rome Burns
6. A Song for a Son
8. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
9. United States
10. Bleeding the Orchid
12. Cherub Rock
13. That's the Way (My Love Is)
15. Stand Inside Your Love
17. Tonight, Tonight