Posted by: Cory | August 17, 2008

REVIEW: Smashing Pumpkins @ Louisville Palace – 8/12

by Hank Altogether

The last time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins was 1996 during their Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness Tour at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, Arkansas. I was a newly minted 15 year old who attended with a girl who was to become my first girlfriend, her friend, and her friend’s sister, who drove us, because we weren’t old enough. Not to mention the fact that it was a school night, so we had to make curfew. While I was at school the next day sporting my newly purchased Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt, the kids who didn’t have curfews bragged about how the Pumpkins played three encores. Now I doubt that happened. But I had the distinct feeling that I had missed out on something huge. That’s the way rock shows seem to you when you’re 15 — bigger than life. Their encore back in 1996 was probably three songs, not three encores. We only got two songs August 12th at the Louisville Palace. But, that makes sense. In ’96, the Pumpkins were at the height of their power and, now, everything’s changed.

The Pumpkins were my first live show and are my Ur-band (the first band you really get into, the first band that really mattered to you). Some 11 years later, it seems impossible to review or even think about their show without accessing what happened back then. What I was like and what music was like in 1996. There was a time that Billy Corgan was, in contemporary indie rock parlance, as prolific as Sufjan Stevens. After putting out the two-disc set Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Corgan and co. dropped The Aeroplane Flies High – a five disc box in those trademark SP stripes of material from the Infinite sadness sessions. Then, they scaled down, put out the acoustic/electronic affair Adore, I graduated high school and started to lose interest. I say “they” but as most know, there was hardly a “they” there for the Smashing Pumpkins. It was and always has been Billy’s band. He supposedly recorded over everyone else on the recording of Siamese Dream, a record which is masterful to this day. The band lineup is the sort of stuff that makes soap operas blush. On the 12th, the lineup contained two members from the Pumpkins that I saw in 1996, Corgan and uber-drummer Jimmy Chamberlin (who had recently been released from jail for heroin, I think, for the 96 tour). In fact Corgan’s whole idea of a reunion in 2005, when he took out ads in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times to get the band back together seems to have been a ploy to reunite with Chamberlin (who was dismissed before Adore) with Corgan still flush after his time in Zwan.

As the show on the 12th displayed, Corgan and Chamberlin’s work together hasn’t gotten stale. The concert was driven by Chamberlin’s drums (which, in my opinion should be mentioned in the same paragraph if not the same sentance as rock drumming greats like Bonham, Moon, Grohl, and others), pounding between songs, introing into guitar riffs. The musicanship between the two was masterful. But, musicanship has never been the Pumpkins downfall and, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I’ve always liked the band when they sounded more like the Beatles than Sabbath. And the tension between those two poles of songwriting always seemed to be what drove the band. Perhaps that’s why last night’s concert seemed odd to me. If asked to come up with a set list here’s what I can give you, the songs I recognized:

Mayonnaise (Siamese Dream)
Tonight, Tonight (Mellon Collie)
Once Upon A Time (Adore)
Today (Siamese Dream)
Bullet with Butterfly Wings (Mellon Collie)

At the end of the “first part” of the show, the band scaled down. Chamberlin came to a drum set on the floor. Corgan picked up an acoustic and they played a delightfully small component of songs. Something you don’t see very often at big rock shows. And, by the way, the show was long a solid 2 hours and 45 minutes. With no opening band.

Not only did I have a difficult time knowing what songs they were playing, it was hard to tell when songs began or ended. I was struck with the impression that I did not know this band, my ur-band, I had no idea who these people were. What songs these were. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy them. I did. I think. The crowd was way more into it than I was, perhaps they had purchased the other 3 albums — Machina, Machina II, and most recently Zeitgeist. I felt bad. Cory and Nick asked me to review this band. What the hell was I doing here? What did I know about the Smashing Pumpkins? I mean, I have the t-shirt, but beyond that…? I wasn’t the only one. The local modern rock crowd, who’ve gotten older but haven’t changed that much (there’s still the guy with 3 concert shirts from other shows tucked into his shorts) sat down towards the end, when Corgan and co entered what seemed like a 30 min noise-jam sesh. The stage went dark, and everyone stood up, expecting that last big hit before they got off stage, come back out, play a few more hits, and then hit the hotel. Those hits didn’t come. The stage went dark. We all stood, clapped, waited for them to come out…nothing. Finally, keyboardist Lisa (Corgan said he couldn’t remember her last name during announcements) entered playing the familar refrain to “We Only Come Out at Night” from Mellon Collie. The rest of the band entered singing the deliciously melodic self-referential lyrics: “And once again you’ll pretend to know me well my friends / And once again I’ll pretend to know the way / through the empty space through the secret places of the heart.” And I had somewhat of an ephiphany — Corgan just pretends he knows what’s going on. We come out to see him pretend. This thought was interrupted by the addition of kazoos to the band which then dropped into a kazoo solo. We all sang along while the band played kazoos. Perhaps my epiphany was right on.

Then, the oddest thing happened. Lisa finished the song with a flourish and the chords for Mungo Jerry’s iconic “In the Summer Time” hit. If you can’t place the song, think of the scene in Wedding Crashers where Owen Wilson and Kate McAdams are riding bikes. Yeah. That song. And the band proceeded to sing it. With kazoos. The WHOLE SONG. As far as I can tell, everyone there may have been pissed. They had come to hear “Zero” not Mungo Jerry. The lights went on. End of show.

Of course, the Smashing Pumpkins have never been the most perdictable act. Corgan still wears a dress when he plays. At this show, it was a lovely mirrored number with a bit of fringe on the bottom. But, even in ’96 when ther alternative was mainstream. When Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Bush (remember Bush?) ruled the airwaves, the Pumpkins never really fit into that whole flannel scene. Corgan looked a little too much like Nosferatu for that. Which was the whole appeal. They desired to be freaks and thrived off that in the music. But Cobain died and Spears and Backstreet Boys hit and…boy have things changed. Still, the Pumpkins are sloggin on, 20 years into it. And embracing their strangeness which seems even stranger to me now. That which I identified with is now somehow unidentifiable. And so, maybe it made sense to close with Mungo Jerry. To throw the audience a curve ball that even we don’t understand. That always was the Pumpkins’s way. At least this time, I didn’t have a curfew, so I could stay through the whole thing.

UPDATE: Download the performance HERE

For Hank Altogether’s photos,



  1. Best review this site has ever seen. Balla.

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