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Concert Review: Smashing Pumpkins

Saddledome, Calgary - October 4, 2012
By Gerry Krochak, QMI Agency


Billy Corgan, lead singer for the Smashing Pumpkins sings during the Oceania tour in Calgary, Alberta October 4, 2012. JIM WELLS/QMI AGENCY


Staying relevant isn’t easy in this business of art.

Despite touring behind Oceania, its best effort since the Smashing Pumpkins supposed creative and commercial peak of the mid-’90s, the Chicago-based band’s current incarnation is fighting an uphill battle.

Oh sure, sometimes Billy Corgan has been his group’s own worst enemy: Numerous stops and starts, band break-ups, loose lips, farewell shows, reunions and a revolving door of personnel has muddied the legacy of a band which was once mentioned in the same breath as Nirvana, The Pixies and Pearl Jam as royalty in this music which became known as “alternative” rock.

Only 4,500 punters showed up to the Saddledome — they were the lucky ones, the smart ones. And, frankly, Billy Corgan and his current band of merry men and women — bassist Nicole Fiorentino, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and drummer Mike Byrne — deserved better.

The show’s front-end concentrated on the swirling melodic noise of the aforementioned latest album: It’s no easy feat performing lesser known material to a semi-patient throng who might be more interested in hearing the classics — all of which would come during the second half of the two-hour-plus rock show.

During the first half, Corgan slowly, but surely won them over — the cheers getting louder and louder with each successive new-ish number.


Performing on a smallish, yet effective bare-bones stage, littered with guitar racks and coloured with video imagery on a giant spherical screen, the diminutive, but enthusiastic gathering was duly rewarded, through the thrilling moments of Quasar, Panopticorn, The Celestials, Violent Rags and My Love Is Winter.

Corgan is far from an instantly likeable guy, but fans seem to rally around his unmistakable aura and presence, the thoughtful, well-constructed repertoire and his mad genius tendencies.

He was as engaging as he could be, offering up a polite, “Thank you. Thank you very much” from time to time. In front of the title cut of Oceania he was downright jovial, joking with a bearded fan near the front of the stage. “This guy — this guy down here has smoked a few doobies in his time,” he chuckled, noting the billowing smoke in his general area. “Peace, man.”

The group poured it on with more Oceania hotspots such as Glissandra and Inkless — as well, they did a cover of David Bowie’s Space Oddity — before pulling out the heavy artillery that made Smashing Pumpkins a household name with albums such as Siamese Dream and the landmark double disk Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness.

Disarm, Tonight, Tonight, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, Zero and Today reminded those in attendance why they were there in the first place.

But not before fully understanding the here and now.

Even in 2012, we are still just rats in a cage.

Opening the evening was Florida-based Christian alt-pop band Anberlin. For real.

Despite its crushing guitars and low-end thrust, it must be conceded the six-piece outfit was set up for failure. The doors to the venue opened after 7 p.m. and the band was on stage by 7:20. You know the rest.

If the situation wasn’t so pathetic it would have been comical watching a band of any description on stage — giving its all, by the way — with no more than 150 or 200 people milling about the 15,000-seat concert facility.

Despite musical highlights such as Impossible and Godspeed, which went virtually unnoticed, not even God could help Anberlin on this night. Ridiculous.


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