Pumpkins offer musical feast
By George Haas,
October 6, 1996

(Sent to us by Bennie Vincent Crowell)

The time was ripe for the Smashing Pumpkins to return to Chicago and the band measured up, sending Friday night's capacity crowd at the Rosemont Horizon out of it's gourd.

In a wildly entertaining blend of past and present, richly textured melodies and arena-rock bombast, the Pumpkins lit up the stage for nearly 2 hours. This was stadium rock at it's finest, an orchestrated mix of sound and fury signifying, what? Most likely a glad-to-be-back-home sense of relief after a year of turmoil.

To say that the Pumpkins have had their ups and downs would be the understatement of the year. Their best-selling double CD album "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness" has brought them waves of new fans. A host of awards, including MTV's coveted music video of the year award for "Tonight, Tonight," has brought them critical success as well.

But the death of a fan who was trampled at a Pumpkins concert in Ireland this spring presaged a grim summer. The band's touring keyboardist overdosed on heroin and died and then drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who allegedly had shot up with him, was arrested for possession. Chamberlin was ousted from the band and replaced with Filter drummer Matt Walker.

With the monthslong tour winding down the band returned to it's Chicago roots with a host of questions that needed to be answered.

After an energetic and loud opener from Grant Lee Buffalo, the quite strains of "Mellon Collie's" instrumental title track brought fans to their feet. Then singer-songwriter-guitarist Billy Corgan sledgehammered his way from "Where Boys Fear to Tread" and "Zero" to "Cherub Rock." The giant black curtain that had dominated the stage also fell away to reveal a massive chrome tower festooned with enough lights to wreak havoc on approaching aircraft had the Horizon roof given way, a not impossible feat given the decibel level.

That opening salvo obliterated any doubts about the band's focus, newcomer Walker's ability to fit in and Corgan's ability to fill the cavernous stadiums with the group's distinctive brand of alternative rock.

Corgan, whether growling through the slash-and-burn numbers like "Ode To No One" or warbling slow-tempo songs like "To Forgive," cuts a riveting figure onstage. Clad in his trademarked silver pants and and black "Zero" pullover, his bald head backlit by megawatts of color, Corgan looked downright unearthly, an alien visitor demading to be taken to the leader of the planet.

It is Corgan, of course, who lead this ban, and bassist D'Arcy and guitarist James Iha clearly took their cues from the Great Pumpkin on this fine October evening. Corgan admitted the group is still learning this arena rock gig, pining somewhat for the intimate days at the Metro, but the band had nothing to apologize for,. The finely textured "Tonight, Tonight," with the crowd singing 8,000 part harmony, was spectacularly rendered.

And when Corgan literally spat "The world is a vampire," sending the throung intodelirium for the angst-ridden "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," the Pumpkins gnashed and thrashed with the best of them. Kudos to the lighting and video crews for one slam-bam performance.

It pretty much went this way the rest of the evening with the band alternating between current hits and some from the archives or, as Corgan put it, "back when dinosaurs ruled the earth" way back in 1991 when the Pumpkins and Nirvana and Pearl Jam had yet to turn alternative rock into mainstream moolah.

The Pumpkins would eventually stagger through three encores, including "X.Y.U" and "1979." The latter was set up by Corgan and company pulling a host of Pumpkin Dancers from the crowd to dance onstage. Aided and abetted by the Frogs' Jimmy Frog, clad in a green sequined number with wings, Corgan told the dancers there were only two ground rules: "Don't touch us. And don't touch our (stuff)."

He needn't have worried. No one could have touched the band on this night.

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