Review / Video / Stream / Download: Smashing Pumpkins @ Thalia Hall 11/26/14

By: Alex Wood

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The hype surrounding The Smashing Pumpkins’ Thalia Hall date was well deserved.

The show was the band’s first performance in hometown Chicago since 2011 and the first tour date to feature the group’s newest lineup, all the while scheduled at an intimate venue the band had never played.

The show featured Pumpkins members Billy Corgan and Jeff Schroeder on guitar with The Killers’ Mark Stoermer on bass and Rage Against The Machine’s Brad Wilk on drums. The stripped-down lineup promised a straightforward, no-frills set of rock, exactly what the band delivered.

The first half of the set prominently featured songs from upcoming record Monuments To An Elegy, beginning with opener “One And All (We Are).” The song, released as a single earlier in the month, felt like a blueprint for the rest of the set, a hard-driving alternative-rock jam that doesn’t find the band at their most experimental but doesn’t need to.

“Being Beige,” the first single released from Monuments, followed quickly, its catchy chorus successfully blending pop into their alternative roots. The sound guy snuck into the scene to play the synthesizer line.

The sound in the venue was spot on, a difficult feat for a band playing at such loud volume. Distorted guitars were drenched in effects, performed in thick layers atop one another as Corgan and Shroeder traded solo duties. Stoermer performed with confidence on the bass, adding his own runs and embellishments and matching the band’s energy. More than anything, Wilk, who proved himself an absolute powerhouse behind the set, kept the energy high.

The crowd erupted in applause within seconds of Siamese Dream’s “Hummer,” the bass line creeping up before the rest of the band jumped in, a mellow but dramatic solo by Corgan cementing the song’s epic feel.

“You see? We still like to rock here in Chicago. We’re just warming up,” Corgan said at the song’s end, just prior to breaking into “Tiberius,” another new song and live debut.

Mellon Collie’s “Tonight, Tonight” had the audience singing in its comparatively light choruses. The song made Monuments’ “Drum + Fife” sound almost too simple.

MACHINA/the machines of God tracks “Glass And The Ghost Children” and “Stand Inside Your Love” worked perfectly together, the former marked by technical lead guitar from Schroeder while the latter’s slower pace featured a long solo from Corgan using practically no picking, the front-man holding his guitar up in the air and using the compression from his pedals to keep each note alive.

The MACHINA tracks characterized what makes The Smashing Pumpkins stand out from nearly every other alternative rock band. Every song features distinct sections, allowing each tune to grow and build throughout, new guitar riffs constantly entering and exiting.

“I always heard about Pilsen but never came down here,” Corgan said at one point, mentioning that he always heard there were things going on in the area.

“Disarm” marked the beginning of a climactic run of songs that ended the set. The song’s laid-back groove featured Corgan’s distinctive, emotionally charged vocals and intense drumming by Wilk, the layered guitars crashing like waves, smothered in sharp distortion.

Mellon Collie’s “Zero” offered a breather from more intense songs surrounding it, the spotlight on Corgan’s vocals, the song building gently to its finish.

The thunderous riff of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” quickly turned the energy and volume up a notch, the crowd screaming the lyrics back at the band. David Bowie’s “Fame” followed with even more force and built to a gigantic finish.

The set’s real highlight came in the band’s performance of “Silverfuck,” the ambitious and lengthy multi-section piece found toward the end of Siamese Dream.

The song had a classic rock sound from the beginning, the guitar riffs sounding impossibly large, accompanied by a scorching lead guitar. Psychedelic flange effects took over as the track entered a spacey jam, the section only giving way to another heavy blast of rock. Guitar riffs gave away to a new section so heavy and fast it was practically metal, Wilk feeling at home beating the drumheads mercilessly.

“Bang bang/ You’re dead/ Hole in your head,” Corgan repeatedly sang, turning the lyrics into a chant. The music dropped out and the lyrics repeated, a capella.

The jam returned in halftime, then again in its fast-paced metal style. Nearly ten minutes after its start, the song was finished, perfectly exemplifying the Pumpkins’ ability to create ambitious compositions with technically outstanding musicianship.

New song “Burnt Orange-Black” was performed for the first time as The Smashing Pumpkins as the encore, but felt slight in comparison to the massive end of the main set.

Billy Corgan still has a knack for ambitious compositions, combining musicianship with flair to ensure that The Smashing Pumpkins live up to their live reputation, regardless of lineup.

Welcome home, Billy.

The Stream

[box type="download"]Download Entire Set (mp3 .zip)[/box]

1. One And All (We Are) (Live debut)
2. Being Beige (Live debut)
3. Hummer
4. Tiberius (Live debut)
5. Tonight, Tonight
6. Drum + Fife (Live debut)
7. Glass And The Ghost Children
8. Stand Inside Your Love
9. Monuments (Live debut)
10. Drown
11. Disarm
12. Zero
13. Bullet With Butterfly Wings
14. Fame (David Bowie cover)
15. Silverfuck
16. Burnt Orange-Black (Live debut as Smashing Pumpkins)

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