Review and Photos – Smashing Pumpkins at Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Nov 11
It was a cold and windy Friday evening. November swept the streets, and heavy grey clouds hung low over the city. No stars up in the sky, yet, it was a starry, starry night (pun intended). Printed ones. Stars on T-shirts, Denim Jackets, hats, bags, and pins were worn by many in the streams of people moving to the gates of Rogers Arena. Smashing Pumpkins, the band that branded Generation X with the star logo, is on their Spirits on Fire tour. Described by the mastermind of the band, Billy Corgan, as “an open source collective”, they showed up on the stage while the opening track of the latest project Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts, was playing in the background. The brightest star shape was the light installation machinery above with attached reflectors that were moving, railed up and down, and had automated colour-changing patterns.
Their theatrical set started immediately with electrifying rhythm guitars complemented by a punching drumbeat. The rhythmic insanity triggered multiple laser beam spotlights that moved frantically across the stage to the intro of an unreleased track, “Empires”. The song was unfamiliar to the audience who seemed almost anxious to engage. Generation X has traded the comfort of reading by the fireplace for the alternative rock noise of their youth. Once the searing vocal started exposing the lyrics, there was an immediate connection with the fans, and it seemed like a collective decision to act was made as everyone stood up on their feet at the same time, and some heads even started bobbing.
In the second song, “Bullet with butterfly wings”, the urgency to show appreciation crossed the threshold and the crowd loudly responded to Corgan’s invitation to let things off their chest and sing along. The band was shaking up the dreamy nostalgia that gained momentum when Corgan grabbed one of his acoustic guitars with the signature star shape all over the instrument’s body. He announced he was dedicating the next song to the guy in the audience, who told everyone to be quiet as the acoustic song was next. In silence, the acoustic performance of “Tonight, Tonight” where Corgan and the co-founder of the band, James Iha—both on acoustic guitars—sparked the union with the audience.
Billy Corgan was still the master of his art. He was still performing piercing guitar solos. He was dressed up in the style of a mysterious, gothic ghost vampire, wearing a long black shirt dress with the undivided attention of a crowd. He was skillfully flirting with all the emotional expressions, between sorrowful, wounded heart weeping and the fierce angst of a working-class hero fighting for survival in a cruel, unforgiving world. The band’s spectacular vivid screenings proved their mastery of using artistic visual expression to support their turbulent stories fueled with rebellion.
The band chose songs from their vast repertoire that survived over three decades in people’s memories. Many anthems chosen for the setlist on the Spirits on Fire tour belong to their unique, critically-acclaimed album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. It was marked as a diamond album by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Corgan honoured his polyamorous relationship with the arsenal of his worshiped guitars. He made them all important runway models. They could be as shiny as during the dominating squalling on “Cherub rock” or cutting like chainsaws through the magnificent thundering tom-toms played with machine precision by Jimmy Chamberlin on the closing track “Silverfuck”.
The artistry for instrumentation, the lush sound, and the capacity to create space to grow and submit to the necessity to move new ideas forward keep the Smashing Pumpkins alive. They are indeed a very bright star in the musical galaxy. No doubt the concert will remain in the memory of the spectators as a beautiful souvenir to cherish for a lifetime.
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