So bright 

Smashing Pumpkins took fans on an epic journey at its July 14 show at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

click to enlarge OLIVIA BEE / PROVIDED
  • Olivia Bee / provided
The first time I heard Smashing Pumpkins was in a small house down a back road in southern Oklahoma. Someone put Adore in the CD player, saying “Just trust me; give it a chance.” Not knowing what to expect, I was drawn in as earnest, atmospheric intro “To Sheila” tinkled through the speakers and then absolutely blown away as “Ava Adore” made twisted, beautiful proclamations about all-consuming love. It was different from anything I had ever heard — intricate and simple, dark and lighthearted.

After the announcement of the Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour and the news that original bassist D’arcy Wretsky wouldn’t be joining her former bandmates in this endeavor and the drama that followed, I purposefully avoided news of the production and didn’t read reviews of the July 12 kickoff in Glendale, Arizona. I wanted to be completely surprised, and I was far from disappointed.

The Pumpkins’ set at Chesapeake Energy Arena on July 14 started with a starlit backdrop that morphed into a video featuring animation and iconography from the band’s most beloved albums. Then the screen split just enough to allow lead singer and lone constant William “Billy” Patrick Corgan to emerge, pause and launch into driving epic “Disarm” with a sense of sincerity and purpose while a video of old photos and home videos covered in animated graffiti played behind him. Corgan sang about how he “used to be a little boy,” “the years burn” and “the killer in me is the killer in you, my love,” a self-indulgent, autobiographic act that felt both nostalgic and a little macabre, while he showed off his skill as a seasoned guitarist and singular vocalist. One photo featured a young, goth Corgan and was covered with the repeated word “dead.”

The old versions of Corgan (and, by extension, the Pumpkins) are, indeed, dead, as he has insisted numerous times over the years, but they are also still very much alive, as was evidenced by his attire. He appeared mostly in black, as usual, wearing a silver cape and silver boots with heavy buckles, a crossed zero on his back, carrying an acoustic guitar painted with a silver star — this is the Corgan who will endure: stalwart, wistful, a bit ghoulish, the everlasting embodiment of every beloved Pumpkins iteration.

To the audience’s delight, the stage opened up to reveal original guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin along with guitarist Jeff Schroeder, who joined the band in 2007; bassist Jack Bates; and Australian singer/songwriter Katie Cole on keyboard and backup vocals as they launched into early mainstays “Rocket,” “Siva” and “Rhinoceros.”

This was the fourth time I had seen Smashing Pumpkins and the first with original members other than Corgan, and while I had been beguiled by the Oceania tour lineup purely for the novelty of seeing Corgan perform my favorite Pumpkins songs live, the Shiny and Oh So Bright show was like stepping into a wormhole — time ceased to exist, and only the Pumpkins at their best endured.

The most surprising aspects of this show were the costume changes and painstakingly thought-out videography and lighting. While I anticipated hearing airtight, triumphant performances of classics and some intricate lighting displays, I didn’t expect Corgan to disappear and reappear in glitzy variations of every iconic ensemble he has ever worn onstage or to be delightfully bombarded with timeless Pumpkins imagery brought to life and tied together with mesmerizing video footage.

As the show really got underway, Corgan appeared in a hooded silver cape and climbed onto a platform while singing a heartfelt rendition of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a favorite Pumpkins cover, in front of a riveting space background.

After Corgan ditched the spacesuit and delighted the crowd with “Drown” from the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe’s film Singles, the extent of the spectacle of this show became clear; neon lights flashed purple, red and green as a talking head of Corgan declared there was “No past, no future, no sun … ’tis the end, ’tis the end, ’tis the end” and then the band dove into Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness standout “Zero.”

The Pumpkins energetically reminded the crowd they aren’t dead yet with “The Everlasting Gaze” from Machina/The Machines of God and then, to my absolute delight, a sincere version of “Stand Inside Your Love,” a song I never expected but always wished to hear live, that brought me to tears.

Then Iha stepped up to the mic to cheers from the audience and admitted to being haunted at The Skirvin Hilton Hotel like so many visitors and basketball players before him. While the Skirvin’s ghosts are legendary in OKC, one has to wonder if he was sufficiently warned.

At that point, the show hit a slow, meandering middle section that might have gone on a little too long with an acoustic version of “Thirty-Three,” “Eye,” “Soma,” an Iha-fronted version of Pisces Iscariot classic “Blew Away,” “For Martha,” “To Sheila,” “Mayonaise” and an immersive rendition of “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” that showcased the quiet grandeur of the second half of Mellon Collie with ethereal guitar solos and a startlingly beautiful black-and-white video of animated oceans complete with fish, an octopus and mermaids.

Fan favorite “Tonight, Tonight” was bookended by the Pumpkins’ cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” which Corgan joked was a Dixie Chicks song, and the strangest and most inexplicable part of the evening: a cover of Led Zeppelin’s immortal “Stairway to Heaven” accompanied by a string light-encircled shrine featuring a popelike figure with an uncanny resemblance to Corgan, which was carried around the floor of the arena by figures dressed as medieval monks.

The crowd was rocked back to reality with “Cherub Rock” and “1979” before “Ava Adore” revealed the darker, edgier, vampy version of Corgan, who genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself reliving the band’s high points of the past three decades. He joked that “Try, Try, Try” was for the ladies, and the band reveled in “The Beginning Is the End Is the Beginning,” “Hummer,” “Today” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.”

Corgan then thanked the crowd and the musicians, saying “We don’t care who you are, what you look like, who you love, who you vote for … we appreciate you” and closed out the main part of the show with “Muzzle” before leaving the stage.

The band returned to the stage — complete with pope shrine Corgan come to life — for the encore to play its new single “Solara” in front of a backdrop of a burning sun and finished the show with a cover of “Baby Mine” surprisingly featuring Chamberlin on the ukulele.

Shiny and Oh So Bright was an enchanting, astonishing, epic time travel love letter to diehard Pumpkins fans and a heartfelt invitation to stick around for whatever comes next, one I’ll always accept.
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