Chicago’s Heavyweight Rock Champ Flexes Muscles

The first time I saw Smashing Pumpkins perform was at a packed Metro in August of 1993.  It was one of the very first shows of the “Siamese Dream” tour.  That night, well the beginning of it at least, is seared into my memory: they opened with “Soma”.  If you’re familiar with that tune from the band’s sophomore album, it’s hardly the type of song any normal band would open a show with.   I remember (as if it were last Friday night at The Riv) swaying to and fro’ like a buoy at sea about 20 feet from Corgan, thinking, “What’s this lunatic doing starting a show with this slow ass song?”  The album had been out for just about two weeks, so even though my traveling party had already sampled it plenty by then, we had clearly forgotten how that song kicks you square in the groin half-way in.  After the guitars kicked in, the Metro went up for grabs, and it was then completely apparent to me that this guy, Billy Corgan, knew what he was doing.  He was a real live rock star.  Chicago didn’t have many in those days, not that we’re tripping over them nowadays.

How do I remember this event so vividly?  Well, besides my initial incredulity that they would open with such a seemingly “down” track, there’s also the small matter of me being a big puss.  I do not like seeing shows from the pit.  It’s not fun to me at all.  It’s machismo bullshit.  I’m into music.  I’m into the fanfare of the stage show.  I’m not into pissing contests, especially at today’s prices.  So when this show started, I was unwittingly in what would become a pit of sorts, however…it wasn’t until half way into the first tune, obviously, that I realized that.  I enjoyed the cacophony of sound and took in the whole scene around me for a few bars, then fought my way for the back of the circle of shitheads.  I was nearly out when I came upon a 14 year old blocking my path with outstretched arms and a look on his face that said, “Oh no you don’t.  No one leaves the pit alive.”  Like I said, I really hate pits.  I ran that kid over like Jahvid Best plowing down a Bears cornerback.  Hopefully that kid ended his career as a pit goalie that night.

Back to Corgan:  The dude is a bona fide rockstar.  He’s enigmatic. He’s moody.  He’s sharp and sarcastic.  He’s alternately unassuming and in-your-face.  He’s the type of guy who thinks nothing of playing with the emotions of his fans by threatening to retire and leave us behind for good.  I for one hope he’s just being dramatic.  This guy is a feather in our music scene’s cap and to lose him would leave Chicago music with a void.

I’ve seen much online about how this show was “mostly new stuff” even from “radio people” who should, in theory, know better.  I think that’s indicative of a real problem with radio in this town:  Billy picks a smattering of “deep cuts” and because they’re not the three “radio-approved hits” radio consultants and researchers have designated, they’re derided and dismissed as “new stuff.”  While there was certainly a healthy dose of new stuff (being leaked slowly at in this show, you can see for yourself what was played:

Geek U.S.A.
Window Paine
Lightning Strikes
Frail and Bedazzled
Pale Horse
Thru the Eyes of Ruby
Cherub Rock
My Love is Winter
For Martha
Two-song Reunion set by the band Catherine (which apparently shared a practice space with Corgan and company back in the 80s.  They sounded a ton like the SP, so that figures.)
Bullet With Butterfly Wings

A longtime Corgan acquaintance told me he thought Billy looked “bored”.  He knows him better than I do (which is to say, not at all), so I’ll defer to his judgement.  However, if that’s Corgan “bored”, I’ll take it.  The dude rocked.  Hard.  I was blown away at the selections from Gish, Siamese Dream, and Pisces Iscariot.  The new backing band is fine too:  The latest guitarist to fill the shoes of James Iha, Jeff Schroeder, is good at it, and Billy never fails to find leggy, curvy bass players to round out (pardon the pun) his rhythm section:  Nicole Fiorentino is welcome in my band anytime Billy tires of her.  Speaking of the rhythm section, the new Pumpkins drummer, Mike Byrne, is solid despite not having all of the jazzy chops that Jimmy Chamberlin displayed for more than twenty years behind the SP kit (which, by the way, is about the same amount of time the new drummer has been alive, so all in all the dude’s got time on his side!)

The only thing that was missing (and not in my estimation mind you but surely from many if not most in attendance) were “the hits”:  “Tonight, Tonight”, “Today,” “Disarm”, and “1979” were all conspicuously missing from this show.   Even a hit in most hardcore fans’ books, “I Am One,” made a brief appearence in the midst of an extended jam of another song and, even then, only in rhythm and not in lyrical form.  For my money, I’ll take “Siva”, “Silverfuck”, and “Frail and Bedazzled” over those tunes any day, but surely fans were disappointed.   If you’re a diehard fan like me, or a fan of a bruising live show in general, you have to grab a ticket to see this band the next time they’re in Chicago (or near, such as in Milwaukee).  I’ve only seen them 4 or 5 times in all, but this was second only to that first time at The Metro 18 years ago. Even the two-song “reunion set” by Corgan’s friends “Catherine” was a perfect example of why, for all of his moodiness, Corgan should be celebrated:  People were heading for the exits when the four middle age bandmates came out and joined Corgan for two tunes (once they figured out they weren’t witnessing a full on Pumpkins reunion of Jimmy, James and D’arcy that is).  While I was not totally digging their sound, on the inside I was loving every minute of it.  Corgan used his rockstar status, his bully pulpit if you will, and made a couple of thousand people sit through a mini-set of a band it did not want to hear.  He’s done it before with acts like the detestable band, The Frogs.  He’ll do it again.  I love that.  Stick around as a couple more decades, would ya Billy?  Chicago needs you and your chutzpah bro!  For every time you foist a band 15 years since dead on us for 8 minutes of what should instead be the encore we demanded and were supposedly granted, you also delight us with unexpected surprises like “Soma” that a lesser band, concerned with doing what is expected of them, would fear to!

Sight of the night:  WXRT Radio’s Lin Brehmer TOTALLY rocking out.  I mean, this dude was hopping around, headbanging, air-guitar, the works.  I thought he was the head coach of The University of Minnesota at one point.  I have to hand it to him:  whether it was real jubilation or merely mugging it up for clients and station staffers, the dude lets it all hang out and leaves it on the field.  Well done.  Now, if only I believed you are my best friend in the world…

In other Corgan news:  In November, Billy’s wrestling promotion, Resistance Pro, holds its debut event at Excalibur. We’re hoping for a party with those dudes, but we’ll see!

And, don’t forget, in honor of Billy and his long-standing relationship (it’s a love affair really, right Billy?) with Q101, we’re playing a Pumpkins song every hour throughout the month of October.  Check it out at

Hear more of what’s on Billy’s mind as he opines about his beloved Cubs, his new wrastlin’ outfit, and much more courtesy of ESPN 1000 Radio:




If the m3s here don’t work for some reason, you can rifle through the “Waddle and Silvy” podcasts at from Oct 13.

By co-owner Mike Noonan

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