With Liz Phair
Majestic Theatre, Dallas
Monday, April 18, 2016
Heading into The Majestic Theatre for Monday night’s Smashing Pumpkins show, it would've seemed unlikely that a pair of cover songs would steal the show. With songs like "1979" and "Tonight, Tonight" to draw on, Billy Corgan and his band have more than enough hits to carry a show. But it was a hot, ramped up cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush” and an enchanting performance of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” that closed out the night and really left a mark on the sold-out crowd.
Not really one for subtlety or genre jumping, we normally wouldn’t have pegged Corgan for a classic rock riffer. But there he was, leading the current Pumpkins incarnation through a walk across the Classic FM Gold Park. And, as bassist Katie Cole belted out, “Oh Lord, take me downtown, I’m just looking for a tush,” Corgan seized the moment, striking a rock 'n’ roll pose, his guitar raised triumphantly in the air, his foot perched on the monitor, and a satisfied grin taking it all in.
While the Smashing Pumpkins' lineup has been, uh, fluid over the past decade, Corgan himself has been adamant about keeping the name. Occasionally known to be a bit short tempered, and perhaps a tad ornery, this Monday evening found him in pleasant form, peppering the crowd with some dialogue here and there, but otherwise focused on the tunes with the air of someone at peace with his legacy. Much the prolific writer, Corgan eschewed taking a victory lap, instead working in songs from a variety of his projects, “greatest hits” be damned.
This current tour is billed as an acoustic-electric affair and there were three distinct phases to the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour show. The first featured Corgan alone with an acoustic guitar, gently strumming along to a couple of new, unreleased tracks and a couple of B-sides. This part was mellow and relaxed, comfortably nestling the audience into their seats with Corgan, despite the 40-minute slot capably handled by Liz Phair, sort of serving as his own opening act.
Act II found the rest of the Pumpkins joining in the festivities. Things got really interesting during the ensuing 45 minutes, which Corgan prefaced as “the nostalgia part of the evening.” “Mayonaise,” “Soma,” “Rocket,” “Spaceboy,” “Today” and “Disarm” all came so fast that it was if every class of 1995 graduate in the audience had a chance to spin the jukebox. The wrinkle was that each song took on a laid-back persona, trading the grunge elements for airy, dreamlike presentations and needled to a climactic crescendo rather than pummeling toward it with aggression and ferocity.
The third act is where things went a bit off the rails. Thee aggression reared its ugly head as Corgan settled into straight-up menace mode. Snarling the words and pouncing on stage monitors, he lost himself in character as he worked his way through a couple of numbers from his somewhat forgettable industrial catalog. While this section surely satisfied Corgan’s acting chops, it did little to build off the momentum the band had gained up to that point.
Fortunately, they bounced back and stuck the ending with their cover choices. The one-two punch of ZZ Top and the Stones brought everyone back to their feet with cheers that lasted long past the final chords. Corgan seems to be genuinely happy and at ease at this stage in his career. He’s less “rat in a cage” and more of a troubadour. It’s a persona that suits him well. In a touching scene, Corgan stayed out front for well over a minute, his hands pressed together in thanks and a huge smile spread across his face. Who says he can’t have a nice time?
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