Review: Smashing Pumpkins "Spirits on Fire" tour, with Jane's Addiction and Poppy, Sunday, Oct. 16 at TD Garden.
BOSTON – On Sunday night, the Spirits on Fire Tour touched down at TD Garden headlined by Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction, a pair of rock bands from the 1990s with interesting, and even difficult histories. Both groups were kind of post-punk but pre-grunge, although their music has shadings of both those styles. Both veer between straight, hard rock and heavy metal elements, with punk rock fervor and insouciance, and are comfortable straying into the room-rattling thunder that characterizes grunge. And both have fascinating front men who are the essential parts of their respective bands.
Sunday night’s little soiree, attended by a crowd estimated at 14,000, or about two-thirds of capacity, offered more than three hours of music, delivered by talented and focused veteran musicians. There were moments of fiery, blistering rock 'n' roll, a few quieter segments that spotlighted the imagery in the bands’ lyrics (which are too often lost in the din), and some stretches where the sound seemed to be bludgeoning for the sake of bludgeoning.
Smashing Pumpkins began in Chicago in 1988, with singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin as the key members. By the time the group’s 28-song double album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” hit it big in 1995, the Pumpkins were well on their way to selling more than 30 million albums, with a handful of memorable singles. The Pumpkins broke up in 2000, but Corgan and Chamberlin launched the short-lived but potent Zwan in 2001. Since Corgan’s poetic, yearning and oft-melancholy songs were always the music’s focal point, he has continued with various projects and the prospect of a reunion was never far away.
Corgan and Chamberlin reunited in 2006 with guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Chamberlin left in ’09, but was back by 2018, with Iha also back in the fold. The band has been producing new work ever since, with “Shining and Oh So Bright” (2018), and “Cyr” (2020) reviving their national profile before the pandemic. Now Smashing Pumpkins is readying “Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts,” to be released as a trio of albums released in sequence. The problem for this tour, 32 dates through Nov. 19, was that the first chapter in the "Atum" trilogy won’t be out until Nov. 15. But the setlists on the tour have pretty steadily leaned towards Pumpkins’ favorites from the past, with five cuts from “Mellon Collie” and just four from the forthcoming work, among the 20-song sets they’ve been performing.
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Corgan, 55, and the touring band – which includes Schroeder and Iha on guitars, Chamberlin on drums, and touring musicians Jack Bates on bass and Katie Cole on keyboards and backing vocals – began with “Empires” from the forthcoming album, with the serrating guitars framing Corgan’s pointed lyrics. The singer was wearing a black robe that went below his knees, making him look like either an evil monk, or perhaps a vampire ghost – an impression heightened by the black makeup under his eyes. Thunderous drums announced the start of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and the crowd reaction to that Smashing Pumpkins nugget was immediate as it became a rowdy singalong.
A bit later, “We Only Come Out At Night” seemed like the quintessential Corgan song, full of yearning and angst and building from a slow beginning to a bust-out chorus and catharsis. The title cut to that 2020 album, “Cyr” bore some fresh synthesizer sounds for added variety as Corgan strode the stage and Cole’s harmonies on the chorus added heft. The band has been doing its cover of the Talking Heads’ “Once in A Lifetime” on the tour and its slower take on it rides throbbing bass and some of Schroeder and Iha’s most brain-curdling guitar lines. But that Gothic take on the old hit didn’t have any of the original’s quirky rhythmic pull and the audience seemed just a bit confused.
The tune called “Eye” was a riddle wrapped in an enigma, to steal a phrase. Corgan sang as lyrics appeared on the screen behind him, phrases like ‘I lie, I repent,’ and then as the midtempo ballad downshifted with the guitars lending a Middle Eastern feel, he concluded by simply stating "Thank you, Boston, from the bottom of our broken hearts.” While everyone was weighing that, the funkier rock sound of “Ava Adore” got matters back on track. But that was also when a trio of ghostly scarecrows were slowly wheeled out onto the back of the stage to overlook the rest of the show.
Corgan noted the band’s long history of playing Boston and recalled a show at the long-gone T.T. the Bear’s in Cambridge where it was so packed it was “137 degrees.” He then joked that when they’d started visiting, ‘the Cubs were no good, and the Red Sox were ... eh ... but then Theo Epstein rescued us both ... But Theo’s like me, he always ends up leaving.”
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An acoustic duet by Corgan and Iha on “Tonight, Tonight” was a lovely interlude, where that sweet, sort-of-love-song and its lyrics really stood out. The straight-ahead power rocker “Stand Inside Your Love” was a glorious avalanche of churning guitars and bashing drums. The pulsating chestnut “I Of the Mourning” finished with the singer chanting “Radio, Radio, What Is it You Want.” The full bore “Cherub Rock” was another number that had the crowd singing along wildly, and Corgan added his own screeching guitar solo. The night’s best singalong might have been “1979,” a midtempo tune that is just as urgent now as it was when it was released 27 years ago.
The new tune “Beguiled” was loud, with repetitive, sawing power chords, but it just didn’t seem to congeal into anything you could get your ears around. One of rock’s most furious lost love songs, “Silverf-xxx” began like a guitar jam, with Corgan’s howling vocals interspersed, and was rather delightfully a crazed jam all the way through. There was a heavy keyboard/synth sound underlying “Neophyte,” but that variety again worked well on the visceral march. 1993’s “Disarm” was one more opportunity for Pumpkins fans to join in with a beloved classic, with its signature chorus "the devil in me is the devil in you …” The night ended with one more pounding blast of squalling guitars on “Harmageddon,” and if the set had some hits and misses, Smashing Pumpkins proved they are still one of America’s most interesting – sometimes befuddling, but never boring – musical groups.
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Jane’s Addiction hails from Los Angeles and got its start in 1985, with the charisma of singer Perry Farrell and guitar Dave Navarro making them almost instantly successful. By 1991 they were playing their farewell tour, but there have been numerous reunions and lineup changes ever since. This year’s tour was supposed to boast the original lineup, but Navarro is sidelined by long-Covid, so the quartet recruited Troy Van Leeuwen from Queens of the Stone Age to step in on guitar. But with bassist Eric Avery back for the first time in 12 years, it is as close as you can get to the original foursome.
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Jane’s Addiction threw some curveballs into the setlist they’ve been doing on this tour and welcomed a couple of guest stars to their Boston show. During their old nugget “Whores” the band was also joined by – how should we say this? – three models in bikinis who did gymnastics-type routines on parallel bars and other frames at the side and rear of the stage, along with just basic twerking.
Jane’s Addiction was joined by guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (who played with Red Hot Chili Peppers from 2009 to 2019) for the blistering punk-metal “Three Days.” A bit later, Daniel Ash from the band Bauhaus was a guest on an acoustic guitars version of “Jane Says,” adding extra poignance to that tragic portrait. Ash stuck around to join the quartet on a jangly rendition of Bauhaus’ “Slice of Life.” The models returned, in different bikinis, to cavort during the astral guitar tones of “Ted, Just Admit It,” and this time there was a hobby horse involved. There was no denying the potency of the metal-like charge ironically titled “Stop!,” and Jane’s Addiction’s finale of the industrial metal buzz-bomb “Been Caught Stealing” left fans calling out for more, but their one-hour set was done. Los Angeles pop-metal singer Poppy opened with a short set, while most of us were still navigating the Expressway.
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This article originally appeared on The Patriot Ledger: Review: Smashing Pumpkins are a smash hit at the TD Garden in Boston