Even if it’s not a full reunion, Smashing Pumpkins’ classic-era show should be worth your while

From left, Chamberlin, Corgan, Iha and Schroeder.
Photo: Olivia Bee / Courtesy
Annie Zaleski

The Smashing Pumpkins—most beloved in the 1990s—have rarely left the spotlight since, as frontman Billy Corgan has kept touring and recording under the moniker. The new Shiny and Oh So Bright tour is giving die-hards more reason to rejoice, however, as it’s being billed as a reunion tour, the lineup featuring three-fourths of Smashing Pumpkins’ commercial-peak lineup: Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

Still, the Shiny and Oh So Bright tour is a rather unique endeavor. Here are four reasons to catch the show.

1. They’re playing a marathon, fan-friendly setlist. The premise of the tour is that the Pumpkins are playing only songs from their first five albums, a formidable stretch starting with 1991’s shoegaze-psych landmark Gish and running through 2000’s New Order-influenced Machina/The Machines of God.

But rather than putting together a cursory greatest hits show, Corgan and Co. are going positively Springsteenian, with marathon three-hour sets spanning nearly all of that era’s singles—highlighted by the noise freakout “I Am One,” buoyant disorto-pop gem “Rocket” and the spiky metallic rush “Zero”—along with fan-favorite album tracks (“Mayonaise,” “To Sheila”). There’s even a meditative, messianic cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” that fits in perfectly as an homage.

2. The show is a full-scale arena spectacle. Smashing Pumpkins spared no expense making the show an ambitious spectacle full of elaborate original videos—including several “vaudeville” interludes starring Sugar Ray’s Mark McGrath playing a raconteur-like emcee, and a clip featuring the young girls from the Siamese Dream cover, now all grown up—Corgan costume changes and an impressive light show. The band’s even covering Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” at another point during the show, to underscore the concert’s grand scale.

3. It doesn’t feel like a nostalgia trip. “It’s a bit akin to trying to rekindle a romance almost two decades later,” Corgan told The New York Times back in May, referring to reconvening with his bandmates. “The love is there, but, you know, is the language? Is the magic there?” Mission accomplished: Unlike the hits of many ’90s bands, Smashing Pumpkins’ songs sound remarkably fresh. They feel from that era but not beholden to it. Interestingly enough, the band’s major influences—guitar-heavy classic rock, darker post-punk and synth-pop, brazen metal—also feel more prominent on this tour, which adds intriguing dimensions to familiar tunes.

4. The musicianship is top-notch. I was disappointed when it emerged that bassist D’arcy Wretzky wasn’t going to be a part of this tour. In fact, it felt disingenuous to even dub it a reunion, since she was a seminal and beloved part of the Pumpkins’ golden-age lineup, a cucumber-cool presence that complemented the group’s stoic veneer. (That she and the band traded acrimonious words over her absence also didn’t help matters.)

But even though she’s absent, it’s impossible to deny how great the band sounds. Iha, Chamberlin and longtime guitarist Jeff Schroeder are givens, of course—but new bassist Jack Bates (aka Peter Hook’s son) is a natural fit, and keyboardist Katie Cole fleshes out the songs perfectly.

Smashing Pumpkins with Metric. September 2, 7 p.m., $36-$168. T-Mobile Arena, 702-692-1600.

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