Smashing Pumpkins Knock Out Toronto

Rockin' Toronto. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

ATN Toronto correspondent (and Toronto Star staff

writer Peter Howell attended the Smashing Pumpkins Jan. 3 performance. Here is

his report: Leave it to the Smashing Pumpkins to play against hype. Here they

are in town for two club shows at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, the first dates

of a projected two-year world tour. They're the hottest band in '90s rock,

having finally stepped out of the shadows of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and tickets

for last night's concert and the repeat performance tonight went faster than

doughnuts at a police picnic. Despite attempts to stop the scalpers using a

time-consuming ticket voucher exchange system -- which delayed the start of the

show by at least an hour -- word had it the $30 Pumpkins' ducats were trading

outside for upwards of $250 apiece. (One guy reportedly got taken for

$1,000.)

With that kind of hype -- not to mention constant radio play by

show co-promoter CFNY-FM -- one might have reasonably expected the great

Pumpkins to just kick out the jams and proclaim their alt-rock superiority. No

way. These four Chicagoans take their dynamics seriously. They opted to act as

their own opening act, and a quiet one at that. They arrived on stage about 10

p.m. with acoustic equipment and chairs.

They were a study in

non-conformity. Bassist D'Arcy was dressed in an elegant evening gown.

Singer/guitarist Billy Corgan, with his new cueball hairstyle and prison

tailoring, looked like a Blade Runner android who had just busted out of an

off-world colony. Guitarist James Iha had his best Chicago mobster pinstripes

and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain wore regular plaid.

But they had a single

agenda, which was to play most of the songs off their great new double album,

Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, beginning with the more

ballad-oriented and acoustic material, continuing after a short break with the

big rock numbers.

The acoustic gambit was a stripped-down one, with little

of the orchestral flourishes heard on Mellon Collie. There was no

orchestral intro to "Tonight, Tonight" (although the intro was heard on tape at

the start of the second set) and "Cupid De Locke" seemed to be missing a string

section or three. The sound mix also seemed to have too much of D'Arcy's bass.

The Pumpkins proceeded at a stately pace, baffling punters who were looking for

a chance to mosh. Despite the fact Mellon Collie has sold 300,000 units

in Canada alone -- the first country in the world where it went triple platinum

-- there seemed to be greater appreciation of the two songs in the 10-song

opening set taken from the band's breakthrough album, 1993's Siamese

Dream.

There were cheers of recognition for "Today" and the first sign

of body-surfing for "Rocket," the first song of the night which Corgan played

using an electric guitar.

But if you like the Pumpkins, you've learned to

admire their chutzpah. Few bands these days would have the nerve to put out a

double album, a major investment of cash and time for today's mod rocker.

Corgan and company simply do it their way, and after a short intermission, they

came back to live better electrically, even switching to more conventional rock

garb.

After opening with new song "The Bomb," the band continued its way

through Mellon Collie, getting the rafters shaking with the monster riff

of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," and current single "1979," plus more Siamese

Dream faves in "Disarm," "Geek U.S.A." and "Cherub Rock." Nothing from first

album Gish, nothing from B-side collection Pisces Iscariot. But

if the Pumpkins proved anything last night, it's that no one should try and

anticipate their moves.