The Smashing Pumpkins are not a band that smiles often. And I’m not just talking about when Billy Corgan rides a roller coaster (although he did return to Disneyland this week and showed off some joy while making playful jabs at his previous viral moment). When the Smashing Pumpkins are onstage, it’s a show full of technical chops, complex emotions, and overwhelming sensory blasts. The effect of these is often elation, but they come from places of angst, anger, longing, and wonder. Unabashed joy coming from the stage would feel almost out of place.
But when Billy Corgan cracked his first smile towards the end of the band’s first proper reunion show at the Troubadour on June 27, as he extended his solo to mindbending places on “Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans,” it became infectious. Quickly, Jeff Schroeder and James Iha — playing his first full set with the band in 18 years — shared knowing glances and unveiled massive grins as well, both a little bewildered by where Corgan was taking the song, and with the relief that comes in nearly completing a performance that was nearly two decades in the making. But more than anything, the smiles let the audience know that the band was indeed having fun. That playing these old songs with old friends went beyond just a paycheck and a check off the to-do list. It was at that moment that made the reunion felt real and vital, and the internet critiques and internal squabbles fell away. This was really happening, and it actually was pretty awesome.
Last night, the Smashing Pumpkins debuted the full arena show in Glendale, Arizona. Even in just the couple weeks since the Los Angeles warm-up concert, things had changed in the band, including adding a sixth member in keyboardist Katie Cole. But the blueprint for the Shiny And Oh So Bright Tour had been laid long in advance. The concert would focus on music from the band’s classic ’90s era, but would also fold in new material written specifically for this iteration, including the recently debuted barnburner “Solara.” Longtime bassist D’arcy Wretzky wouldn’t be involved, much to the chagrin of her and a vocal portion of the band’s longtime fans. James Iha, though, would be back, along with Jimmy Chamberlin on the drums, giving Billy Corgan a backing band that is sneaky in its technical mastery.