Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins performs at Los Angeles’ The Theatre at Ace Hotel on Saturday.
“Today is the greatest day I’ve ever known,” Billy Corgan sang, nearly halfway through the Smashing Pumpkins’ set Saturday night (March 26) at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And for longtime fans of the band, it was. To Corgan’s left stood the band’s original guitarist, James Iha, who stunned fans earlier in the set by joining the Pumpkins on stage for the first time in 16 years.
If it all seemed like a celebration, it was. It was Iha’s 48th birthday, and he was presented with a cake and serenaded with the birthday song during the encore. But even without the added thrill of the guitarist’s surprise appearance, the band’s sprawling, two hour-plus set had plenty to celebrate.
Two decades after their commercial peak, singer/guitarist Corgan hasn’t given up on the Pumpkins, and he showed fans why on the fourth date of the In Plainsong Tour, which the band is billing as “an acoustic-electro evening.” He may be the only original member onboard for all of the band’s nearly 30-year-ride, but the band is experiencing a resurgence on the road with its current trek, which has been extended until May 1 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On paper, with fellow Chicagoan Liz Phair opening, the tour seemed as if it could be nothing more than a ’90s nostalgia fest, but it was much more. Sure, Corgan and company looked back at the band’s legacy, but they also took occasional forays into his outside projects and gave nods at those rock titans who influenced him. At times, Corgan seemed like thoroughly modern Billy.
Iha first appeared eight songs into the set for “Mayonaise” and stayed for six other songs (most from 1993’s Siamese Dream). The highlight of the reunion was a sparse version of “Disarm,” featuring Corgan on keyboards, playing church-like organ sounds, and Iha layering tasteful guitar harmonics.
With original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin also on tour, Iha’s appearance marked a reunion of three-quarters of the band’s classic, original lineup — with only bassist D’Arcy Wretzky missing from the equation.
Also backing Corgan during the first of two nights at the Ace was guitarist Jeff Schroeder, as well as touring multi-instrumentalists/backing vocalists Katie Cole and Sierra Swan.
Dressed in a grey suit, Corgan opened the show solo on acoustic with the new song “Cardinal Rule” and the 1996 hit “Tonight, Tonight,” before Schroeder — also on acoustic — joined in on a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” While some might accuse Corgan of jumping on the Bowie tribute bandwagon, it felt sincere. After all, aside from Bowie’s influence, the Pumpkins have also explored the universe in song in such tracks as “Rocket” and “Spaceboy,” both of which were played later in the set with Iha. And Schroeder added some Flamenco-flavored flourishes that made the performance more than just a carbon copy cover.
Along with the familiar, Corgan pulled out some obscurities, such as the solo tunes “The World’s Fair” and “Sorrows (In Blue)” as well as “Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea” by his short-lived other band, Zwan. The set also included a pair of songs that casual fans might not associate with Corgan — Hole’s “Malibu,” which featured Cole on lead vocals, and Natalie Imbruglia’s “Identify,” two songs that Corgan co-wrote, but never released himself.
Later in the set, Corgan freed himself from playing an instrument and stalked the stage through the “electro” portion with the menacing electronic-beats of “Eye,” which originally appeared on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway, as well as the B-side “Saturnine,” with Chamberlin back behind the kit.
The encore had Iha rejoining the party for a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” and the Pumpkins again pointing to the future with another promising new song, “Amarinthine” — strongly suggesting the story of the Smashing Pumpkins isn’t just history, but is still being written.
Check out fan-shot footage from the Smashing Pumpkins reunion, along with the evening’s set list, below.
“The World’s Fair”
“Space Oddity” (David Bowie cover)
“Jesus, I / Mary Star of the Sea” (Zwan)
“Mayonaise” (with Iha)
“Soma” (with Iha)
“Rocket” (with Iha)
“Spaceboy” (with Iha)
“Today” (with Iha)
“Whir” (with Iha)
“Disarm” (with Iha)
“Sorrows (In Blue)”
“Identify” (Natalie Imbruglia cover)
“Stand Inside Your Love”
“Lily (My One and Only)”
“Malibu” (Hole cover)
“Angie” (Rolling Stones cover, with Iha)
“Happy Birthday” (for Iha)
“Amarinthine” (with Iha)