Review: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden Theatre, 10/10/11

Categories: Concert Reviews

Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins last night at the Ogden.
It took Billy Corgan 21 songs, or until halfway through the encore, to acknowledge his audience last night. It's unclear whether this is a bad thing or a bad-ass thing -- though more than an hour and a half without a direct address is certainly an unusual thing. At the very least, it's an indication of where the Smashing Pumpkins' longtime leader, legendary think tank and only original member is coming from these days -- something like the best possible combination of a god complex and a Napoleon complex.

Eric Gruneisen
Smashing Pumpkins last night at the Ogden. See more Smashing Pumpkins in Denver photos.

The god part came out early. Whatever Corgan and his latest cast of bandmates lacked in crowd interaction, they made up for with heart-rending extensions of the band's traditional jams. "Siva," for example, takes on a life beyond its lyrics, only allowed to end when Corgan has bent its original melody and tortured his own vocals, when a pained and violent screech curdles the crowd's blood and announces its own end. Every song goes for its traditional length, followed immediately by approximately three minutes of aggressive rock posturing.

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If you are attending a Smashing Pumpkins show at which Billy Corgan is the sole survivor in 2011, you have undoubtedly already formulated an answer to the question that divides the band's modern fans: How many members does it take to maintain relevance? Your answer is not just "one," but "Billy Corgan," and you know better than to even think about "Disarm" or "1979." The rules of the game the band has run for years seemed to escape only one gentleman, who, like some Lone Masochistic Ranger, shouted in vain for "Tonight, Tonight" in the front row until he must have gone hoarse. If you are a Smashing Pumpkins fan in 2011, you either don't care or you have resigned yourself.

Eric Gruneisen
Smashing Pumpkins last night at the Ogden. See more Smashing Pumpkins in Denver photos.

You've moved on to concept albums. Oceania, what Corgan has called "an album within an album," has rotated through several scheduled release dates at this point, and the band, always focused on new material, played four of its tracks in the sound spaces not occupied by "Muzzle" and "Cherub Rock." Immediately after the jarring emotion of "Siva" came "Oceania," a stunning but melancholy spiral that finds Corgan on the keyboard. The songs, particularly the title track, are lovely, flexible melodies less derivative of the band's font of undiluted agony than previous work.

In the meantime, it's hard to pick the correct verb for what Corgan does with his mouth. To say he wails would be at times too kind, at others too generous, and at others still even unfair -- but it's the closest approximation of the action that creates his wild but timid tone. Between songs, always tied together by a series of almost overwhelming instrumentation, the pace changes so quickly it's as if it was responding to emotion. Corgan is endlessly earnest, even in the strange moment in which he recited the alliterative lines of "Peter Piper" and "Sally Sells Seashells." "If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," he asked the crowd, waiting for some sort of response, "where the fuck are the peppers?"

Eric Gruneisen
Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins doing whatever it is he does with his mouth, last night at the Ogden Theatre. See more Smashing Pumpkins in Denver photos.

Dude has gotten a little Hare Krishna in the years since, well, ever, and the result is a brutally zen frontman who would look equally comfortable taking vengeance on Uma Thurman and slinging the "rock arm," unpretentiously, around his guitar like Chuck Berry. There's a line between righteous and self-righteous, and some nights, Corgan crosses it. Last night he just toed it, until, in a strangely visceral sing-along, he took the audience on a tour through catharsis.

More Photos: Smashing Pumpkins at the Ogden

After thanking us, thanking us again, bowing, nodding, grinning and redeeming all the time in which he seemed not to even know we were there, Corgan straightened himself and welcomed the opening bars of "Bullet With Butterfly Wings." Left to our own devices on the chorus, the audience was asked to sing about our rage, though most of us still chose to scream about it instead. But it was Corgan's job, joining us with an ungodly howl, to end it all.

Eric Gruneisen
Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins last night at the Ogden Theatre. See more Smashing Pumpkins in Denver photos.

Click through for Critic's Notebook and the full setlist

Location Info


Ogden Theatre

935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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I last time I saw the Smashing Pumpkins was in Houstonat Lollapalooza 1994. Maybe it wasthe time (or my age), but it seemed to be electric with the Breeders andBeastie Boys to boot. Maybe it was the whole Kurt Cobain era closing, withCourtney Hole giving a riveting performance around the same time, but incomparison, last night was…eh. It was awesome if you loved guitar rock, and justfor the ‘history’ of the pumpkins, and certainly you have to give cred to the bandthat rocked out for over 2.5 hrs without a break…but as far as the same kind ofenergy, it missed the mark. I did come away appreciating some of the newerstuff, but would loved more of a trip down memory lane than just two songs, butthen again, maybe that is my age speaking.


Some quibbles: "Suffer" wasn't played last night ("Pale Horse" was played in its stead, between "Obscured" and "Thru the Eyes of Ruby".  Also, "Pinwheels" was the first song of the encore, and the fifth track from Oceania played last night.

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