As the band transitions into its “legacy act” status, Smashing Pumpkins is becoming a good example of how to age gracefully, if its show at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Saturday night is any evidence.
The Chicago alt-rock band’s 18-song, 110-minute set was a mix of new material and old fan-favorites and rarities, showing that the Billy Corgan-led crew is still willing to risk losing an audience for a few minutes as it seeks to satisfy an artistic itch. Not everything may work, but the band — a sextet for Saturday’s performance — is still trying.
The Cleveland stop of its “Spirits on Fire” tour, the band’s first in Northeast Ohio since a 2019 show at Blossom Music Center
, opened with new tune “Empires” and quickly followed it with hits “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “Today.”
That set the template for the night. A new one or a lesser-known tune before getting to a hit or two. Rinse and repeat.
Touring in advance of the release of its new project “Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts,”
the current lineup — which features original guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlain — has been together for several years and is all the stronger for it .As a result, the interplay elevated songs like closer “Silverf—k” and a sludgy cover of Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” And did I hear the intro from Kiss’s “Love Gun” at the end of “Zero”?
Hopefully Corgan, now in his fourth decade fronting a band with many ups and downs, knows how good he currently has it. Maybe he does, as he seemed particularly engaged while riffing on old songs like “Cherub Rock,” newer ones like “Solar,” and joking with the crowd about the Cleveland baseball team’s name change (a bit that drew some boos). His almost jovial mood on Saturday was a far cry from the prickly, difficult artist label he sometimes receives.
His relaxed yet powerful guitar playing also rescued weaker songs like “Starla” and “I of the Mourning.” And an acoustic take on “Tonight, Tonight” showed the songwriting that is at the heart of his best songs, even when surrounded by psychedelia and '70s arena rock bombast.
The band’s penultimate song was the new “Beguiled,” which fit nicely with the singalong “1979” that preceded it. With strong new material, here’s hoping the band continues to weave more into its sets. It has become all too rare for decades-old bands to rely on anything but the hits, and the Pumpkins’ willingness to do just that sets it apart.
The same could not be said for the preceding performance by Jane’s Addiction. The newest tune the Los Angeles band played in its 10-song set was 32 years old. (The band hasn’t released a new album in more than a decade.)
Lack of new material aside, the Perry Farrell-led crew put on an entertaining spectacle — right down to the provocative stylings of three scantily-clad female dancers that flanked the band. Shades of psychedelia and metal permeated the hour-long set.
The quartet, which featured the return of original bassist Eric Avery, was down one man Saturday, as guitarist Dave Navarro was sidelined with a bout of long Covid. Guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen filled in, ably shouldering the heavy riffs of “Mountain Song” and “Ocean Size.”
And Farrell, the closest thing alt-rock has to a Vegas-style lounge singer, showed no sign of the injury that sidelined the band for the five preceding shows it had scheduled with the Pumpkins. His voice, perhaps raspier than in its heyday, still held up as he led singalongs to “Jane Says” and “Been Caught Stealing.”
Now how about some new tunes, boys?
Here are the setlists, based on setlist.fm and a reporter’s recollection:
1. Up the Beach
3. Ocean Size
4. Ain't No Right
5. Three Days
6. Jane Says
7. Mountain Song
8. Ted, Just Admit It…
10. Been Caught Stealing
2. Bullet with Butterfly Wings
4. We Only Come Out at Night
6. Once in a Lifetime (Talking Heads cover)
9. Ava Adore
10. Tonight, Tonight
12. Stand Inside Your Love
13. I of the Mourning
14. Cherub Rock
Eric Heisig is a freelance writer in Cleveland. He can be reached at [email protected]