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Smashing Pumpkins Get Loose, Reunite With James Iha At Opera House

By Chicagoist_Guest in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 15, 2016 5:19PM

Smashing Pumpkins, photo by Katie Hovland

By Andy Derer

Midway through the Smashing Pumpkins' set at the Chicago Civic Opera House Thursday, Billy Corgan announced a Siamese Dream-based medley—and welcomed founding Pumpkins member James Iha to the stage, to rapturous applause. Since Iha joined Corgan a few weeks prior in Los Angeles, it wasn't a complete surprise, but it was still a welcome one. The look, sound and feel of Billy Corgan and James Iha together on stage is something like a comfort blanket for anyone who grew up listening to alternative rock in Chicagoland around the 1990s.

The boys ripped through a gut-wrenching version of “Mayonaise” before the rest of the band joined them for a handful of Siamese Dream highlights. Billy (on mellotron) was flanked by drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, guitarist Jeff Schroeder, keyboardist Sierra Swan and bassist Katie Cole, but the band never stuck to one lineup for more than a few songs. (Or one backdrop, for that matter; the show's picturesque pastoral backdrops morphed several times over the night.) This liquid lineup feel has been a part of Corgan’s band since the original foursome called it quits in 2000, but the Pumpkins have never felt more like a living, breathing unit than they did on Thursday night.

The show started with Liz Phair, who won over the crowd with her modest Midwest charm, reeling through her hits “Why Can't I," “Extraordinary," and the indie classic “Fuck and Run" with sass and zeal. She embraced her parents in the crowd after her set (and apologized to them onstage for the swear words).

Corgan took the stage next, opening with a hushed segment containing the gorgeous “Stumbliene” and “The World’s Fair," which perplexed some of the crowd by its length, but also won some over with its winding, strange structure—something like Tim Buckley in outer space.The rest of the set morphed all over the place, from solo acoustic to Billy being joined on acoustic by Jeff Schroeder to Billy and Jeff being joined by Liz Phair for a lovely version of the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness highlight "Thirty Three"—followed by Iha's cameo.

Corgan loosened up from there, ditching the guitar and keyboard altogether while grabbing the mic and stalking the stage like a demented pop singer for a killer rendition of “Eye" (from the 1997 film Lost Highways) and the rarity “Saturnine." With Sierra Swan and Katie Cole lending cooing background vocals, Corgan loosened up with a swagger not unlike a young Michael Hutchence, and, with his silky grey suit and bald head, a slight resemblance to Dr. Evil.

The man has lightened up with age, even throwing smiles to Iha and Chamberlin and laughing in between songs. The show ended with a rip roaring version of Hole's 1998 glam pop hit “Malibu” (which Corgan wrote with Courtney Love) and a fun, full-band cover of The Rolling Stones classic “Angie.” The loose, playful vibe of the night makes the In Plainsong tour worth checking out for anyone even slightly compelled by the Corgan universe.

Andy Derer is host of The Andy Derer Show, one of Chicago's longest running music interview podcasts. He is also a writer, musician and restaurateur from the western suburb of Westmont. The man is also an outspoken proponent of the compact disc and owns over 4,000 of them.