OAKLAND — Nineties alt-rock superstars Smashing Pumpkins brought their Shiny Oh So Bright quasi-reunion tour to the Oracle Arena on Monday, with a marathon three-hour setlist that mined the band’s hits, deeps cuts and frontman Billy Corgan’s often idiosyncratic cover song selections.
The Pumpkins’ set began with an elaborate animated video presentation set to the music of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’ title track. Soon, Corgan emerged onstage with an acoustic guitar. Looking starkly alien, dressed in black, he strummed the opening chords to “Disarm,” off 1993’s Siamese Dream, before the rest of the band emerged and played “Rocket.” The dramatic pageantry of the moment could only hint at the audacious setlist Corgan had planned.
Over the next 195 minutes, Corgan and the mostly reunited Smashing Pumpkins—including original guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, along with longtime replacement guitarist Jeff Schroeder and bassist Jack Bates (the son of New Order’s Peter Hook— pummeled, cuddled, raged and reminisced with the legion of graying fans. Original bassist D’arcy Wretzky was conspicuously absent.
The band laid into rockers like “Siva,” “Cherub Rock,” “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” and “The Everlasting Gaze,” from Machina – Machines of God. It dwelled in the deep ambient sadness of “Rhinoceros” and “For Martha,” and explored the majestic grandeur of “Tonight Tonight” and “1979.” But many of the show’s standouts were the strange selection of covers, including Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Betty Noye’s “Baby Mine” which ended the show. The oddest pairing was David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” to which Corgan applied his nasally sneer, and the ultimate makeout jam, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” It was quite a bold artistic decision, because even picking out the song’s iconic guitar intro can get you kicked out of your neighborhood Guitar Center.
The elaborately produced show featured a pair of video appearances by Sugar Ray frontman and Entertainment Tonight correspondent Mark McGrath serving as a carnival barker and emcee. In one, McGrath introduced James Iha’s original ballad “Blew Away,” which the guitarist sang.
The elaborate stage show included video projections, iconic imagery from throughout the band’s career. It displayed Corgan’s disparate influences, from art deco to Georges Méliès’ 1902 sci-fi epic A Trip to the Moon. Corgan himself went through costume changes, appearing at times in a skeleton sweatshirt, a long black trench coat, and an accessory that was a cross between a scarf and a cape. His stage presence shape-shifted from one musical dynamic to another with ease, and he also appeared to be having a heck of good time. While he wasn’t much for stage banter, Corgan seemed thrilled to be able to play songs from the entirety of his career. It didn’t hurt that the production was heavy with the kinds of rock and roll excess of which Corgan seems to enjoy being a part.
Corgan told the Oakland crowd that the Warriors will dominate the NBA yet again, before dedicating “Try, Try, Try,” to the other “struggling teams.”
As the set wore on, the crowd was resuscitated by the familiar guitar intro to “Today” and was once again on its feet and cheering. Smashing Pumpkins concluded their main set with “Muzzle,” from Mellon Collie. However, after that song, Corgan announced he was suffering from food poisoning and had to call the show off early. The decision cut several songs from the band’s typical setlist.
Canadian rockers Metric opened the show, delivering a 45-minute set with a couple of hits, including “Help I’m Alive” and the anthemic “Breathing Underwater,” off 2012 album Synthetica. Those older songs were mixed in with new songs from their forthcoming and yet-untitled album, including the raunchy keyboard sounds of “Dark Saturday.”
CORRECTION: Our reviewer left the show roughly 15 minutes early in order to meet deadline. An offsite writer, working from the reviewers notes and observations, inferred the end of the show based on previous setlists. This was against RIFF editorial policy and any reference to events not directly witnessed by our on-site reviewer have been removed.