Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

(Above: The reconfigured Smashing Pumpkins incinerate the old country with “As Rome Burns,” a yet-unreleased track.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Billy Corgan has learned to compromise. After frustrating and confounding fans with obscure songs and indulgent jams on the Smashing Pumpkins’ 20th anniversary tour just two years ago, he has struck a balance between the old (and beloved) and the new.

The unspoken agreement of Saturday’s show at Sandstone Amphitheater was one for you, one for me. Fans seemed thrilled to meet Corgan and his reconstituted Pumpkins halfway. Opening with the drum roll into “Cherub Rock,” the quartet alternated between favorites like “Zero” and “Drown” with newer numbers such as “Song for a Sun” and unreleased material like “As Rome Burns.”
“We’ve found the songs you know tend to get the biggest cheers,” Corgan told the audience before launching into “Tonight, Tonight” and he was right. “Today” provided the first big sing-along moment of the night, turned the chorus of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” over to the very vocal throng. Even “Stand Inside Your Love,” an underrated single from the original configuration’s final retail album, drew a big response.

The 80-minute setlist ignored “Gish” but drew from every other album in the band’s catalog and a couple soundtrack contributions. Most of the songs sounded pretty much like they were recorded. The only exceptions were new arrangements of “Adore”-era material. The new version of “Adore” rode Nicole Fiorentino’s bass, and discarded the drum programming for a full band sound. “Eye” was given a trippy intro full of shimmering guitars and big, echoing drums.

Smashpumpkins_fyi_ spf_09252010_135FNewer material dovetailed nicely with the familiar. “Tarantula,” from 2007’s forgotten “Zeitgeist,” emerged seamlessly from “Cherub Rock” just as “Drown” gave way to “As Rome Burns.” “Song for a Son” had a progressive feel and guitar lick similar to “Stairway to Heaven.” It was one of several of the night’s numbers to feature Corgan and Jeff Schroeder harmonizing on twin guitar solos.

Before breaking up at the dawn of the millennium, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most successful bands to come from the grunge era. Corgan and founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlain reconvened for “Zeitgeist,” recruiting supporting musicians for the subsequent tour, before Chamberlain left again last year.

Corgan may be the only founding member left in the band, but the new cast proved more than capable. Twenty-year-old Mike Byrne was a monster on the drums, having no trouble replicating the complex rolls and fills that are so much a part of the Pumpkin’s sound. The band was amazingly tight and precise, slithering across the changing dynamics and textures and following Corgan’s every move.

The stage set-up was basic, but impressive. The only effects were banks of lights set up above and behind the band, constantly strobing and changing. Two large metal fans were perched atop metal towers in the back at either side of the stage. The visual arrangement kept anyone from receiving the spotlight. The band was lit as a whole and the emphasis was placed on the music.

The band exited shortly before midnight against a wall of lights pointing into the audience. They were visible only as vague silhouettes, but had long established their identity.

Cake’s one-hour set preceding the Pumpkins couldn’t have been more different. Singer John McCrea chatted with the crowd between nearly every number, espousing his views on religion, American society and the gradual disappearance of three-four time. Along the way, the five-piece college rockers delivered audience favorites “Comfort Eagle” and “Frank Sinatra” and songs from their upcoming new album.

Although most of Cake’s songs ride a slow funk groove and McCrea’s tongue-in-cheek spoken/sung lyrics, two of evening’s best numbers veered from that formula. “Mexico” sounded like a lost Decemberists track, while new song “Bound Away” was a travelogue in the form of an Irish drinking song.

Smashing Pumpkins setlist: Cherub Rock, Tarantula, Adore, Song for a Son, Today, Drown, As Rome Burns, Freak, Tonight Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love, Eye, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, United States (including the Star-Spangled Banner and Moby Dick). Encore: Zero.

Cake setlist: Comfort Eagle, Rock and Roll Lifestyle, Sick of Me, War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover), Frank Sinatra, Wheels, Stickshfits and Safetybelts, Love You Madly, Guitar, Arco Arena, Mexico, Bound Away, Never There, The Distance.

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