The Smashing Pumpkins are all the rage at Boston’s TD Garden

Jay N. Miller

Review: Smashing Pumpkins’ “Spirits on Fire” tour, with Jane’s Addiction and Poppy, Sunday October 16 at TD Garden.

BOSTON – On Sunday evening, the Spirits on Fire tour landed at TD garden in Boston headlining Smash pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction, a pair of 1990s rock bands with interesting, if not difficult, backstories. Both bands were more post-punk but pre-grunge, although their music had nuances of both styles. Both bands oscillate between straight, hard rock and heavy metal elements, with a punk rock fervor and recklessness, and both are comfortable straying into the thunder that characterizes grunge. And both have fascinating frontmen who are the essential part of the group.

Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins perform at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

The small Sunday night party, attended by an estimated crowd of 14,000, about two-thirds capacity, offered more than three hours of music, delivered by talented and focused music veterans. There were moments of fiery, searing rock ‘n’ roll, a few quieter segments that highlighted the imagery in the bands’ lyrics (which are too often lost in the din), and a few stretches where the sound seemed to bludgeon for bludgeon’s sake.

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Smashing Pumpkins started in Chicago in 1988, with singer/songwriter/guitarist Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin as key members. By the time the band’s 28-song double album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” hit big in 1995, the Pumpkins were on track to sell more than 30 million albums, with a handful of memorable singles. The Pumpkins broke up in 2000, but Corgan and Chamberlin launched the short-lived but mighty Zwan in 2001. Since Corgan’s poetic, nostalgic, and often melancholic songs have always been the music’s focal point, he has pursued various projects and the prospect of a reunion was never far away.

Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins perform at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

Corgan and Chamberlin reunited in 2006 with guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Chamberlin left in 2009, but was back in 2018, with Iha also back in the fold. The group has been churning out new work since, with “Shining and Oh So Bright” (2018) and “Cyr” (2020) rekindling their pre-pandemic national profile. Now, Smashing Pumpkins is preparing “Atum: A Rock Opera in Three Acts,” which will be released as a trio or sequentially released albums. The problem for this tour, 32 dates until November 19, was that the first chapter of the “Atum” trilogy will not be released until November 15. But the tour setlists fairly consistently leaned toward Pumpkins favorites of the past, with five “Mellon Collie” snippets and only four upcoming snippets among the 20 sets of songs they performed.

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Corgan, 55, and the touring band — which includes Schroeder and Iha on guitars, Chamberlin on drums and touring musicians Jack Bates on bass and Katie Cole on keyboards and backing vocals — kicked off with “Empires” from the upcoming album, with the jagged guitars framing Corgan’s sharp lyrics. The singer wore a black robe that went below his knees, making him look either like an evil monk or possibly a vampire ghost – an impression reinforced by the black makeup under his eyes. Thunderous drums heralded the start of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” and the crowd’s reaction to this nugget from Smashing Pumpkins was immediate as it became a rowdy chant.

Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins perform at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

A little later, “We Only Come Out At Night” seemed like the epitome of Corgan’s song, full of longing and angst and moving from a slow start to an explosive chorus and catharsis. The track cut from that 2020 album, “Cyr” carried new synthesizer sounds for more variety as Corgan roamed the stage and Cole’s harmonies on the chorus added weight. The band did their cover of The Talking Heads’ “Once in A Lifetime” on the tour and their slower version rides haunting bass and some of Schroeder and Iha’s most heartbreaking guitar lines. But this gothic version of the old hit had none of the offbeat rhythmic appeal of the original, and audiences just seemed a bit confused.

The tune titled “Eye” was a riddle wrapped in a riddle, to steal a sentence. Corgan sang as the lyrics appeared on the screen behind him, lines like “I lie, I repent,” then as the mid-tempo ballad slowed down with the guitars giving a Middle Eastern feel, he concluded by simply stating “Thank you, Boston, from the bottom of our broken hearts. While everyone was weighing this, the funkier rock sound of “Ava Adore” got things back on track. But that’s also when there a trio of ghostly scarecrows were slowly moved to the back of the stage to overlook the rest of the show.

The Smashing Pumpkins perform at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

Corgan noted the band’s long history of playing in Boston and recalled a show at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, where it was so packed it was “137 degrees”. He then joked that when they first started visiting, “the Cubs weren’t good, and the Red Sox were…um…but then Theo Epstein saved us both…But Theo is like me, he always ends up leaving.”

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An acoustic duet from Corgan and Iha on “Tonight, Tonight” was a lovely interlude, where this sweet love song and its lyrics really stood out. Power rocker “Stand Inside Your Love” was a glorious flurry of roaring guitars and booming drums. The pulsating chestnut “I Of the Mourning” ended with the singer chanting “Radio, Radio, What Is it You Want”. The full bore “Cherub Rock” was another number that had the crowd singing wildly, and Corgan added his own shrill guitar solo. The best single of the night might have been ‘1979’, a mid-tempo track that’s just as urgent today as it was when it was released 27 years ago.

Billy Corgan and The Smashing Pumpkins perform at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

The new track “Beguiled” was loud, with repetitive, cutting power chords, but it just didn’t seem to freeze in anything you could hear. One of rock’s most furious lost love songs, “Silverf-xxx” started out as a guitar jam, with Corgan’s screaming vocals interspersed, and was actually rather deliciously a crazy jam all the way through. There was a heavy keyboard/synth sound underlying “Neophyte”, but this strain still worked well on the visceral march. 1993’s “Disarm” was one more opportunity for Pumpkins fans to join in on a beloved classic, with its signature refrain “the devil in me is the devil in you…” The night ended with another blast of screeching guitars on “Harmageddon,” and while the set had a few hits and misses, Smashing Pumpkins proved they’re still one of America’s most interesting musical groups — confusing at times, but never boring.

Jane's Addiction performs at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

Jane’s Addiction, a “metallic bomb”

Jane’s Addiction hails from Los Angeles and debuted in 1985, with the charisma of vocalist Perry Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro making them almost instantly successful. In 1991 they were playing their farewell tour, but there have been many reunions and line-up changes since then. This year’s tour was supposed to boast original lineup, but Navarro is sidelined by long-Covid, so the quartet recruited Queens of the Stone Age’s Troy Van Leeuwen to step in on guitar. But with the return of bassist Eric Avery for the first time in 12 years, it’s also close and we can find the original quartet.

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Jane’s Addiction threw a few curveballs into the setlist they made on this tour and had a few guest stars on their Boston show. During their former nugget “Whores”, the group was also joined by – how to say? – three bikini-clad models who did gymnastics-type routines on parallel bars and other frames to the side and back of the stage, as well as basic twerking. It surely enhanced the visual appeal, but it just seemed embarrassing when Farrell, now 63, followed this song expressing his enjoyment for a certain type of sex.

Jane's Addiction performs at TD Garden in Boston on October 16.

Jane’s Addiction was joined by guitarist Josh Klinghoffer (who played with the Red Hot Chili Peppers from 2009 to 2019) for the searing punk-metal “Three Days.” A little later, Daniel Ash of the Bauhaus group was the guest of an acoustic guitar version of “Jane Says”, adding an additional touch to this tragic portrait. Ash stuck around to join the quartet on a jangly rendition of the Bauhaus’ “Slice of Life.” The models returned, in different bikinis, to frolic during the astral guitar tones of “Ted, Just Admit It,” and this time there was a workhorse involved. There was no denying the power of the metallic charge ironically titled “Stop! and Jane’s Addiction’s finale of industrial metal buzz-bomb “Been Caught Stealing” left fans wanting more, but their hour-long set was over. . Los Angeles pop-metal singer Poppy kicked off with a short set, when most of us were still cruising the freeway.

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