Smashing Pumpkins Put on a Shiny and Oh So Very Long Show at Toyota Center

Such bold colors for a man in black.
Such bold colors for a man in black. Photo by Eric Sauseda

Smashing Pumpkins, Metric
Toyota Center
July 17, 2K18

It’s a bit surprising when Billy Corgan walks down the stage, guitar slung over his shoulders, and kicks off a headlining set with “Disarm.” It’s a beautiful song, one of the best in the Smashing Pumpkins catalog, but you expect an arena show to kick off with something a little more bombastic. But it works, largely because Corgan sells it well and it’s unexpected, tipping his hand that the show isn’t afraid to play with conventions.

Eleven songs in, as an incredible performance of “Eye” comes to a close, things are feeling pretty great. The show has been a mix of loving revisionist history and rock star posturing, but it’s working. Corgan is having fun on stage—he neither stalks nor slinks, but rather moves like someone who got up on a pair of stilts and isn’t sure he made the right decision but is still having a good time—and the band sounds tight, and if you had any hesitation about a D'arcy Wretzky-free reunion those doubts are, at the very least, far from your mind.

But then comes a ten-song stretch where the pace of the show becomes glacial, and even though you know the hits are coming if you can just remain strong, you start to question what you’re doing with your life. The problem isn’t that the songs are bad—in a vacuum, I would say that almost every song performed was good to great—it’s just that the show is so self-indulgent without giving the audience something to hold on to that for many in the audience the show became something of a chore. People played on their phones, others went for drinks and never returned, and at least one was deep asleep during the climax of the performance.

It made me wonder just who this show was built for. It’s certainly not for casual fans, because with an almost three-hour runtime there are long, long stretches where they’re not going to hear anything they know from the radio. Is it for the hardcore devotees? Maybe, but if you’re a longtime obsessive of the group, odds are you’d much rather see them in a smaller venue playing deeper cuts. So if not either of those groups, then who?
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Billy Corgan is very happy fans joined him for a long night of music.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
The answer is obvious: Billy Corgan. With The Shiny and Oh So Bright tour, Corgan has marshaled everything he had left—a Smashing Pumpkins “reunion”—to get into arenas again so he can live out his dreams of rock stardom. And for 45 minutes it’s magical. It just works. And then another 20 minutes pass and it’s still pretty good. But eventually the slowness mounts and the charm wears off.

It’s a show that doesn’t have a goal thematically other than to make the creative force behind it happy. It’s not unlike what happened with Kanye West’s Saint Pablo tour—Corgan and West are both Illinois natives—where a great idea was stretched too far. If you’re more than just a radio fan, it’s worth a ticket—you’re for sure going to get your money’s worth—but if you’ve ever thought, “I’d kill to see a three-hour Smashing Pumpkins show,” well, be careful what you wish for.
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Metric did what they could to get the early, sparse crowd into the show.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
So, How Was The Opener?: Metric gave it their all over the course of their 45-minute set, and it’s a shame that the crowd didn’t have more to give back. I feel like maybe things would have gone better for the band had they moved “Gold Guns Girls” to the end of their set; it was the highlight of their performance and the closest thing to a straight rock song they performed. Once it was over, it felt like they lost most of the crowd until “Help I’m Alive,” and even then the crowd was more quiet than not.

Personal Bias: I am neither a casual Smashing Pumpkins fan nor am I an obsessive. I like them enough to keep tabs on their activities, but I still haven’t listened to their new single. I’m very sad I’ll never hear “Mouth of Babes” or “Cherry” live.

The Crowd: My plus one said someone in front of us was looking at nude women on their phone, but I can’t confirm that was a thing. A lot of people started looking for their seats around the third song of the set, which was pretty weird.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Oh, they didn’t even open up both sides of the food vending. That’s so sad.”

Random Notebook Dump: In a fun bit of things coming full circle, as I left a show from a tour subject to industry chatter about slow ticket sales, one of the ushers at the Toyota Center handed me a flyer for another show here in town with two free tickets to said show stapled to it. If tonight taught me anything, this is a smart strategy, because boredom will drive folks to the bar.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia