Friday, December 20, 2013

Retro Review: Smashing Pumpkins at Metro, Chicago 1999

Smashing Pumpkins

Metro - Chicago, IL
December 20 + 21, 1999

Show poster signed by head Pumpkin.


I can't remember when it was announced, but the Pumpkins were going to play two shows at Metro for two reasons: One was to benefit a local food bank. They requested that all ticket holders bring two cans of food. The other reason was to debut their new bass player, Melissa Auf Der Maur, recruited from Hole, who replaced D'arcy on bass...because D'arcy was a raging lunatic crackhead.

It would also mark the first Chicago performances since Jimmy Chamberlin returned to the band. Exiled in '96 after a tragic episode in New York, the band was never the same without him. They were competent with Matt Walker, but Jimmy and Billy combine to take the music to a level unattainable by any other pairing.  

Anyway, it was insanely cold on this day, and the temps were in the single digits when we arrived to see fans huddled in blankets in a line that stretched down the block. Politics dictated that I wouldn't be on the guest list and was instead forced to actually buy a ticket on my own. I know, right? A bottle of Jager numbed our senses while the cold numbed everything else. At some point after the line started to move, we recognized a friend working security who escorted us inside sans Jager bottle. 

Rumors in the days leading up to the show were that the band would be playing new material. Pumpkins fans get mad when the band does this in 2013, but it's really been their M.O. for as long as I can remember. The four Double Door shows in '95 included almost 100% of new material. In fact, almost every tour I can recall leaned heavily on new songs. 

Anyway, the first few songs played this night were new. And they went over really well, especially "Heavy Metal Machine." And that may seem strange if you hate the version on Machina, but I can tell you that it rocked before Billy reworked it and Flood ruined it.

The most interesting thing during those two nights at Metro was the heavier renditions of older Pumpkins songs. I'll always like the originals, but I have a fondness for the dark energy in the songs during that period. 




That version of Zero just fucking rips. 




The same is true for Adore. I typically ignore the song, unless it's from this era.


Despite the coolness of hearing new takes on some of the older songs, I was most struck by how well Melissa Auf Der Maur (MADM) played with the band, especially with Chamberlin. Despite being behind the drum kit, Jimmy has enormous presence on stage and his playing commands so much attention it's almost as though he's the lead instrument on most songs. But MADM kept pace with him, which was stark contrast to D'Arcy...who routinely struggled just to keep the bass line, let alone hold down the fort with Jimmy. 

James Iha was, as usual, an understated but essential presence, conjuring the sound of evil violins and mutant hummingbirds with his strings, e-bows and foot pedals, weaving his solos into the fabric of the songs. But it was Billy who seemed most on a mission; intent to let everyone know he was still relevant in the midst of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit saturating the radio airwaves. 

Night One featured a more standard set, if such a thing exists for the Pumpkins. Although "I Am One" was more of a rant than a song, and had alternative "lyrics." Night Two featured a similar core set, but also included blistering version of "X.Y.U." and a cover Black Sabbath's "Supernaut."

I remember being hopeful about the new album, which I vaguely recall Billy describing as "Joy Division meets Black Sabbath." Sadly, it was neither, and the versions played live in '99 remain far superior to what ultimately ended up on the album. And just one year later, Billy would pull the plug on the whole thing.

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