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The Smashing Pumpkins in 3Arena review: Scintillating, self-absorbed, inspired – and loud

At times you think this might be endurance test but Billy Corgan and crew produce victory in the end

The Smashing Pumpkins

3Arena, Dublin

★★★★☆

Several hours before leading the Smashing Pumpkins through a bulldozing set at 3Arena in Dublin, the group’s frontman, Billy Corgan, poses for a photo alongside the statue of Thin Lizzy singer Phil Lynott that stands just off Grafton Street. The hometown tributes continue at the concert where, three songs in, the 1990s arena heavyweights uncork a cover of U2′s trans-European dirge, Zoo Station.

“That’s a song by a local band,” says Corgan, though, judging by the reception, the deep dive into the U2 catalogue has gone over the heads of an audience which didn’t come out for an evening of Bono homage.

There’s plenty of nostalgia earlier when this double-headliner tour opens with a hit-packed turn by nerd-rock megastars Weezer. But Corgan and the Pumpkins steer a different course across a night by turns inspired, indulgent, self-absorbed and scintillating.

The Smashing Pumpkins emerged in the early 1990s just as grunge went mainstream. Yet they were always too weird, obtuse and overwrought to sit comfortably alongside Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Heavy metal and shoegaze were the influences threaded through their 1991 debut Gish. Then came the chart-topping one-two of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness – classic albums which, 30 years on, have come to define their decade as definitively as everything their peers put out

Both LPs feature prominently in a 120-minute performance. However, Corgan has no interest in pandering to his fan base, and the show presents those old songs in the new context of the Pumpkins recent output.

First, there will be a sci-fi intro, with strobes and an instrumental flourish from last year’s Atum – a three-disc rock opera that lands somewhere between Pink Floyd’s The Wall, The Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland and Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s followed by prog-rock avalanche The Everlasting Gaze off of 2000′s death metal puzzle box of a record, Machina/The Machines of God.

That project marked the break-up of the original Pumpkins line-up. Three of the four have now reunited, and at 3Arena, Corgan plays alongside drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and guitarist James Iha – that rare sideman more charismatic than the lead singer. They are joined by guitarist Kiki Wong, whom the band recruited from a field of 10,000 applicants – and by Corgan’s two young children who emerged twice, wearing hearing protection, to dance with their dad.

If the scene is heart-warming elsewhere, the Pumpkins are variously mind-expanding and patience-testing. The years fall away for concertgoers of a certain vintage as that U2 cover gives way to Today – a textbook of the classic 1990s indie rock quiet/loud/quiet song structure. And the loud parts truly are loud: if there is an equivalent at 3Arena of cranking it up to 11, then the Smashing Pumpkins have gone there (at moments, it feels they’ve dialled it up to 12).

There are further cheers as the group slaloms through a stately Tonight, Tonight while Corgan relishes his persona of goth curmudgeon during industrial stomper Ava Adore. The newer songs are mostly worth their place, too – particularly if you’re a fan of galactic space rock. Still, there are moments when you wonder if the show might be about to become an endurance test, such as on the never-endingly hoary Gossamer – which starts a glacial funk jam and ends as a Stephen Hawking-style inquiry into the nature of infinite.

But the Pumpkins get the night back on course as a cake is brought out for drummer Chamberlin’s birthday, and they then plunge into Cherub Rock. The first track from Siamese Dream has one of the greatest opening riffs of all time, as a slinging guitar line is suddenly dunked in oceans of fuzz.

The journey has not always been straightforward, but by the night’s end, the Smashing Pumpkins have cracked it with a gig respectful towards their catalogue yet never beholden to it. It is nostalgia done correctly – a greatest hits set with one foot in the present day and its head raised towards the future.

Setlist

  • The Everlasting Gaze
  • Doomsday Clock
  • Zoo Station (U2 cover)
  • Today
  • Thru the Eyes of Ruby
  • Spellbinding
  • Tonight, Tonight
  • That Which Animates the Spirit
  • Ava Adore
  • Disarm
  • Springtimes
  • Mayonaise
  • With Butterfly Wings
  • Empires
  • Beguiled
  • 1979
  • Birch Grove
  • Panopticon
  • Jellybelly
  • Shame
  • Rhinoceros
  • Gossamer
  • Happy Birthday to You (dedcated to Jimmy Chamberlain)
  • Cherub Rock
  • Zero

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