Shiny and Brighter than Imaginable: Pumpkins Smash the Pepsi Center

Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins at the Pepsi Center. Sept. 5, 2018. (Phil McKenzie/CU Independent)

Have you ever really needed to pee before? Not in an “I can make it through the McDonald’s drive-through and go at home” type, but more of a “my mind might shatter, my bladder will splatter, oh my goodness my urethra’s in tatters” variety? When faced with the latter scenario, it would usually be prudent to make a restroom trip a number one priority, but The Smashing Pumpkins had me putting that trip off one song after another, with one of the greatest live sets I have ever seen.

The Pumpkins’ “Shiny and Oh So Bright” tour finally made its anticipated stop in Denver on Sept. 5, arriving with the reunion of original guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and – of course – the master of pumpkin destruction himself, mister William Patrick Corgan. The Pepsi Center was rife with ’90s spirit as I and many others donned the ceremonial flannel and jeans and filed into the arena. Many people could have been mistaken for being an extra from “The Matrix.”

The lot of us were greeted with an expansive setlist of 32 songs destined to please fans who aged with the group through the 90’s, plus younger fans like myself who grew up with an idealized version of the band. The nearly three and a half hour show consisted of their earliest material to the newest single, with a handful of covers to boot.

Speaking of boots, the show literally kicked off in an unexpected fashion. Corgan took his place as the commander-in-chief of the stage with a single guitar to open with the emotion-driven “Disarm”. He sported a long silver skirt, a jacket with a crossed out zero and large pit-stomping goth boots. Behind him was a large screen displaying animated photos of Corgan as a child, relating to the narrative of the song, as well as showing the beginnings of our holy grunge god.

Billy’s ego and religious imagery took center stage during the production, with the concert seeming to follow the narrative of the rising musical figure from boy to godhood. This theme fit snug with a setlist that trekked through the group’s legendary career, along with a stage set featuring platforms and architecture seemingly lifted out of the classic 1927 film “Metropolis.”

Corgan’s wardrobe also had an ever-exciting function, as he would exit at key moments through this narrative progression to return in lavish outfits. These included a white showman’s suit complete with a liftable ranch hat with impressive volume and luxurious regal robes making it look as if Varys from Game of Thrones had taken his place on stage. (One bald joke is appropriate, right?)

However, elaborate stage sets, costumes, a meta-narrative and a long-anticipated reunion wouldn’t add up to all that much if there wasn’t well-performed music to tie these threads together. But my GOD. This music was absolutely outstanding.

I had no idea what Commander Corgan did to this group behind the scenes in rehearsals, but this band brought absolute vibrancy and radiation into each rendition of the 32 songs. James Iha brought vivid and lively guitar work featuring impressive solos and tightly played riffs, and the same goes for guitarist Jeff Schroeder. Jimmy Chamberlin’s percussion playing was remarkable, never missing a beat in sweeping and differing tempos with catchy fills and talent-laden solos.  Jack Bates brought impressive bass work to the table, laying down a thick tapestry for the music to build from in addition to delicious grooves that were audible in the mix. To top it all off, Katie Cole delivered atmospheric backing vocals and keyboards that added a gorgeous and serene layer of polish to every moment she performed in.

The Smashing Pumpkins at the Pepsi Center. Sept. 5, 2018. (Phil McKenzie/CU Independent)

But of course, I would be remiss to not mention music master William Patrick Corgan himself. Throughout the three hour show, it was as if he stepped out of every album to deliver beautifully sung chorus and intense Corgan brand nasally screams that only wavered ever so slightly at the tail end. Even with incredible guitarists at his side, he proved himself a master showman, with guitar wizardry worthy of a deity based narrative.

These musicians all worked together to near perfection and each song somehow brought their studio recorded versions to life, each imbued with radiant musicianship. Classics like “1979” and “Cherub Rock” lured the stadium into energetic sing-a-longs. The epic “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” was given expert care, with an expanded guitar solo by Corgan that left my mouth agape until the introductory notes of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”

This tune was joined by covers of the late David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven”. Each one of these selections is difficult to do justice, but this group proved they were more than up to the task while giving a unique and engaging twist that only they could.

This concert brought not only a “once in a lifetime” quality to justify the ticket purchases of all present fans, but stands as a testament to what can be achieved with a dedication to an artistic vision. I cried. I forgot I had to pee. It made me happy to be alive.

If you are a fan of the Pumpkins, live music or the effect of art on the human experience, go and see this show. Is it three states away? Buy the plane ticket. Don’t have the money? Sell the house. Just take an evening to live and see just what is shiny and oh so bright.

You can contact CU Independent Arts Writer Alum Austin Willeke at Austin.Willeke@colorado.edu

Austin Willeke

Austin was the head arts and entertainment editor here at CU Independent and really wants you to know it. He graduated CU in 2018 but just can't stay away. He consumes arguably too much music and pop-culture garbage and feels weird writing about himself in the third person.

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