A surprising mix of artists descended on the Budweiser Stage in Toronto tonight, with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds shortly into their set when I arrived, after an earlier set from openers AFI. What does link these acts though are ever growing, rabid fanbases. You mat not feel like you’ve heard much new music from these artists – and indeed they don’t have hits like they used to – but they continue to pump out critically acclaimed records, and attract tens of thousands to their shows. So who’s to say what popularity even means anymore anyway.
One point of difference between the night’s headliners, however – while Gallagher may be performing with up to ten touring new band members as the HFB, the Pumpkins have 75% of the OG lineup, with Corgan, Chamberlin and Iha joined by longtime member Mike Schroeder, bassist Jack Bates and Australian keyboardist Katie Cole.
But before Corgan and co would take the stage, Gallagher delighted fans with an hour long set that started with his solo material, before running through four of Oasis’s biggest hits, and then ending with a song from that “little known band” The Beatles, “All You Need Is Love”. Before he kicked into Oasis mode, “This is the Place” was dedicated to any Mancunians in the room, and he rejoyced over Canada’s weed legalisation, saying, “So they’ve finally legalised drugs? You might see me back here more often, that’s all I’m saying.” After playing “Wonderwall”, he even suggested he could buy the country if he wanted, “that song (Wonderwall), made me so rich I could buy this whole country. I won’t. But I could. This next song. Not so much.” And then he jumped into “Little by Little”, which was nonetheless a favourite of the fans in the room.
The brass section came back out for “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”, and after a brief “Kumbaya My Lord” ditty, “Don’t Look Back in Anger” got a massive singalong. The older tracks sounded much more fleshed out than their original versions – unsurprising given there were up to ten band members on stage – and the new material was strong, even if it didn’t inspire much excitement from the crowd. But their patience was rewarded, and plenty of singalongs were had. Aware that most of the crowd was here to see the Pumpkins, he did point out one kid in the crowd who he swore had said “oh, this is the guy that does THAT song”, after “…Anger”.
The Smashing Pumpkins emerged to a classical recording (which I’m told is “Sarabande” a George Frideric Handel track), with three massive inflatable creatures floating behind them. It was a set that highlighted the prowess of the band’s musical history and its members – Billy’s arms extended in his usual Christ like fashion, in a black trenchcoat, while James Iha wore a fantastic sparkling jacket. The man always looks great on stage, and tonight was no exception. “Today” opened proceedings, with the band promising to take us on a trip down memory lane, armed as no less than a six piece, then “Zero” came right behind and you realised you’d waited your whole life to hear James Iha do that guitar solo and now your life is complete.
A spectacular drum solo from Chamberlin was also most welcome during “Solara”, one of the two new tracks played off of their latest album, Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. The other track, “Knights of Malta”, followed right behind.
Taken off of the oft forgotten MACHINA, “Blue Skies Bring Tears” was a welcome and unexpected inclusion (in which Billy was visibly overjoyed by Mike Schroeder‘s shredding.), as was “Eye” (a personal favourite off Mellon Collie), “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” as awesome as ever, and “G.L.O.W.”, which is returning to the set this tour for the first time since 2008, was well received – with Billy asking “Come on, come on, come on… Can you feel it?”, with James Iha reluctantly taking over vocals, telling the crowd “we should get James Stanley from KISS to jump in here”, before using the opportunity to sing a small snippet of the chart topping smash single “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X.
Corgan responded to it, “I love you but I ain’t feeling that shit”, while Iha stuck by his guns and told Corgan and the crowd, “I love that song, it’s cool as hell”. So there you go. We now know what Billy and James think about one of the biggest hits of all time.
This led into “Disarm”, which was performed with beautiful precision. Then we had a “Superchrist” jam session, as the inflatables were turned around into black and white beings that looked straight out of the Nightmare Before Christmas universe. But now they lit up! And just in time to go all red for “Ava Adore” and some great dance moves by Billy, into other classics “1979” and “Tonight, Tonight”.
“Cherub Rock” seemed to end the be the song they were going to end the set with, but then the more fanatic fans were treated to a song just for them – one that hasn’t been a part of their set since 1997 – “The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)” – which was a part of the compilation of the same name. It wasn’t quite the set closer you’d have expected, so was quite a bold move. And one truly for the fans.
Though only two tracks from record were included, they’re technically still touring the critically acclaimed Shiny and Oh So bright, which proved the reunion was more than a touring cash in – Iha joining the rest of the band on the record, with Rick Rubin overseeing production. And it’s this creation that has brought the band back together in more ways than one.
They may not have the frenetic energy of their youth, nor do the seated crowd, but their skills as musicians genuinely means you’re watching a better band than you would have been in the 90s, which plenty of live footage seems to affirm. But with an important asterix to say I never did see them back then, and undoubtably buoyed tonight by the talents of Iha (who’d been missing in my ever revolving experiences to date), this was without question the best set I’ve ever seen from them. Plenty of songs I would have loved to have heard – and may have outside of a co-headlining scenario – but with a few surprises, and plenty of fan favourites, they balanced the night well, and left us all with smiles on our faces.
There was no encore, but a victory lap for Billy as he graciously thanked his fans, and enjoyed another moment in the spotlight.
Knights of Malta
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
G.L.O.W. (with “Old Town Road”)
Fire and Rain (a James Taylor cover)
Blue Skies Bring Tears
The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Smashing Pumpkins continue their tour around North America with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and AFI on the following dates:
Wednesday, August 14 – Detroit, MI – DTE Energy Music Theatre
Thursday, August 15 – Chicago, IL- Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Saturday, August 17 – Columbia, MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Monday, August 19 – Cleveland, OH – Blossom Music Center
Tuesday, August 20 – Charlotte, NC – PNC Music Pavilion Charlotte
Wednesday, August 21 – Alpharetta, GA – Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
Friday, August 23 – Rogers, AR – Walmart AMP
Saturday, August 24 – Dallas, TX – Dos Equis Pavilion
Sunday, August 25 – Houston, TX – The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion presented by Huntsman
Wednesday, August 28 – San Diego, CA – North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre
Thursday, August 29 – Los Angeles, CA – FivePoint Amphitheatre
Saturday, August 31 – Mountain View, CA – Shoreline Amphitheatre
The reviewer attended the show tonight, 13th August 2019 at Budweiser Place in Toronto, Canada.
Photo Credit: Linda Strawberry (Supplied)