Shoreline Amphitheater, Mt. View
August 31, 2019
Photos by Raymond Ahner
Purveyors of the 90s, and especially fans of the music and movement that ultimately became labeled as ‘grunge,’ got an early trick or treat as the Smashing Pumpkins closed out a busy August at the Shoreline Amphitheater by dialing back the clock for a spectacular night of glittery rock.
Sporting three original members (Billy Corgan – guitars / vox, James Iha – guitars, and Jimmy Chamberlin – drums) in the lineup for a ‘reunion tour’ aimed at re-building the Pumpkins’ iconic brand image, the Chicago band took to the stage to unleash a set that drew from their illustrious past and also showcased some new rock.
More than 30 years have elapsed since Corgan and Iha met and formed the Smashing Pumpkins. The road the band would take over the next three decades could better be described as an extreme rollercoaster ride with multiple inversions. Included in the fun was gratuitous band in-fighting, creative differences, over-blown egos, drug addiction, break-ups, and now a reunion.
Playing in front of a stage set that appeared to be inspired by the land of misfit toys, Corgan led the current incarnation of the Pumpkins (which aside from Iha and Chamberlin includes guitarist Jeff Schroeder, touring bassist Jack Bates, and touring multi-instrumentalist / singer Katie Cole) through a 17-song trip of the lush, psychedelic soundscapes that helped light the fuse of the early 90s guitar rock explosion.
Emerging from behind a towering toy soldier, Corgan appeared in front of the screaming sellout crowd at Shoreline with his now customary freshly shaved head, wearing a black cleric-styled robe and smudges of dark makeup around his eyes and forehead….as such, Corgan (who stands about 6’5”) looked like a gigantic disciple of Anton LaVey with a guitar around his neck. Kicking off the evening with the positive vibes of ‘Today,’ Corgan’s angelic vocals belied his dark visage.
Pinballing directly into the grinding guitar groove of ‘Zero’ guided by the swaggering backbeat of the ever-amazing drumming of Chamberlin, the crowd erupted as they beckoned with Corgan, “I wanna go for a ride!” The Pumpkins were happy to oblige, and did so with the cascading, layered guitars that became a signature of the Smashing Pumpkins sound.
Just when the crowd seemed locked in for a dance with the ghost of Pumpkins past, the band raised the flag of Pumpkins present with ‘Solara’ and ‘Knights of Malta’ from their most recent album Shiny and Oh So Bright… (2018).. It was an interesting choice at this point in the set as the safe bet would have been to ride the wave of nostalgia, but Corgan and the Pumpkins have never been a band that take the safe route.
The new material held up as strongly as the more known Smashing Pumpkins hits. Regardless of popularity, both tunes are representative of the true Pumpkins sound fans are accustomed to. Particularly with both Chamberlin and Iha back in the fold on these new tracks, the explosive Smashing Pumpkins chemistry exhibited on stalwart early recordings such as Gish, Siamese Dream, and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was on full display.
Perhaps the only disappointment of the evening was that the band did not play a single song from arguably the best Smashing Pumpkins album, the underground classic Gish (1991). It would have been excellent to have ‘I am One’ or ‘Rhinoceros’ as an encore, but being that the Shoreline has a sound curfew, the incendiary beats, sweet sonic swells of ocean size guitars, and somber vocal harmonies of one of the bands credited with forging the blueprint of the 90s alt-rock / grunge sound were curtailed.
A finale of the fiery ‘Cherub Rock’ and the drone of ‘The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)’ ended the night on a definite ‘up,’ and notably Corgan (who normally has a huge guitar ego) waited until these songs to take his first leads of the set.
Opening the night of 90’s rock reminiscing was Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and Northern California’s own AFI.
Gallagher, who came to prominence in the 90s with brother Liam and mega-band Oasis, now leads the High Flying Birds, who have picked up the Manchester roots of Oasis and pushed the envelope further. Using a mix of hard pounding dance beats and shoe-gaze guitar drone, Gallagher and friends blasted out of the gates with ‘Fort Knox’ and ‘Holy Mountain,’ immediately throwing the crowd into party mode.
By the time High Flying Birds started into the Oasis portion of the set, the crowd was in full voice, singing along on classics ‘Wonderwall’ and the Beatles inspired ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger.’ Speaking of the indelible mark of the Beatles on Gallagher’s style, he ended his set with another sing along…the fab four’s ultra-soothing ‘All You Need Is Love.’
AFI, hailing form Ukiah, got the show rolling while the sun was still high in the sky. Sporting a dark alt-punk sound and image, AFI immediately grabbed the early arrivers with a furious rendition of ‘Girl’s Not Grey.’
Displaying an undeniable talent for peeling back and adding on dynamics, AFI has carved out their own California sound that draws on contemporaries such as Green Day and the Offspring.
Playing in front of a huge backdrop displaying their logo, AFI capitalized on singer Davey Havok’s ability to draw in the crowd, and played with an energy of a headliner. Prowling around the stage and cranking out high octane rock like ‘Get Dark’ and ‘Miss Murder,’ AFI rocked Shoreline’s house of the setting sun, getting the audience up, active and rocking out.
Setlist: Today | Zero (tease of Dazed and Confused by Led Zepplin) | Solara | Knights of Malta | Eye | Bullet With Butterfly Wings (tease of Come As You Are by Nirvana) | Tiberius | G.L.O.W. | Disarm | Superchrist | Fire and Rain (James Taylor cover) | Ava Adore | 1979 | Tonight, Tonight | Blue Skies Bring Tears | Cherub Rock | The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)
Find out more about Smashing Pumpkins here.
High Flying Birds:
Setlist: Fort Knox | Holy Mountain | Keep On Reaching | It’s a Beautiful World | She Taught Me How to Fly | Black Star Dancing | This Is the Place | Wonderwall (Oasis cover) | Little by Little (Oasis cover) | Stop Crying Your Heart Out (Oasis cover) | Don’t Look Back in Anger (Oasis cover) | All You Need Is Love (The Beatles cover)
Learn all about High Flying Birds here.
Setlist: Girl’s Not Grey | Love Like Winter | Get Dark | Back Into the Sun | 17 Crimes | Trash Bat | Snow Cats | Miss Murder
Check out AFI on their website.