If you have read any of my reviews of albums and live shows, you know that my preference is covering newer artists in smaller venues. You see, I am 58. All the great bands that were ushered in by the ’90s, including Smashing Pumpkins and Jane’s Addiction, I have seen numerous times.
And this is an important point. I saw them when they were capturing the zeitgeist of Gen X’s coming-of-age music. So, to be completely transparent, I was not expecting the show to be on par with the energy and relevance of thirty years ago.
It wasn’t. It eclipsed it.
The Smashing Pumpkins, Our Lady Peace, Poppy
Scotiabank Arena. 24 October 2022
Photography: Melanie Webster
Words: Sunil Singh
The Smashing Pumpkins proved in 120 minutes why they have been the greatest rock show on the planet in terms of sound, lighting, and musical flexibility. I should have checked my doubt about the capabilities of Billy Corgan and company at the door.
If a picture can say a thousand words but also often fail to capture ‘being there’, then my review of this show is, thankfully, going to be an uphill climb, doubting very much I will get to the summit of what I need to describe and document.
It’s been almost 30 years since the first time I saw Smashing Pumpkins. We were travelling from Toronto to Buffalo and got lost trying to find the venue. We were 45 minutes late, but the band still played for almost another 2 hours, playing everything off of their first two albums–Gish and Siamese Dream–and adding in B-sides. They played with an unmistakable attitude of ‘let’s take over ’90s with unapologetic loudness, driving guitars, and hypnotic rhythms.’ The band came preinstalled with deserving aura.
So, three decades later, the band is still packing tons of heat, and their youthful lustre of their Gen X angst remains in pristine condition. Maybe it’s age or nostalgia, but this was the most playful and gracious I have seen Billy Corgan with the audience in the five times I have seen the band. That personal reflection and connection with the audience only amplified the blistering set of sound and light.
The show opened with a taped version of Atum(pronounced “Autumn”), a song off the self-titled project to come out next year in three parts, as there are 33 songs in total! That itself was a stroke of genius, to tease out this ambitious project for 2023.
A magnificent and majestic butterfly was projected on the screen. A mood of past, present, and future was perfectly set. And then, the Pumpkins do what very few bands can do–shift musical gears rapidly, almost violently, as Quiet from Siamese Dream became the official opening song. Sure, that song was from 1993, but its delivery was with steadfast relevance and not with apologetic nostalgia.
Early on, it was apparent that the Smashing Pumpkins wanted to be seen as a current band, energised by the present, not as a jukebox band cheaply labelled with the meaningless tag of “alternative music”. The unique and great thing about this band has been their refusal to play in any box or style. They could easily be a Heavy Metal band, thrashing away for two hours. Don’t believe me? All that played for 30 minutes leading up to their show was ’70s Judas Priest.
They could also play authentically in the world of Depeche Mode, as demonstrated by the songs Cyr and Neophyte. Both these songs have a gorgeous density of emotion, using a more moody synth/techno approach instead of having all three of their electric guitars going full throttle. All the while, having the pop sensibilities of a band like The Bay City Rollers weave through their music without feeling out of place. The Smashing Pumpkins could play Angel Of Death, Policy Of Truth, and Saturday Night, and we would all be better for it.
Each song of the night felt like a mini-show in itself with wholly different lighting and background visuals, perfectly curating every song like it was part of 20 song “tasting menu”. Each song was savoured. There was no filler. It was all killer.
Hard to pick out early highlights, as each song was delivered with unwavering intensity. But, the Talking Heads cover of Once In A Lifetime was a dark, doomish, and deranged reworking of that ’80s hit. So good it was with its punishing beat that I don’t know if I can ever hear the original again.
With the blinding light show and high fidelity sound–which was really loud–there is no way the audience could have escaped exhaustion if not for a timely acoustic version of Tonight, Tonight right smack in the middle of the set. With only Billy Corgan and James Iha on stage, and simple lighting, the song felt more like a serenade to the audience. While musical bombast surrounded this song on both sides of the two-hour show, the emotional peak of the currency that this band has with its legion of fans occurred right here.
The Smashing Pumpkins catalogue is so deep that they can do a show without playing my own personal favourites–Siva, Rhinoceros, Geek U.S.A, and Thru The Eyes of Ruby–and still blow me away, fully satisfied with their performance. That said, the Pumpkins didn’t shy away from drilling deep into their nostalgic vault and playing Cherub Rock, Zero, and 1979 in order with proper volume and affection. The transition from Cherub Rock to Zero was bloody well seismic and cosmic, with guitars and lights running full tilt.
While there were a few more nods to a bygone era, including the achingly beautiful Disarm, the band had its musical vector set to 2023 and ended with the song Harmageddon, which will be released next year on the aforementioned Atum. Can’t think of too many bands that would end their show with a song not yet available. You have to have massive trust in your audience and your music to pull it off. It doesn’t hurt that the song is driven by a Ministry-like beat with some Metal noodling. It was both a fitting conclusion and a salute to a new chapter in the already massive encyclopaedia of music of the band.
A truly magnificent and majestic performance for the ages that I didn’t see coming. The Smashing Pumpkins are the blueprint on how to be part of the revolution–and evolution–of rock music.
I found out there was an opening artist the night before the show. It was the exact same time I found out who Poppy was. In my YouTube search, the first thing I actually watched was What’s In My Bag? where artists hang out at the famous vinyl store Amoeba in various locations in California. A quick aside, my favourite one is with Mark Osegueda of Death Angel. So, the best way to get to know Poppy would be by the vinyl she was gushing over. She had Peggy Lee, Boris, and Sunn O))). Sold, Anyone who is musically travelling between ’60s pop/activism and bone-crunching doom and darkness is already ace in my book.
Poppy, brandishing her influences through a recognisable mashup of Aqua and Nine Inch Nails, took the stage with the confidence of a headliner. The first two songs were energetic openers, being more infectious punk than anything. But, did things take a turn towards something more “industrial and sacrilege” with the song BLOODMONEY(yes, all caps). Poppy’s swagger of visceral anger was in full bloom for the Toronto audience, who were very appreciative.
The rest of the set had Poppy dancing with the same joy I saw John Mellencamp have in the late ’80s. I love artists who dance to their own music–regardless of genre. FYB, a profanity-laced song of men getting their “just desserts” for their exploitative actions, was a definite highlight for me. Mark my words, Poppy, who has been around for a few years, is going to be headlining her own big arena tours in the not too distant future.
Our Lady Peace
That is correct. Jane’s Addiction did not play tonight. There was a last-minute bulletin put out by the band that lead singer Perry Farrell had injured himself and that he and the band would not be performing. Talk about getting some of the wind knocked out of your sails. Jane’s Addiction was already dealing with Dave Navarro being absent due to symptoms of long Covid-19, and now they have suffered another setback.
Our Lady Peace, a local band, was invited to come in and fill the slot. And, even though they are a local band, I had never seen them live. While the band has a strong catalogue of music, it’s always awkward filling in for a band that everyone was anticipating seeing on this co-headlining tour.
But, OLP rose to the occasion and delivered a clever and passionate set of songs.
Smartly, they came out with Naveed, one of their most recognisable songs. That performance and recognizability gave the band the momentum to feel like they were going to more than hold their own in this emergency situation. And then, the band seized the moment when leader singer Raine Maida lamented about the situation with Jane’s Addiction and told a great story about sneaking into to see them when he was 16 years old in the late ’80s.
Something was bubbling underneath this rock and roll yarn. Sure enough, the band went to a rendition of the mighty Mountain Song from Nothing Shocking, the album that truly propelled Jane’s Addiction from cult icons to alt-rock heroes of the ’90s. It was an earnest delivery that was driven by the narrative of a young teenager discovering cool music.
The rest of the one-hour set just took off from this point, the band feeding off the hometown energy and the confidence of their past work.
Anchoring it all was a buoyant performance of Starseed. A remarkable performance, given the circumstances. The Toronto lads should be mighty proud of their deftly crafted set of ’90s anthems and sing-alongs. Bravo!