There’s a reason why The Smashing Pumpkins remain one of the bad-asses of alternative rock. Love them, or hate them, there is one thing we can all agree on, they’ve had a major impact on the world of music. Formed in ’88, the Chicago-based band was put together by founding members, front-man Billy Corgan, D’arcy Wretzky (bassist), James Iha (guitarist)and Jimmy Chamberlin (drums). Over the years, they’ve gone through a few incarnations, yet they core remains in place and they sound as dynamic and electrifying as ever. A lot has happened in between then and now, just switch out D’arcy Wretzky for long-time guitarist, Jeff Schroeber… and you’re up to speed with the current lineup.
From day one, the Pumpkins were destined for greatness. For the most part, they’ve been described as alt-rock, goth, metal, psychedelic, shoegazing and progressive. Like all great artists, they too have been inspired by others that enabled them to bring their vision to reality. Icons that shaped their sonic dreams and helped develop the lyrical prowess include Bowie, Bauhuas, Joy Division, Cheap Trick, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Queen, the Stooges, and Judas Priest just to name a few. Those bands and artists are the historical cornerstone of their sound and lyrics; but the band, and Corgan in particular, took their vision to the next level.
As the group’s primary songwriter, Corgan’s cathartic lyrics have shaped the band’s sound, and to some extent, segments of society. He’s delivered some of the most inspiring, truth-telling and haunting lyrics we’ve heard in modern music. His vocal delivery is robust and can scare the heebie-jeebies out of us. Hearing Corgan belt out these words, “Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness, and cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty just like me!” that’s as scary as it gets… and it’s a sincere reflection of man’s hubris. That, and Corgan’s lyrics have helped us understand the world of what it’s like to a Hooker-Waitress / Model-Actress. In Corgan’s lyrical voyage, the more we change, the less we feel. That in itself, can be good and bad; it’s a mindset their fans understand and appreciate about the world that is Smashing Pumpkins.
Despite all the distractions, the Pumpkins’ music has endured the test of time. Their albums have become part of the soundtrack of our lives. Two albums that stand out are Gish, and Siamese Dream. Back then, the new breakthrough of alt rock was due to the popularity of grunge bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Mother Love Bone and Pearl Jam. The Pumpkins knowingly, or unknowingly, positioned themselves to be a major commercial success. Then again, commercial success doesn’t move this band; it’s their music and the quality of the sound that guides them. To date, the Pumpkins have nine albums and one on the horizon to follow up on 2014’s Monuments to an Elegy–more on that later.
When you go to see the Pumpkins, you’ll see insane crazy fans like you would see for any established act. It’s just a little different when the band has iconic song after iconic song on their set list. Tunes that drive their fans insane include classics like “Today”, “1979”, “Tonight Tonight”, “Disarm, Rhinoceros”, “Cherub Rock”, “Mayonaise”, “Tarantula”, and “Zero”. There’s also “Drown”, a song made famous by 1992 grunge romantic comedy Singles. That movie and soundtrack was the characterization of what life was like in the 90’s for most of Single America, and the tunes off the soundtrack were definitely a sign of the times.
Since Gish, the band has literally done it all. They’ve popped out top Billboard tunes, they’ve won Grammys, had their music featured in movies and rocked on all the late night TV shows and sold over 30 million albums world wide. Any somewhat successful artist will tell you that commercial success is not the measurement of greatness or being considered a legend; but, it’s certainly the common denominator. Perhaps in those early days, they may have been naïve in what it took to reach their fans; then again, it also meant they didn’t know the perils of the music business.
Truth be told, their reach has been meteoric in nature, and it’s been compared to the cartoon-crazy antics of the Pixies and Rage Against the Machine’s loyal fans. That’s the kind of street cred you just can’t buy. For their fans, they can relate to the issues that band has gone through. It’s literally like a relationship where you have ups / downs; and, everyone has their moments or issues that time apart can only cure. Some relationships last no time at all, while others keep going and going and going… ala the Rolling Stones. Internal challenges are a part of any band, it’s just saying; but, that’s a reality and just how it goes in many bands. That can be tough for many members. It’s ironic because bands are typically successful as a result of their collective efforts and creativity. More often than not… successful bands turn out to be victims of their own success. Unfortunately, no matter how great things are going for any band, eventually all good things come to an end.. That said, in 2000, the Pumpkins called it quits. However, a few years later (2006), Corgan and Chamberlin recorded a new Smashing Pumpkins album titled, Zeitgeist. The album did well, but due to a variety of reasons, Chamberlin left the band in early 2009.
Despite all the issues, and the revolving door of bandmates, the core of the band came back together earlier this year when Chamberlin and Iha officially rejoined the band. In March 2018, Corgan mentioned the band planned to release two EP’s in 2018, and he was good to his word. On June 8, 2018, the first single from the set of music, “Solara”, was released. So far, so good… the song is getting airplay, and the fans dig the new tune.
The Pumpkins are now in their 30th anniversary year and are in the midst of their Shiny and Oh So Bright Tour. It’s their first tour in over 20 years featuring their founding members. They’re coming to the Southland on August 30th and 31st at the Forum and September 1st at Viejas Arena in San Diego. This is an iconic band coming to town; so check out their show, it’ll be electric!