Review: Smashing Pumpkins mystify at Vivint Arena

September 5, 2018

In my experience, rock concerts typically leave fans energized and excited.

But after leaving Smashing Pumpkins ’ “Shiny and Oh So Bright” Salt Lake City tour stop Tuesday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena, I didn’t feel so shiny or bright. In fact, I felt a little depressed and, frankly, quite confused.

Then again, Smashing Pumpkins has never been one to do things the traditional way.

Considering this is the first Smashing Pumpkins tour since 2000 to feature founding members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin, I was surprised there weren’t more people attending the concert Tuesday night and that the top section of the arena was closed off. But by the time Smashing Pumpkins took the stage, the portion of the seating area in use was full.

Smashing Pumpkins’ set started with an animated video set to “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” that represented the rock band’s albums over the years. Then the side-by-side screens displaying the video split, allowing Corgan to come through, take the stage and perform one of my favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs, “Disarm,” which I thought kicked off the night powerfully and beautifully.

A few songs in, Corgan donned a silver cloak for the band’s cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which he performed on a platform above the rest of the band in front of a screen displaying extraterrestrial scenes.

I actually enjoyed the cover quite a bit and could pretty easily follow the deep rock and outer space themes for the first third of the concert.

Then things started to get weird.

I spent most of the rest of the concert puzzling over the visuals, including a series of videos featuring a woman with short blonde hair, who reminded me of Marilyn Monroe, in a number of distressful situations. This included one scene in which the woman wrapped a tourniquet around her arm, shot up what looked like a heavy dose of drugs and then proceeded to drink something alcoholic by the bottle, only to pass out as the audience sees her spirit leave her body.

Even now, having seen the entire concert, I’m still not sure I understand the significance of the blonde-haired woman in the videos. This is not helped by the fact that Corgan’s unique vocal style makes it difficult to understand the band’s already complex lyrics.

Corgan’s outfits, which included a black and white skeleton outfit and an ominous black robe, were also quite dark and added to the frontman’s mystery. Though there was some head bobbing and singing along among the crowd, much of the audience seemed to just be watching the stage intently, trying to figure out the man before them and waiting to see what he would do next. It was as if the frontman had put the crowd into a trance that could only be broken when he pointed or waved his hands, reminding them to cheer.

Another perplexing visual was presented in two interlude videos featuring Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray dressed in an old-fashioned vaudeville sort of outfit as he introduced “Blew Away” with Iha on lead vocals and “1979.” The videos and jokes therein were pretty corny and didn’t seem to fit in very well with the rest of the show.

On a better note, some highlights of the concert I did enjoy included Smashing Pumpkins’ performances of “1979” and “Today,” which are two of my favorite songs by the band. I also enjoyed the group’s covers including Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” and Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which I felt did the originals justice while at the same time infusing some Smashing Pumpkins flair.

Fans definitely got their money’s worth at the concert, as Smashing Pumpkins performed for three hours. Corgan even referred to the show as the group’s “extensive catalog.” I’ll admit I felt a little bored at times and wondered when the concert was going to end, as did several others who left the concert early, apparently.

Even so, as the band left the stage after singing its classic “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” most of the crowd remained, many on their feet cheering for more.

A two-song encore finished off the night, starting with “Solara.” A ukulele was then brought onstage to accompany a soft cover of “Baby Mine,” which felt a little out of place after what we’d just observed and despite the sweetness of the song did not make me feel any better.

Canadian rock band Metric also performed at the concert, opening the night with a set of nine songs including a couple of my personal favorites, “Breathing Underwater” and “Help I’m Alive.” I thought Metric’s throwback electronic sound and lead singer Emily Haines’ cool, soft vocals provided a nice contrast to Smashing Pumpkins’ harsher musical style, though many seats in the area remained empty during the set.

“It has been an unbelievable experience being invited to be the special guest on the Smashing Pumpkins tour,” Haines told the crowd. “Thank you, Salt Lake City, for hosting us in your beautiful, beautiful town.”

Overall, the performance and musicianship displayed at the concert was great, but the unusual accompanying visuals and dark themes left me in a bit of a rock coma.

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