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Smashing Pumpkins live!

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.”

That quote has been credited to Daniel Burnham, the great Chicago city planner from the 1800s. It personifies the City By The Lake’s “I Will” spirit and has become an unofficial mantra to Chicagoan’s who have since followed.

It could be argued that Billy Corgan – lead singer, guitarist, and the driving force behind the rock band Smashing Pumpkins –  has been practicing what Burnham preached since the quartet’s inception in the early 90s. While his contemporaries at the time were embracing minimalism, Corgan took the “more is more” approach. The band’s biggest hits were bombastic and widescreen in their scope, almost a middle finger to the zeitgeist of grunge, with its dressed-down flannel and shoe-gaze stage presence.

Fast forward some two and a half decades. The band has gone through a revolving door of personnel changes with Billy Corgan the only remaining original member. So it was a rebooted Pumpkins 2.0 that took the stage at Rosemont’s Allstate Arena on Friday in support of Oceania, the first full-length release to feature the most recent incarnation of players that The Great Pumpkin has assembled.

Perhaps intent on proving that his moniker hasn’t become just a touring, greatest-hits jukebox, the quartet opened the show by performing the new record in its entirety. Billed as a “record within a record,” the 14-song cycle is part of a larger project Corgan calls Teargarden By Kaleidyscope, which is an epic, 44-song cycle the band plans on slowly rolling out over the Internet. Make no small plans indeed.

This time around, Corgan seemed more than content to defer to his bandmates, making the evening feel more collaborative and less like a dictatorship. Set opener “Quasar” felt like a reinvented version of “I Am One” from the band’s debut Gish. The music was monstrous and pummeling. “The Celestials” saw bassist Nicole Fiorentino doing most of the heavy lifting. Her nimble bass lines were interlocked tightly with the massive backbeat of drummer Mike Byrne, a convincing case that this wasn’t going to be just another night of the Billy Corgan Experience.

Even when the band deferred to its back catalog, the choices were less obvious than one would expect. “Tonight, Tonight,” “Disarm,” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” were all givens, but covers of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and the deep album cut “X.Y.U.” were proof that the band had done its homework.

Still, there was never any doubt that Corgan was main attraction. With his towering, hunched frame and a shaved cranium that glistened like a hell night’s full moon, Corgan was a picture of focus, intensity, and humbled gratitude. During a song break, he asked for an informal poll of his gathered minions, asking, “Who here is an old school Pumpkins fan?” Most in attendance roared in the affirmative. Beaming, he added, “Thank you. It’s because of you, I still get to do this.”

— Curt Baran

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