The Smashing Pumpkins at the United Center, November 2000

November 20th, 2000

By Mark Guarino
Daily Herald Music Critic

There were no jersey numbers hoisted up to the United Center rafters, but at its retirement bash Wednesday night,t he Smashing Pumpkins reached the roof with volume.

The House That Jordan Built has been the site of several farewells, but none so chaotic and just plain schizoid as this one. In its first 30 minutes, the musicians bowing out after a decade-long career could have been a different band, entirely.

Power rock anthems ranging from “Today” to “Stand Inside Your Love” were dialed down to dirge speed, with head Pumpkin Billy Corgan, draped in a frumpy white dress, droning many octaves deeper as well

The comatose versions sounded as if the band playing them had thrown in the towel.

“We’d like to thank the Smashing Pumpkins for letting us open tonight,” he cracked.

Then after another oddity (playing a scrap like “Drown” from the 1992 “Singles” soundtrack), the band left the stage and re-entered, this time with Corgan in bad boy black (his second dress of the night), giving the signal it was finally time to rock.

But now, any Chicago music fan knows the story of the Pumpkins decade- long career, which might well be described as the greatest rock melodrama of the ’90s. Once at the forefront of cutting edge rock,t he Pumpkins fade over the past few years has been due to problems both inside and outside the band.

Drug problems, death, management crisis, a confused sense of public identity and a shifting public taste all plagued the band’s final years.

Debuting in the alternative rock era that strove to denounce the hackneyed corporate rock that came before it, the Pumpkins never looked comfortable when they themselves began recording on a major label. Yet the grandiose gloominess of its music and the band’s increasingly pretentious stage identity, was ultimately perceived just as overwrought.

Corgan – with bassist Melissa Auf der Maur, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, guitarist James Iha and two additional keyboardists – played as if conspiring to burn down the house. They stretched forwards and backwards through their career, from “Rhinoceros” from 199’1 “Gish” up to “cash Car Star” from this fall’s internet-only farewell. The blizzard of noise sweeping through songs like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” or “The Everlasting Gaze” forsake any element of nostalgia or sentiment since they were plowed through with frenetic energy. But what connected most was “Cherub Rock,” the 1993 melody of guitar buzz that had the entire crowed singing along.

This year, the Pumpkins handed Virgin, its record company, “Adore,” considered a commercial dud. But its final kiss-off was the 25 vinyl copies of an album that were handed to friends who were encouraged to bootleg it for free over the internet.

The plan was designed for fans – at least fans who haven’t left. The biggest reaction of the night came with Iha asked if teh show as “as good as a Limp Bizkit concert,” to which heavy boo’s drowned the arena.

Terry Brown, 30, from Omaha, Neb., flew into Chicago Wednesday, just to see this final show. His enthusiasm for the band, however, was stronger five years ago, before new bands like Limp Bizkit took over mass popularity.

“A more aggressive tone was missing (with the Pumpkin’s later songs). I t was just maturity. Once the rawness left, so did I,” he said.

None of the Pimpkins gave any indication of what was next for them individually, but rumors are already buzzing over the internet. A popular one is Corgan will return in a trio with Chamberlin and Rolling Stones bassist (and Chicago native) Daryl Jones in a goth rock band.

“They’ll be around,” said Ken Gilliam, 30, from Carol Stream. “I’d say true fans will really remember them for a long time.”

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