Billy Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins deliver a solid rock ‘n’ roll night

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When The Smashing Pumpkins last performed in Columbus – at Value City Arena in August 2018 – the band played 32 songs for over three hours, extending familiar tunes from their early space jams. This tour celebrated the return of founding guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin.

With a much shorter set in Kemba Live last night – an hour and forty-five minutes before the encore – the band delivered a tour of their 30+ year old songbook that was simply a beautiful show of rock ‘n’ solid roll, which testified to the history of the five musicians together. It is fitting that the tour is titled “Rock Invasion 2”.

The Pumpkins set the rock tone from the first track, “Colour Of Love” off their most recent album, 2020’s “Cyr.” hope of its catalog. For every wildly idyllic image of love and life, there are three more declarations of doubt and pessimism.

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Corgan took the stage in a long black dress with her black combat boots, her head shaved and what looked like a big fish hook painted on her forehead, her presence was downright vampiric. His singing was stronger than ever: passionate, flexible and hoarse at the same time.

If the second song, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” doubled down on the dark side, the follow-up “Today” countered Corgan’s obsession with the ecstatic possibilities of living in the moment. It also sealed the bond with the audience as he sang loudly.

Corgan and guitarists Iha and Jeff Schroeder mostly kept their solos compact, with the frontman contributing a concise but smoldering guitar solo in “Drown”. Schroeder added – as Corgan put it – “a little Eddie Van Halen” to one tune. Iha was off the hook in the metal grinder “Zero”, and Corgan and Iha found each other well in “Solara”.

The guitar jam at the end of “Eye”, however, simply sounded for dramatic effect.

Interestingly, one of the highlights of the evening came with band founders Corgan and Iha strapping on acoustic guitars for a lovely read of the euphoric “Tonight, Tonight,” which the singer dedicated to the audience and his loyalty for more than 30 years. It was a sentiment echoed a few songs later when Corgan noted that last night marked the 31st anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album “Gish.” Promising something special to mark the milestone, the band released “Snail”, a song that Corgan says the band rarely performs live.

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If the band’s goal was simply to deliver an evening of fun and powerful rock ‘n’ roll, they succeeded. “It’s Saturday night in Columbus,” Corgan said, “There’s going to be some kids made.” Later, in “If There Is A God”, he sang “If there is a God/I know he love to rock”.

In interviews in 2020, Corgan said the band’s next album would be an epic completion of the dramatic arc begun with the ambitious 1995 double album “Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness.” This was echoed by Schroeder more recently, who said the sprawling project is now mostly recorded. If the band does tour there, chances are the shows will be more like 2018 and less like 2022.

Up-and-coming Columbus band AEIR – recently signed to Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins’ new label, Perkins Palace – opened last night’s gig with a short but energetic set that ended with a cover of “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles.

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