Smashing Pumpkins

Photo credit: Andra Veraat

Photo credit: Andra Veraat

Date: 18th November
Venue: o2 Academy, Sheffield
Rating: ***

A lot has changed in the three and a half years since Billy Corgan and co. last graced our shores – drummer and last co-founding member Jimmy Chamberlin quit/got fired (depending on whose story you read) and in the wake of the disastrous 20th anniversary tour, when they were once headlining Reading & Leeds Festival and selling out 02 arenas, tonight they are playing the slightly more modest Sheffield academy.

They open explosively with two songs from their upcoming LP Oceania, entitled ‘Quasar’ and ‘Panopticon’, both propelled by chugging riffs and new drummer Mike Byrne’s astonishing power on the sticks (making him a more than fitting replacement for Chamberlin and his jazz-rock freakouts). A clear highlight in terms of new songs though comes from ‘Pinwheels’, with dreamy lyrics of ‘floating away’ and accompanied initially by a bouncing keyboard ostinato before building slowly into a beautiful guitar symphony, the song could easily be mistaken for an outtake from either of their first two albums. It also fits in nicely with the set’s extensive mining of these records–1991’s Gish and their 1993 magnum opus Siamese Dream (both of which are due for reissue later this year)–which includes an unbelievably frenetic rendition of ‘Geek USA’ and a glorious evening-highlight in the form of ‘Cherub Rock’.

Whilst Corgan’s voice in recent years has often veered into a nasally whine that spoils some of the Pumpkins’ older songs, tonight it sounds as ethereal as it did on those early albums. The absence of crowd-pleasers ‘1979’, ‘Today’ or ‘Tonight, Tonight’ was a shame (also since the set was considerably shorter than their gig at the O2 arena a few years ago, which stretched to over two and half hours), although the fan-favourite b-side ‘Starla’ made a more than welcome appearance three songs in. Also disappointing was the total lack of Corgan’s usually hilarious stage banter, especially since the more intimate setting invited such an engagement; however, not a word was spoken to the crowd between songs. Although his moodiness is easily explained: after all, the world is a vampire, sent to drain.