Leave it to Billy Corgan to flip the script.
One of the most popular trends in tours nowadays is for an artist to perform a classic album in its entirety, which lets the artist get away with showcasing newer material while catering to the nostalgic needs of hardcore fans. But what happens when the artist gives a new album the play-it-in-full concert treatment? The answer of course depends on the quality of the album, and for the Smashing Pumpkins, who are touring behind their latest record “Oceania,” the results were mixed.
“Oceania” is the band’s best album in a more than a decade and the Pumpkins’ U.S. tour-opening set at the Comcast Center in Everett. featured all 13 songs off the album in order followed by 10 singles and deeper cuts from the group’s very deep catalog. Unfortunately this new material, which sounds great on record, sounded empty live. The band — bassist Nicole Fiorentino, drummer Mike Byrne, guitarist Jeff Schroeder and Corgan on vocals and guitar — executed everything almost too perfectly, delivering a somewhat lifeless set songs that sounded exactly like they do on record, which was disappointing because some of the “Oceania” material is begging to be tinkered with in a live setting.
The saving grace of the show’s “Oceania” portion, aside from an extended 10-minute version of the record’s title track, were the visuals, which involved a giant orb behind the band that had images projected onto it to create fake three-dimensional effects. It was a cool use of technology that provided a needed distraction from what was happening onstage, which at times was kind of boring because it seemed like Corgan and his bandmates were phoning it in and playing without any noticeable emotion.
Thankfully, the entire night wasn’t just the Smashing Pumpkins going through the motions, as things picked up a bit in the energy and spunk department during the second half of the show. Surprisingly, it started with cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which went over well. The Pumpkins’ version of the song was amped up quite a bit with Corgan playfully windmilling his guitar and Byrne packing a wallop behind the kit. That was followed by a punishing version of “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness'” “X.Y.U.,” which was one of the few deep cuts that made the setlist. From there it started to become clear the band was having fun which made up a bit for the rigidness of the previous hour.
Classics like “Tonight, Tonight,” “Disarm” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” were delivered with flair and some songs, like “Ava Adore,” were given rearrangements. The song, which is an electro-rock tune heavy on the synths, was given a heavy, almost sludgy guitar riff transforming it into a borderline metal song, making it the highlight of the night. It was great to see that the band was willing to give an old song a new identity, which is something that should have been done with a few of the “Oceania” selections earlier. By the time the main set ended with “Today” it appeared like the group might have spent all of its energy, but they kept the momentum going during the three-song encore which started with “Zero.”
While hearing “Oceania” in full and getting a solid dose of alternative-era hits made the show worth the price of admission, overall it was a bit of a puzzling performance that delighted with some fan favorites, but disappointed with a visible lack of spirit and emotion.