The date was July 11, 1996. I was at Madison Square Garden watching a heavyweight boxing match between Chicagoan via Poland Andrew Golota vs. Riddick Bowe. The fight ended with an all-out riot in the stadium. Look it up on Youtube, you won’t be disappointed. The fight and ensuing riot led me to get the hell out of the Garden knowing I would return there the following evening to see another Chicago phenomenon, Smashing Pumpkins. As I listened to the radio in my car to hear the news of the riot I just fled, another breaking news story took the evening to another level of insanity. Pumpkins’ drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed in their hotel room. Melvoin died and Chamberlin was arrested and subsequently dismissed from the band. Needless to say the MSG shows were cancelled. In my opinion it was the beginning of the decline of the band which sold over 10 million albums.
As a lifelong Chicagoan, the Smashing Pumpkins play an important part in my musical world. Before they were signed, I saw them open for Jane’s Addiction and they were horrid. The crowd made fun of the band’s name. Less than a year later, my friend who attended the show with me brought over an album. He did not tell me who the band was and played the record. I was blown away. It was groundbreaking. It combined all different genres. There was lead guitar work that sounded like Mark Farner combined with Dave Navarro. It was heavy, mellow and psychedelic. The album was Gish and the band was Smashing Pumpkins. They would go on to sell millions of albums making them arguably the most successful act from Chicago.
Billy Corgan announced a reunion tour for 2018 and ticket sales have been soft in many markets. While second shows have been added in Los Angeles and Chicago, the remaining venues are struggling. This is far from what Axl Rose did with Guns N Roses. Over the last several years, Corgan has stated his admiration for Rose and his ability to keep the Guns N Roses brand strong. While on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Corgan praised the Guns N Roses reunion and strongly hinted that he was going to replicate the the business model with the Smashing Pumpkins. The problem is Corgan miscalculated his brand and popularity. First off, Corgan is not likeable. I witnessed this first hand while sitting next to him at a Mötley Crüe concert. While this in itself shouldn’t be a factor in a rock band’s success, Corgan plays it to a point where he is an anti-rock star. His abrasiveness is not in the vein of a larger than life entertainer, it instead creates a reality that Corgan is not someone you want to pay big money to see play. Then there is the band itself. Corgan attempted a reunion in 2005 which didn’t come to fruition until 2 years later with only Jimmy Chamberlin taking part. The whole Smashing Pumpkins’ brand was muddled from that point on. Jimmy Chamberlin has been a part of the band on and off ever since, so the big reunion is just the addition of James Iha, who is no Slash. The one member who has rock star qualities is D’arcy Wretzky and Corgan found it necessary to make the relationship with her one big cluster fuck. He couldn’t see he worth and expressed to the public how little she meant to the band. Regardless of what she did or did not contribute musically, she was the perfect foil to Corgan’s image. She brought beauty and melody to counteract the heavy and abrasive. The result is an ugly war of words via the press and social media. Without D’arcy, this isn’t a reunion. Whether Corgan likes it or not, she is more of a Duff McKagan and less of a Steven Adler.
The last time I saw Smashing Pumpkins was in 2015 with Marilyn Manson opening at a 9,000 seat venue. The performance was quite pedestrian and the crowd was respectable. Adding James Iha just doesn’t carry the weight to consistently add another 10,000 fans on a nightly basis. By all indications the Shinny and So Bright tour got off to a terrible public relations start and will prove to be a terrible failure.
Written by Joe Becht. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBecht