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Concert Reviews:
Smashing Pumpkins strip down at the Fillmore

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2016

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DETROIT -- The Fillmore Detroit, in its previous incarnation as the State Theatre, has been an auspicious venue for Smashing Pumpkins.

The Chicago-based group stopped there as part of its landmark 1991 tour with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam and played an epic show in June of 1996 that was one of the last shows for founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's first stint with the bands. The Pumpkins also brought their ambitious "Adore" tour there during 1998.

The group's performance on Friday, April 1, was just as noteworthy -- and among the most satisfying shows frontman Billy Corgan and company have put on in these parts. Dubbed an "acoustic-electro" experience, the Plainsong Tour stop featured the quintet playing in a variety of formats, from Corgan solo on acoustic guitar to a full-band rock raveup on "Spaniards" that closed the main set. The 25-song, two-hour and 10-minute show's eclectic approach also let the Pumpkins dig deep into its catalog -- and into Corgan's extended repertoire -- for rarities and aficionado favorites that underscored the strength and elasticity of Corgan's compositions, showing they're still impactful outside the bombast of the Pumpkin's large-venue concerts.

Some of the hits were there, of course, including Corgan's solitary treatment of "Tonight, Tonight" and a faithful, if somewhat more spacious, "1979." But the night was stocked with surprises, too: an opening couplet of "Cardinal Rule" and "Stumbleine;" Corgan solo material ("The World's Fair," "Sorrows (In Blue)") and "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea" from his short-lived band Zwan; and covers both appropriate (David Bowie's "Space Oddity") and curious (Natalie Imburlia's "Identify").

The heart of the show was a six-song segment of material from the Pumpkins' 1993 breakthrough "Siamese Dream," with particularly strong quintet renderings of "Whir," "Rocket" and "Today" and a hymn-like version of "Disarm" by Corgan alone on keyboards. The three-song electro/industrial segment that followed, using loops and drum machines for "Sorrows (In Blue)," "Eye" and "Saturnine," was a bit less effective, but the California-style pop segment that included "Pinwheels," "Lily (My One and Only)" and a cover of Hole's "Malibu," which Corgan co-wrote and featured multi-instrumentalist Katie Cole on lead vocals, provided a formidable comeback.

The sport-coated Corgan only played electric guitar on a couple of songs, too, giving Jeff Shroeder plenty of room to stretch out on both acoustic and electric instruments. Chamberlin, meanwhile, spent less then half the show onstage but made his own mark with restrained but still muscular playing that gave those songs a distinctive energy in the set.

Encoring with the Rolling Stones' "Angie" -- which dovetailed nicely with the Bowie cover, if you were paying attention -- the Pumpkins sent the Fillmore crowd home on a gentle note. It was a night spent oustide the proverbial box, but the material felt refreshed and pleasingly reinvented by the fresh sonic surroundings.

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