In what seems like a righteous kick-off to this celebratory holiday season and end to our city’s tricentennial year, '90s alt-icons Smashing Pumpkins came to San Antonio and put on arguably the best live rock ‘n’ roll show of the year.
On the way to the show, a friend and I reminisced about when we first heard or got into Smashing Pumpkins — growing up, watching the videos when MTV played music videos still, and how different older family members introduced us to the alternative rock band.
I remembered how, on the day before leaving Baltimore to move to San Antonio in 2008, two of my best friends who I still stay in touch with dropped me off after we hung out for the last time. The friend driving turned on “Tonight, Tonight,” by the Smashing Pumpkins and for some reason I just started crying. Both of my friends joined in on the sob fest.
It’s these kind of memories that I believe many of us San Antonians share. We are a city that continually shows up for our favorite rock bands that we made memories with through the '80s, '90s and onward.
In what looked like at least 1,000 people in the audience, probably way more than that (it was hard to see 'cause I was literally in the front row), it was clear San Antonio showed up to relive similar memories last night at the Sunken Garden Theater.
Opening the show was Drab Majesty, a Los Angeles duo who create shimmery, spacey post punk in the vein of Joy Division and Talking Heads. Mixed with a touch of shoegaze, the band’s music echoed through the Sunken Garden Theater as the venue began to squeeze tighter with a multi-generational audience.
Next up was Joywave, hailing from Rochester, N.Y., who opened up their set with what almost sounded like a Korn song, with super low bass rumbles, hip-hop beat and wobbly keyboard notes. The band’s 40-minute performance showcased its ability to slip in and out of these weirder indie corridors, sounding like Portugal, The Man at some points, then Death Cab for Cutie and then Radiohead at others.
The New Yorkers closed their bass-heavy set as the venue began spilling over with fans eager to get a glimpse at the closest Smashing Pumpkins lineup to the original that has had in many years.
With co-founding guitarist James Iha, co-founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, guitarist Jeff Schroeder (who originally replaced James Iha in 2007), touring bass player Jack Bates, and of course, Billy Corgan, Smashing Pumpkins walked onto the stage calmly waving to the crowd before launching into an aural assault of alternative goodness.
“Burn down the sun / I’m not everyone,” Corgan sang. His flowing silk gown and the makeup on his forehead made him look as if he was about to guide us on an out-of-body meditation journey through time and space as the band exploded into their opening song, “Solara,” from this year’s Shiny and Oh So Bright, Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun
Either the band knew we were old school fans or they just knew most folks want to hear the old shit, but next up was 1995’s “Zero” from the iconic Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
. The audience collectively screamed in excitement, chanting the lyrics: “Emptiness is loneliness / and loneliness is cleanliness / and cleanliness is godliness / and God is empty just like me.” People maneuvered through the crowd for a better view.
With a powerful pulsing light show to accompany the colorful projections of an array of shapes, images, colors and static, the band pulled the thirsty audience through two hours of the hits, the favorites and the songs that we all really wanted to hear.
Touching on everything from “Cherub Rock” and “Today” from Siamese Dream
to “Ava Adore” from Adore
and "Bullet with the Butterfly Wings" from the aforementioned Mellon Collie,
the alternative icons let San Antonio have it with an energetic performance and a set list that probably couldn’t have been any better.
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