The Smashing Pumpkins concert at the Paramount Theatre Wednesday, March 23, started with a promising acoustic set but ended unevenly.
The first 45 minutes of Smashing Pumpkins’ two-and-a-half-hour performance Wednesday (March 23) at the Paramount Theatre suggested it might be one for the ages.
Playing an acoustic guitar against a gorgeous illuminated backdrop of autumn leaves, shaved-headed, nasal-voiced bandleader Billy Corgan quickly reeled off several uninterrupted solo songs. Some were so new the titles aren’t yet known; others, like “Tonight, Tonight,” every Gen-Xer knows by heart.
The unplugged subset brought out the veteran rocker’s six-string virtuosity and remarkable vocal control — and got even better once second guitarist Jeff Schroeder joined in. The duo’s interplay was amazing on the surprise standout “Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea” by Corgan’s much-maligned 2001 offshoot Zwan — which might be due for re-examination.
When Corgan finally addressed the sold-out house, his announcement that the next act would consist exclusively of material from the Pumpkins’ landmark 1993 LP “Siamese Dream” only upped the excitement. That set, too, kicked off on a high note, including an elegant acoustic spin on the dreamy “Mayonaise.”
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But the night peaked there. Once Corgan’s band took the stage for the rest of the “Siamese” suite, its rawness made obvious this was only the second gig of a long tour. Dynamic and intense on record, both “Soma” and “Today” fell flat, doomed by a too-hot mic and too-loud drums.
Other Pumpkins classics fared better, such as the tear-jerker “Disarm” and “1979” — probably the median birth year of those in attendance — which elicited joyous dancing in the aisles.
But just as the group’s output since its ‘90s glory years has been hit-and-miss, the decision to split the difference between electric and acoustic left the back half of Wednesday’s set feeling like a rock’n’roll variety show that — while fan-friendly, with lots of deep cuts amid recognizable singles — lacked the laser-sharp focus of the evening’s auspicious beginnings.
The Pumpkins’ fellow Chicagoan Liz Phair, a grunge-era It Girl who later scored a mainstream hit with 2003’s “Why Can’t I,” opened the show. Despite having not toured in six years, Phair’s quietly raging songs still hit hard, all pop hooks and unprintable honesty.