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Concert review

COURTESY PHOTO: NICOLE DECOSTA - Smashing Pumpkins' lead man Billy Corgan lit up the crowd during the band's kick off of its new tour.Smashing Pumpkins kicked off its In Plainsong tour in Portland Tuesday evening, March 22, at the sold out Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. And the evening felt as if being transported to a refreshing, simpler time.

Throughout the two-plus hour sold-out show, the glow of cell phones didn’t steal glances and it felt like arriving in a time machine.

Since the band’s 1991 debut album “Gish,” fashions may have changed — glam-rock is now skinny jeans— but the sentiment behind autobiographical words set to music remains a force. The show’s set list included stripped-down versions of its biggest hits, including “1979.”

Now 49, Billy Corgan is the last pumpkin still smashing it on stage. The band’s current line-up includes guitarist Jeff Schroeder, longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin in addition to Sierra Swan on keys and Katie Cole on guitar.

Wearing a black and white polka dot shirt and pinstriped suit, Corgan — with his signature shaved head — took the audience on a ride and the sentiment was mutual. Between songs, attendees would call out things such as, “thank you, Billy” and “welcome to Portland.”

The audience — everyone from 60-year-old men in collared shirts, sorority girls, hipsters with impeccably trimmed beards and what seemed like half the city on a date night — appeared grateful to have Corgan in their presence.

The stage’s backdrop was a simple backlit canvas that evolved throughout the night to reveal a forest, ballroom, tree and stars. Nearly an hour into the show, the other musicians joined Corgan on the stage to beef up with accompaniment hits such as “Today” and “Disarm.”

“I used to be a little boy, so old in my shoes / And what I choose is my choice / What’s a boy supposed to do? / A killer in me is a killer in you, my love / I send this smile over to you.”

But it was their 1995 hit “1979” that brought the Portland patrons splashing into the aisles to dance. The entire venue seemed to sing in unison “shakedown, 1979 / cool kids never have the time.”

COURTESY PHOTO: NICOLE DECOSTA - Singer Liz Phair opened the show for Smashing Pumpkins March 22 as band kicked off its new national tour.The band also played well-received covers, including “Malibu” from Hole — which brought the room to its feet, complete with cat calls — “Angie” from The Rolling Stones and the David Bowie classic “Space Oddity,” with its recognizable phrase: “ground control to Major Tom.”

In a world in which our news feed can sometimes seem bombarded with mindless clutter — which Kardashian is on a diet now? — this concert solidified that the human condition craves meaningful experiences. And nostalgia reined supreme. In the lobby before the show, one man talked to another man and said, “this is the music I listened to high school when no one understood me.” His friend said, “same.”

Despite the show’s intimacy and acoustic/electro performances, the show’s noticeable oddity was the fact that Corgan didn’t play his 1995 Grammy-winning smash “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” Closing out the encore would have been a perfect fit for the hard rock classic whose music video is the last one to feature him with a head full of hair.

But, as the song says, “Despite all my rage / I am still just a rat in a cage.”

This tour will take the band all across the country, but enough about future plans, “tomorrow’s just an excuse away,” right?

For more information about The Smashing Pumpkins and its tour, visit

Nicole DeCosta ( is a multimedia journalist and former associate editor with Pamplin Media Group.

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