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Smashing Pumpkins and Noel Gallagher redeem their ’90s alternative rock glory, sort of

 By Cameron Lee

August 21, 2019

Nineties rock ‘n’ roll icons haven’t had the best rep in recent years. Prospering in an era where less of their lives were documented and only industry insiders were able to critique their behavior, Billy Corgan and Noel Gallagher have certainly had their feuds with the media. When The Smashing Pumpkins announced in March they were going on tour with Gallagher, there was general excitement from the raging ‘90s alt-rockers, but still a little apprehension in the air. 

While PNC has hosted a plethora of ‘80s and ‘90s rock bands over the years, this one had a unique feel. Most of the rock shirt-donning audience seemed to be your typical mid-30’s adult crowd reliving their glory days, but there was a faction of younger fans; some with their parents and some who might be young enough to label the music as classic rock. A good sign, when bands stand the test of multiple generations. 

Noel Gallagher. Photo: Alex Cason 

While most of Gallagher’s public squabbles have been with his brother Liam, he’s had his fair share of quarrels with the likes of Phil Collins, Jay-Z, and Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorrilaz), although he was featured on the track “We Got the Power” off the latest Gorillaz album Humanz. Not much has changed with Gallagher, but he’s remained somewhat tame in recent years. 

His 10-piece band known as the High Flying Birds filled the stage with bountiful sounds as most of the semi-packed and rainy PNC Pavilion clamored for the Oasis hits. The band kicked it off with their epic opening track “Fort Knox” from their latest full-length album Who Built The Moon?. While the song flexed the instrumental prowess of the full band, the second song, the upbeat distortion-heavy rock bop, “High Mountain,” proved that Gallagher’s songwriting is just as sharp as his days with the iconic Britpop band. 

Noel Gallagher. Photo: Alex Cason 

About seven songs into his set, the moment arrived, but not without a little sarcasm and maybe a bit of acrimony beforehand: “You guys like that band Oasis? They’re f*ckin awesome.” When the guitar strummed with familiar notes from the uber-popular international hit, “Wonderwall,” the energy from the crowd quickly lifted on this rare and breezy summer night. When the song ended, the crowd erupted in applause as the majority Smashing Pumpkins fans in attendance may not have expected a deeper trip into their nostalgia filled evening. Gallagher again responded with a little banter, “Yeah, I know. I’m f*ckin’ talented.” Humor and snark best delivered from a British rock star. 

The band continued to play songs from the Oasis catalog as they followed with consecutive hits from 2002’s Heathen Chemistry (“Little by Little” and “Stop Crying Your Heart Out”) and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” from their most popular album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?. While the emotions ran deep for the Oasis classics, the set culminated with a lackadaisical and somewhat predictable cover of the Beatles “All You Need is Love.” 

The anticipation for the night’s headlining act, The Smashing Pumpkins, was palpable. A collective breath of woos and oohs rippled through the crowd as massive Asian-inspired abstract art figurines were set behind the stage as Billy Corgan walked on in with his classic Hellraiser-like garb while James Iha was sporting a glimmering silver jacket. It was the perfect visual juxtaposition to set the tone for the evening’s show. The once-defunct relationship between Corgan and Iha seems copacetic, if we’re using dated ‘90s grunge-rock terminology. Corgan, who has had a reputation of antagonizing audiences, lately is expressing gratitude, blaming his victim mindset and battled childhood for his behavior. Their 2007 residency in Asheville was a must-see for die-hard Pumpkins fans, but also came with criticism from indie-rockers Deerhunter in a rant by Bradford Cox on Corgan’s bad behavior. The statement was eventually retracted by Cox, but the drama seems to follow the Pumpkins. 

James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkin. Photo: Alex Cason

Despite the personal conflicts and stigma of the Pumpkins, there is no doubt original members Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain can still perform with the same vigor as they did in their prime. The mostly reunited group, who started playing together again in L.A. in 2016 with an unannounced show, still lacks one member in bassist D’arcy Wretzky.

Known to be somewhat perfectionists as performers, the band rarely missed a beat this evening as the thunderous soundsystem amplified the low and rumbling bass in their music. Kicking off the set with “Today” from the 1994 breakout album, Siamese Dreams, and following up with “Zero” from the 1995 double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, there was no question that the Pumpkins can still rock. Peppering in songs from their recent, but often overlooked albums, the band demonstrated a well-balanced set of the old and the new, flowing very tightly from song to song. 

Billy Corgan Photo: Alex Cason 

The crowd’s energy peaked when “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” illuminated the stage with lights highlighting the gaudy art structures behind the band. It was a visual and sonic blast from the past as the angst-filled hit song had many fans bouncing in elation. Although Corgan and the Pumpkins paid tribute to the legendary North Carolina singer-songwriter James Taylor with “Carolina in My Mind,” it must be mentioned that both Corgan and Iha at certain points of the show referred to Charlotte as Charlottesville. Despite the missteps in location, the band was on point with their music. The synth-drums and eerie effects on “1979” showcased the band’s versatility, transporting the crowd to their incense-filled black light glory days of grunge rock. 

Following with the symphonic and sentimental “Tonight, Tonight,” and raucous “Cherub Rock,” the Pumpkins capped off the night with “The Aeroplane Flies High.” For most in attendance, the evening replenished their memories of the alternative rock that once ruled the radio waves. Although our current social culture likes to chastise stars of the past– and sometimes for good reason– there is no doubt our music tastes from the ‘90s were authenticated with the night’s performances. 

Setlist:

Today
Zero
Solara
Knights of Malta
Eye
Bullet With Butterfly Wings
Tiberius
G.L.O.W.
Disarm
Superchrist
Fire and Rain
(James Taylor cover)
Ava Adore
1979
Tonight, Tonight
Blue Skies Bring Tears
Cherub Rock
The Aeroplane Flies High (Turns Left, Looks Right)

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