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Smashing Pumpkins: The World is A Vampire Tour descends on West Palm Beach

Like an alien from another world, Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins appeared onstage at iThink Financial Amphitheatre with his bald head, long black coat dress, black Doc Martens boots and extended black eye makeup that made his face resemble a raccoon. Somehow, he made that look work and commanded the audience’s attention with his distinctive voice and mesmerizing stage presence. None the worse for the wear of time, Corgan seemed ageless and sounded dynamic. The band was tremendously complemented by their returning original guitarist, James Iha, and original drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The band sure came to play. Their chemistry was fabulous as they brought their dark, heavy rock and epic performances. They seemed to really be enjoying themselves again. Their band had been broken in pieces for years yet they were able to repair their relationships and come back stronger than ever. However, it is not completely repaired, as original bassist Darcy Wretzky is “gone for good,” according to Corgan. They have also added guitarist Jeff Schroeder from Hollywood, California, and multi-instrumentalist Katie Cole from Australia on backing vocals, keyboards, and guitar. They both fit perfectly in the band. Cole, in her exotic black gothic dress was visually crowd-pleasing and stunning. Guitarist Schroeder added more sonic firepower. Jack Bates, from Manchester, England, is now playing bass on this tour, and is the son of musician Peter Hook (Co-Founder of Joy Division and New Order).

Their new album, Atum: A Rock Opera In Three Acts, is their twelfth studio album and was released in three separate installments of eleven songs. It is a rock opera about a dissident rock artist that is exiled into space for being too outspoken. It is quite an ambitious project and they incorporated the following new songs into their show: “Spellbinding,” “Empires,” Zero” and “Beguiled.” On “Beguiled,” Corgan’s young children came out on stage dancing, as they had done in the “Beguiled” video. The biggest crowd reaction, though, came from their well-known hits. Their massive hit, “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” has the most memorable lyrics, “The world is a vampire” and “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage,” and got the largest response. Other well-known hits played were “Disarm,” “Today,” and the nostalgic “1979.” Guitarist Iha and Corgan played dueling acoustic guitars on their hit, “Tonight, Tonight.” It was a touching moment and Corgan called it his “favorite.” Two covers were performed, the first was Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime,” which was an interesting choice but sounded muddy and unrecognizable, possibly due to sound issues. The other cover was Manfred Mann’s “Hubble Bubble (Toil and Trouble), which was Hendrix-heavy and featured Corgan’s dynamic and energetic guitar solo. He can play a mean guitar! “Cherub Rock” was the climax and did not disappoint… just a perfect Pumpkin rock song from their 1993 album Siamese Dream.

Unfortunately, the sound at the amphitheatre was the worst that I have ever heard it. It was nearly impossible to understand what they were singing or saying and sounded like they were in a tin can or a tunnel. There were tons of amps, monitors and speakers and the volume was super loud but had very poor sound quality. You could tell the band was rocking hard and it was such a shame, as they sounded great at The Hard Rock Live last year. The elaborate and cool light show was much more impressive farther back in the amphitheatre, than it was up close. The setlist was varied with selections from their monster massive rock n’ roll hits to deeper cuts like “Doomsday Clock,” “Hummer,” and “Jellybelly.” Speaking to iheart radio, Corgan explained, “The new tour is a balance of new music and the best of what we’ve done but it’s not a greatest hits. It’s the best of what we’ve done in different eras. We have released over 350 songs and getting it down to 20 or so is hard, but we seem to have picked the right songs cause people are happy with what we’re doing… in some ways, rock has never been bigger.”

Iha and Corgan were particularly humble and engaging with the audience. They thanked everyone numerous times. They braved the heat of the night and Corgan even fanned himself to demonstrate how hot it was but soldiered on with enthusiasm. The Pumpkins are collecting a whole new generation of younger fans, thanks to social media, especially Tic Toc. It is obvious that they hit a chord with all ages and all types of people. They want to be that band for anyone. Corgan has said, “We want anybody from anywhere … we’re not perfect people and there is power in that.” Undeniably, Corgan is very comfortable on stage and he is captivating. He demands your attention with an air of mystery and supreme showmanship. Rival Sons and Interpol were the opening two rock bands and while they were competent, they are better suited for smaller venues. Rival Sons are bluesy rock from California and Interpol are post punk/alternative rock from New York.

Interestingly, Corgan bought the oldest wrestling league in the world, the National Wrestling Alliance, which has been operating for 75 years and he brought it back to life in the last 5 or 6 years.
He is passionate about it and has brought it to international prominence. They have incorporated a wrestling exhibition into their concerts by having the wrestlers compete on a side stage.
The Smashing Pumpkins have their own rock n’ roll vision and it has withstood the test of time. They are as fresh and powerful as ever. They are ever-evolving and breaking new ground with their innovative rock opera as their Vampire 2023 summer tour continues through the United States and Canada. Overall, it was an impressive experience and a smashing success!

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