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Corgan flies well solo, evoking Smashing Pumpkins

Billy Corgan, folk troubadour? Doesn’t really work on paper.

However, when Corgan kicked off a tour billed as “The Smashing Pumpkins – In Plainsong: Acoustic-Electro” at a sold-out Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda on Monday, he made believers out of many in attendance. Others seemed to be longing for something else, however. They chatted and cat-called and generally behaved as if they were attending a full-bore, full-band Smashing Pumpkins show, where sheer volume would’ve buried their rudeness beneath a blanket of wattage.

Boorish attendees aside, Corgan’s bid for acceptance in his acoustic Pumpkins guise was largely successful.

Pulling from the full breadth and depth of his work with the grunge-era band that was always all but nominally a solo project, and offering some deeper solo and ancillary project tunes as well, the sometimes taciturn Corgan employed the gorgeous and full-bodied acoustic properties of the Riviera Theatre to his advantage, whether performing on his own, or with the aid of a second guitarist and, later, a bassist.

Corgan sounded wonderful, his acoustic guitar filling the room with warm overtones and his voice – nasal, as always, but deeply emotive – benefiting from the uncluttered nature of the arrangements.

This was the first date in what was ostensibly the Smashing Pumpkins’ initial tour behind its latest effort, “Monuments to an Elegy,” released last December.

In reality, however, this was a Corgan solo show – the electric Smashing Pumpkins will be revealed later this summer, as part of a co-headlining tour with Marilyn Manson, which is not coming to Buffalo, alas. So the fact that we were treated to one of only eight stops on this acoustic tour was a bit of a godsend for the many Pumpkins/Corgan fans in Western New York.

What the man himself promised would be “two and a half hours of beautiful music” at the gig’s outset must surely have pleased them, at least in the main.

It must be said, however, that some of Corgan’s songs work beautifully as stripped-down acoustic affairs, and some don’t. There were times when the eclectic and electric and body-slamming version of the band would’ve been welcome.

Corgan opened with one that did. Seated at the piano, he pumped serious emotion into “Tonight, Tonight,” and brought the crowd to its feet in the process. Classics like “Today” and “99 Floors” sat comfortably against new fare in the form of “Drum & Fife” and “Being Beige.” Things were going well, until a groundswell of idle but obnoxious chatter began to interfere with the music, a fact noted by both Corgan and members of his audience that, presumably, figured they hadn’t come to the show to blather throughout it.

“Those of you talking – who is talking, raise your hand?” Corgan asked, prior to entering into a series of songs from the Pumpkins much-loved “Adore” album. Incredibly, many who were chatting away raised their hands in compliance. “Those of you talking, you might want to leave for these next songs, because they require listening,” Corgan continued. “I know these days, we fear intimacy, but I’m an actual person, and here I am.” This earned applause from most of the crowd, but still – how embarrassing is this? C’mon folks.

Early deadlines meant that I had to miss some of the show, which had begun to turn electric after 90 minutes – a drum machine was employed, and the tone turned heavier and darker, pleasingly so, just as I was forced to take my leave.

An intimate Smashing Pumpkins/Corgan show at the beautiful Riviera Theatre was certainly one of the feathers in our summer concert season cap. In the main, the show was excellent, emotionally charged, and worthy of Corgan’s stature as one of the most influential musicians to have emerged from the ’90s American alternative rock scene.

Let’s hope he knows that most of us appreciated his efforts at intimacy.


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