There’s probably not a rock star this side of Axl Rose that has as conflicted a relationship with his stardom as Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan. But where Axl seems to be at war with himself, Corgan sees himself at odds with his fans. “We’ve been pissing people off for 20 years,” he told the near sell-out aud at Gibson Amphitheater Wednesday night, after asking for their opinion of the show. “We’re not going to stop now.” In his next breath, he was pleading for understanding. “We’ve got a lot of music in us; don’t give up on us yet.”
There certainly was a lot of music: a celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary, the nearly three hour show, titled “White Crosses,” featured a completely different setlist from Tuesday’s “Black Sunshine.” It flitted from the melodic metal of “1979” (from the Pumpkins’ 1995 magnum opus, “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness”) to the thrashy, prog-rock expanse of “As Rome Burns,” with stops for moody, modern country-rock (“Owata”), chamber pop (“Disarm”), even a touch of Brazilian funk (the percussive interlude linking “Suffer” and “Age of Innocence”). Corgan even manages to surprise with a pair of covers, an emo-styled take of Paul Simon’s “The Sounds of Silence,” and a shambolic stroll through Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs “Li’l Red Riding Hood.”
It’s a mix that’s fascinating and tiresome in equal measures. Corgan isn’t quite as interesting a musician as he fancies himself; the jams run out of ideas long before they run out of steam and the show overstays its welcome by around 45 minutes.
While the concert is not the “greatest show on earth” Corgan claims it to be, he is a showman and an endlessly interesting presence. He takes the stage dressed in a black and gold, holding a plastic Jack O’Lantern, looking like some weird kid who has decided to trick or treat as Yul Brynner in “The King and I,” singing of “the souls I left behind.” And the better-known songs (all front-loaded) were given flatter perfs than the obscurities. He knows the impression he makes and occasionally punctures his pomposity — the crunching triple guitar rave up of “Gossamer” (with Dokken’s George Lynch sitting in) was followed by a mocking horn fanfare, and the ad nauseum scales that end the show dragged on so long they almost had to be a joke.