“The Smashing Pumpkins knocked my socks off, what about you?,” said guest performer, songwriter and Nashville mainstay Billy Swan during the alternative rocker’s encore on Saturday, April 16, 2016 at the Ryman Auditorium in Music City. This singular statement alone should finally to put to rest the idea that this city is only a one-horse town when it comes to supporting music genres.
Yes, Nashville is known as the Country Music Capitol of the World and the Ryman is called the Mother Church of Country Music. But, these true and sometimes hindering labels really no longer have a place in the fastest growing region of the United States that is not just seeing its skyline expand but also the scope of its musical embrace. During the knockout weekend performance by The Smashing Pumpkins we observed the most boisterous and enthusiastic crowd response yet at the venue – and given its musical history – that’s saying something.
Corgan emerged shortly before 9 p.m. in front of a dreamscape forest background and armed with an acoustic guitar. He opened the second stint of his acoustic-electro ‘In Plainsong’ tour with an impressive one-two punch of “Cardinal Rule” and “Stumbleine” which proved that the performer is powerful as a solo artist when he’s not fronting his band projects.
Next up was a stripped down version of “Tonight, Tonight” that served to remind everyone just how big The Smashing Pumpkins were in their 90’s heyday as darlings of the alternative scene. “The World’s Fair” was thrilling with its crafty wordplay and enlightening insight.
Corgan’s act slowly grew in scope as he was joined by bandmate Jeff Schroeder on guitar for a fitting tribute to the recently departed David Bowie with a convincing cover of the Thin White Duke’s “Space Oddity”. Opener Liz Phair joined the pair singing background vocals on the next number “Thirty-Three”.
Corgan explained how the ‘In Plainsong’ series features selections from specific albums and on this tour they would be pulling from the fan-favorite Siamese Dream. Included in the suite was “Today” that had everyone feeling grateful and singing along. The back-to-back pairing of “Rocket” and “Spaceboy” kept the otherworldly theme moving forward.
In fact the dark and ethereal mood lighting and charged up strobes later in the show gave one the feel that this performance was taking place somewhere not quite of this world. The pink light that bathed the stage for the first few songs gave way to a deeper rouge later on that was downright demonic. The multiple changing backdrops enhanced this concept throughout the concert.
The full five-piece of – Billy Corgan/lead vocals, guitars, keyboards, bass guitar; Jimmy Chamberlin/drums, percussion, backing vocals; Jeff Schroeder/guitars, keyboards, backing vocals; Katie Cole/various instrument, vocals; and, Sierra Swan/various instruments, vocals – were featured during the second half of the evening’s two and a quarter hour musical exploration. By the time the signature “1979” was complete the packed to capacity Ryman Auditorium attendees had just about lost their minds with fans screaming their heartfelt approval for the group’s biggest song.
As mentioned, the band were joined by Nashville’s Billy Swan for a rendition of his hit “I Can Help” from 1974. Fans in the row behind us were somewhat befuddled thinking this was a random way to end the concert but the best explanation for the guest slot was that Swan’s daughter is currently a touring member of The Smashing Pumpkins so it was nothing more than a Music City family reunion taking place.
The final song of the night was a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Angie” that was a poignant way to end it because The Smashing Pumpkins impressively left it all on the stage on this night. You can’t say they didn’t try to convert the Capitol of Country Music to their way of thinking. On that note, it was time for them to say goodbye – at least until they’re ready to rock the banks of the Cumberland once again.
Opening for The Smashing Pumpkins on this tour was the sparkly clad Liz Phair who changed her outfit at the last moment to be more venue appropriate. She played about a dozen lo-fi songs changing from acoustic to electric guitar several times throughout her set. The pretty Phair in ripped blue jeans sang mostly about sex, relationships and divorce as she applied her aggressive rhythm method to bolster her stories.
The Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville is the “Mother Church of Country Music” but she continues to host a wide range of artists such as The Smashing Pumpkins. The venue reflects its history with wooden pew seating paired with modern lighting and sound. Some consider it one of the best sounding rooms in the States. Upcoming events at the Ryman include Boz Scaggs, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon and Mudcrutch.
SETLIST: Cardinal Rule | Stumbleine | Tonight, Tonight | The World’s Fair (Billy Corgan song) | Space Oddity (David Bowie cover) | Thirty-Three (with Liz Phair) | Jesus, I / Mary Star of the Sea (Zwan cover) | Mayonaise (Beginning of the ‘Siamese Suite’) | Soma | Rocket | Spaceboy | Today | Whir | Disarm (End of the ‘Siamese Suite’) | Sorrows (In Blue) (Billy Corgan song) | Eye | Saturnine | Identify (Natalie Imbruglia cover) | 1979 | Stand Inside Your Love | Pinwheels | Lily (My One and Only) | Malibu (Hole cover) | The Spaniards | Encore | I Can Help (Billy Swan cover) (with Billy Swan) | Angie (The Rolling Stones cover)