All photos courtesy Joe Stadele Photography. All rights reserved.
“The earth laughs beneath my heavy feet,
At the blasphemy in my old jangly walk,
Steeple guide me to my heart and home,
The sun is out and up and down again.”
While performing “Thirty-Three” on Wednesday night, it dawned on William Patrick Corgan the very steeple referenced in his Smashing Pumpkins’ hit was that atop the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, located right next door. On October 24th and 25th, Corgan returned to his Lakeview stomping grounds for a pair of shows at the Athenaeum Theatre. Though the neighborhood did spark a certain level of nostalgia in the singer-songwriter, Corgan’s primary focus was on his new album, Ogilala.
Since the early 2000’s, Corgan has dabbled with the idea of releasing an acoustic album. From Zwan’s Spun Soundtrack (2002) and Chicago Kid album (2004) to a selection of songs from The Smashing Pumpkins’ If All Goes Wrong (2008) documentary, Corgan has written, recorded and shelved a seemingly endless list of songs; some of which have only found light in concert or through bootlegs. He has never been one to musically rehash old glories. But while working on The Pumpkins reissues, he began to find a new appreciation of those formative years. In 2015 and 2016, he hit the road with a a pair of In Plainsong tours in which he re-envisioned songs from throughout his catalog in an acoustic-electro fashion. Meanwhile, he also become a father, made peace with former bandmates James Iha and D’Arcy Wretsky – and made time for a series of road trips throughout fly-over country USA. The result is the inspired Ogilala; Corgan’s most stripped-down album to date.
To translate the Ogilala-aesthetic to stage, simplicity was Corgan’s guiding light. To each side of the stage sat a keylight and sidebank of lights. Solid color backlights projected visuals against a sheer backdrop, which stretched the length of the stage. Centerstage, Corgan sat with just his piano, an acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica.
From Ogilala’s opening piano ballad “Zowie” to the sentimental lullaby “Archer,” Corgan kicked off both shows with a 40-minute performance of his new album, punctuated by a cover of Mark Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter.” After a brief intermission, he would return with a 70-minute set of songs pulled from nearly every pocket of his career. For those in attendance both nights, Corgan rewarded fans with two unique sets. (The setlists are listed below.)
On both nights, Corgan struck a fine balance between playing into fan expectations and selecting songs that felt a little closer to his heart. The audience got their dose of sing-alongs “Soma,” “Stand Inside Your Love” and “Tonight, Tonight” on night 1, “Disarm” and “1979” on night 2. While performing “Today” on his signature Yamaha acoustic Wednesday night, Corgan even caught the audience vocalizing the Fender squeal of the chorus; even allowing pause with a laugh to allow for the audience fill. But what was most exciting was hearing the deeper cuts in their near skeletal form. Songs like “Starla” and “Oceania” retained their heart and epic nature when performed on piano. The mammoth “Gossamer” – a song that can stretch from 20-35 minutes live – was condensed into a 6-minute display of acoustic guitar attack virtuosity.
Notably, it was Corgan’s choice of closers, unreleased songs and covers that felt most revealing. Tuesday’s performance was capped by the James Iha penned “Farewell and Goodnight.” Wednesday’s performance concluded with an acoustic “Soot and Stars” – in which Corgan projected a level of empathy and sadness into his vocal as he sang of missteps, acceptance, and the need to move forward. During Tuesday’s show, he lamented living down the street in the big purple house across from James and D’Arcy, even dedicating “Come Undone” (unreleased) to his “former” bandmates. And with his performance of the unreleased “Chicago,” he perfectly summarized all that comes with being part, and apart, from the expectations of his hometown. His covers of “I Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd, Neil Young’s “After The Goldrush” and Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” seemed to reflect Corgan’s current headspace; one in search of peace, hope, truth and reconciliation. For the fans that filled Athenaeum Theatre, it is those characteristics that have continued to draw them back to William Patrick Corgan’s music, again and again. And for the eternally unsatisfied that simply want their old Billy back, well, 2018 may shake out to be a good year for “The” Smashing Pumpkins. Did someone just say, “Arising Tour 2.0?”
Corgan will continue on the road through November. For more information on Ogilala, accompanying silent-film ‘Pillbox’ and upcoming tour dates, goto ogilala.com.
Set One: Ogilala Live
The Long Goodbye
Half-Life of an Autodidact
If I Were A Carpenter [Tim Hardin cover]
October 24th: Set Two
Until I Died of a Broken Heart
Landslide [Fleetwood Mac cover]
Come Undone [Unreleased/Chicago Kid]
Wish You Were Here [Pink Floyd cover]
Drum and Fife
Stand Inside Your Love
Age of Innocence
Farewell and Goodnight
October 25th: Set Two
Now and Then
After the Goldrush [Neil Young cover]
Full Sail [Unreleased/Monuments to An Elegy]
Friends as Lovers, Lovers as Friends
Chicago [Unreleased/Chicago Kid]
Wrecking Ball [Mylie Cyrus cover]
Soot and Stars