February 3, 2000

Pumpkins Light Up Denver Record Store

DENVER — "This is so worth the couple of weeks I'm gonna be grounded!" one high-school student yelled as the Smashing Pumpkins took the stage.

He was right. Though the Pumpkins played for just 45 minutes at Denver's Tower Records Wednesday night, they gave 500 fans a peek at the dawn of a new era for one of the United States' best rock bands. The show was the second in the band's recently undertaken, not-so-secret "secret tour."

Those who managed to get in found the Pumpkins to be gracious, affable, downright cheery, and more than benevolent as they sat for hours autographing posters for their forthcoming album, MACHINA/the machines of God, after the show.

"Did you have to step over people to get in here?" Billy Corgan asked the crowd.

Um, yeah. Despite strict no-lineup rules, fans from as far away as Canada started camping out the night before to make sure they got in. They were shooed away but never strayed far. About 1,000 people didn't make it inside, but to the crowd's credit, they only got rowdy when someone tried to cut in line; when police and fire marshals told them the building was full, they quietly went home.

But for those who were lucky enough to make it in, they discovered that perhaps the best Pumpkins music is yet to come; MACHINA's songs had the same melodic catchiness as some of the Pumpkins' finest work, in the "1979" or "Tonight Tonight" vein.

Corgan, in black velvet finery and with a stubbly chin but an egg-smooth head, was in a particularly jovial mood throughout the show, despite glitches that might have set him off years ago, including a reluctant keyboard that delayed the start of the Gish classic "Crush."

Newly added bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, formerly of Courtney Love's band Hole, was a particular delight. Where former bassist D'Arcy Wretzky's near-catatonic stage presence seemed to inhibit the band, Auf Der Maur was clearly thrilled to be onstage, tossing picks to fans and sassing right back at Corgan after he pointed out some of her bass flubs in "Today."

"Some people make mistakes, but they're really nice and talented anyway," Auf Der Maur pointed out sweetly.

"What's this hippie s--t you're spouting?" Corgan grinned back.

The only thing to rival Auf Der Maur's enthusiasm was the sight of a relaxed, grinning, healthy Jimmy Chamberlin, who received a standing ovation from fans after just one song.

"Look," he said during the autograph-signing session, pointing to an old picture of himself that a fan had brought. "I'm looking a lot better now than I was then!" And playing a lot better, too, Jimmy.

James Iha, on the other hand, was typically enigmatic, inexplicably carrying a large cutout Pokémon Pikachu onstage with him.

The seven-song set included only two oldies ("Today" and "Crush") and even skipped the first two MACHINA singles, "Everlasting Gaze" and "Stand Inside Your Love." Instead, the band opened with "This Time," a wistful acoustic ballad filled with tasteful Chamberlin fills over Corgan's insistent chorus "Crashing down, crashing down again."

Of the other new songs, "I of the Mourning" proved to be another jangly acoustic ballad, while "Age of Innocence" was a driving electric rocker, loose and light compared to much of the Pumpkins' denser, darker work. "Glass and the Ghost Children" was a brooding acoustic piece, ending with the repeated lines "And she counted the spiders/ As they crawled up inside her."

"You're probably too young to remember this one," Corgan teased audience members as he launched into "Today," before wrapping up the set with the hard-rock goof of "Heavy Metal Machine."

All in all, the Pumpkins were as delighted with themselves as the crowd was. It seemed to be a great moment of reconnection for the band members at a time when they've recently lost their management amid Sharon Osbourne's accusations of Corgan egomania. No mention was made of that incident Wednesday, with the possible exception of one Corgan comment onstage: "It's not easy being evil every day."

Of course, the band arrived with overkill; Pumpkins roadies had seven basses ready for Auf Der Maur, who ended up using only two of them, and the sound system they brought with them was big enough for a theater and too big for a store.

But the Pumpkins will need all that equipment soon enough.

"We're going to do a tour in April and May, so we'll be back," Corgan promised one fan. Mark Brown

Wall of Sound -