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Billy Corgan reminds Midland audience about Smashing Pumpkins’ relevance

Front man for the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan
Front man for the Smashing Pumpkins Billy Corgan File photo

Billy Corgan offered some unusual advice near the beginning of Monday’s extremely odd yet entirely successful Smashing Pumpkins concert at the Midland theater.

“I’m warning you now, it’s a long show,” Corgan said. “You applaud that now, but in two hours and 20 minutes you may feel differently.”

The lengthy performance defied the expectations of many members of the audience of about 2,000.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ abrasive songs about alienation and despair made it one of the most popular rock bands of the 1990s. Gorgeous renditions of the ensemble’s angst-ridden material were delivered with good cheer on Monday.

Corgan was uncharacteristically serene. Long before his fellow Chicagoan Kanye West became known as a feckless loudmouth, Billy Corgan was compulsively issuing shrill declarations on a myriad of subjects.

The irascible artist flashed his famous temper at the Midland only when fans began shouting unsolicited requests.

“Despite your protestations, I’m gonna do what I … want to,” he said.

One of eight dates on the Smashing Pumpkins’ “In Plainsong: An Acoustic-Electro Evening” tour, the concert omitted rock-oriented hits including “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings.”

Corgan’s attempt to rescue songs from obscurity while making a case for the ongoing vitality of his band was effective.

The concert began with Corgan’s solo interpretation of “Tonight, Tonight,” a composition from the tellingly titled “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” one of four platinum albums the Smashing Pumpkins released in the 1990s. Corgan resembled a sophisticated cabaret artist as he played piano on the elegant reading of the song.

After switching to acoustic guitars for the next four selections, he was joined by guitarist Jeff Schroeder on “For Your Love,” a gem from Corgan’s stint with the band Zwan. Corgan added an impressive guitar solo to the romantic song. He’d later demonstrate similar adroitness on the ukulele and electric bass.

Vocalist and instrumentalist Katie Cole first appeared about 70 minutes into the concert. Neither Schroeder nor Cole was an original member of the band, but the pretense that the Smashing Pumpkins is anything other than Corgan’s project vanished years ago.

Backing tracks were applied to several selections. The prerecorded sounds muddled a rendition of “1979” but allowed Corgan to indulge in theatrical posturing on a majestic version of “The Crying Tree of Mercury.”

Reeling like an unhinged participant at a gothic karaoke bar, Corgan reminded the audience that he remains one of rock’s most formidable eccentrics.