With the cloud of anticipation lifted, the Smashing Pumpkins stormed into Kent State's MAC Center last Sunday night with unrivaled fury and proceeded to put on one of the best live shows so far this year in Northeastern Ohio. Yes, the same Pumpkins who stunk up the Lollapalooza and H.O.R.D.E. tours exceeded expectations with a powerful arena-rock set, in which they let their imaginative guitar playing run wild all over the intimate gym venue. Led by the nasally vocals of Billy Corgan (wearing a leather Matrix-looking dress/outfit), the Chicago-based group showcased material from its new disc MACHINA/The Machines of God. But the true magic could be found in their impressive chops. From embellished guitar riffs played by both Corgan and James Iha to extended jams, new tunes such as "Heavy Metal Machine," "The Everlasting Gaze," and "Blue Skies Bring Tears" were explored further and delivered in a new light.
The performance was complemented by an effective light show that accurately displayed the blistering chaos created on stage. With its edgy guitars and screaming lyrics, "Zero" was taken to new heights with a barrage of strobe lights that pushed it over the top. In theory, a cover of David Essex's "Rock On" wouldn't appear to work as rendered by the Pumpkins. But given Corgan's tongue-in-cheek version of the track (after all, Corgan is a rock star, and he knows it), the lyrics "Hey kids rock and roll, rock on" proved fitting as Iha reworked the track. When Corgan briefly delved into Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some," he solidified this '70s homage as a high point for the show.
Other standouts included the raging "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," complete with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin's tribal drumbeats and a blitzkrieg of screeching guitars and howling vocals, and the 10-minute-plus jam, "Glass and the Ghost Children." The latter track's rawness varied, as gentle moments were eclipsed by roaring guitars. What may have been perceived as pretentious on previous tours -- Corgan's pontificating and excessive jamming -- came across as earnest this time around.