You go to a Smashing Pumpkins show to bask in bitterness and confusion. It's a place where sadness and self-loathing is plentiful, and loud. Where fragile daydreams give way - as you expect and want them to - to endless nightmares of the soul, fed through a fearsome electric machine of steel, wires, and amplifiers. It's a bleak purgatory where, despite all your rage, you're still just a rat in a cage.
What you don't expect is for the purest distillation of this frustration to come after you've experienced 2 1/2 carefully cultivated hours of dark melodrama writ large. And the house lights come up without an encore. And then, bizarrely, an unknown guy (a comedian, perhaps?) dressed in a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, wearing mock Manny Ramirez dreadlocks and clutching a broom, comes onstage to blast Boston. He ridicules Pumpkins' lead singer-guitarist Billy Corgan for his baldness and "whiny nasal voice" while he's at it, before being shooed away by Corgan, the good guy in a white tiered skirt.
With sarcasm, scorn, and maybe even some hurt feelings, Corgan explained the reason for the absence of an encore. "We just came back from Europe," he said. "And they've got this concept called cheering."
Truth be told, it might have been the Pumpkins' 15-minute guitar feedback-and-timpani-laced excursion into Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" - a ravishingly malevolent psychedelic piece of performance art - that stunned people into submission.
These days, the original band is down to just Corgan, who looked like an ungainly bird of prey hunched over his guitar in his white "Zero" shirt, and once-ousted powerhouse drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. But the new Pumpkins - bassist Ginger Reyes; guitarist Jeff Schroeder, and keyboardist Lisa Harriton (plus an occasional horn section and violinist) - did an admirable job of lending Blitzkrieg muscle and strange beauty to warhorses like "Siva" and "Tonight, Tonight." The latter sounded like one big glittering crescendo, with the kind of epic arrangement Corgan builds his dreams around.
Then came the darkness and the blinding cruelty of those house lights. Corgan delivered a monologue about marketing and showbiz and then, fences apparently mended, the rest of the band came out to sing "We Only Come Out at Night," accompanying themselves on kazoos. A tender-yet-mocking rendition of "Everything Is Beautiful" ended the evening with Corgan serenading the crowd, shaking hands with the front rows like a presidential candidate, and pronouncing his love for his audience. It was probably the prudent thing to do.