Smashing Pumpkins at Reading: rock karaoke or prog genius?

There’s nine-minute songs, endless guitar solos, an awe-inspiring light show... Smashing Pumpkins' headline appearance at Reading Festival was pure prog - but was it bad cabaret or awesome future-rock spectacle?

Billy Corgan, Jimmy Chamberlin and the session musicians come on just after 10pm. First thoughts: thank God the guitarist isn’t wearing his Dracula collar and cape. Second thoughts: this is some hard rock groove they’re pumping out. Opening song ‘United States’, the nine-minute opus on their comeback album ‘Zeitgeist’, is all stoner rock low slung guitars and a blindingly brilliant light show.

Throughout the whole of their set one of the best things about the performance is the lights. It’s as if the band are playing in an arcade machine designed by Philip K Dick, all flashing lights, metallic gantries and giant spotlights pointed at the audience and surging up far into the sky.

By the time the third track, the legendary ‘Today’, bursts out the crowd are going insane. While it’s admirable the band returned with a new album rather than merely retreading past glories, the songs we all want to hear are the classics, and we get quite a few – a frenetic ‘Zero’, a slow-burning ‘Bullet With Butterfly Wings’ and a sublime acoustic version of ‘1979’.

The band are tight but thankfully not too slick, and Corgan’s guitar work is lightning quick and virtuoso without being showy or at all ‘classic rock’. There are a good too many extended jams, though, including one particularly, ahem, ‘original’ section where the band backs down leaving Billy to perform ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ solo.

By the time they close with the thundering euphoria of ‘Cherub Rock’, all indiscretions have been forgotten. Whether you see Smashing Pumpkins in 2007 as their own tribute band or as a welcome addition to their legacy, it’s pretty much difficult not to be impressed by the power and sheer rock ferocity of their set, endless guitar solos and all.

Were you there? Let us know what you thought.

Words: Tom Pinnock


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