The Smashing Pumpkins never shied away from blending the soft and the heavy into a seamless mish-mash. | Credit: Tom Long

There we were on Friday the 13th at the Santa Barbara Bowl, as the Smashing Pumpkins’ self-described “creepy vampire,” William Patrick Corgan, emerged onstage to Kubrickian flourishes. While founding guitarist James Iha crafted a running joke about the town’s “moderate temperatures” feeling too nice for rock ’n’ roll, there were some environmental cues that the devil’s music would reign alongside the “Cherub Rock” on this superstitious date. After all, a near-full moon — waxing gibbous at 92.2 percent — hovered over the outdoor amphitheater filled to the brim with Pumpkinheads, if the omnipresent SP merch was any indication. 

Long before the mix and match of aesthetics like pastel goth or dark fairycore, there were the Smashing Pumpkins, who never shied away from blending the soft and the heavy into a seamless mish-mash. Yet, amid the band’s prismatic relationship to genre agnosticism, the, well, heaviest emphasis was on metal at the Bowl. Between a pre-show soundtrack spinning bands like Mercyful Fate and, later, Corgan’s cheeky direction to emulate Eddie Van Halen during “Ava Adore,” the shred was strong in “Riffland” on this night. Rumors of the front man’s voice being shot were given the metaphorical middle finger as his inimitably nasal snarl reverberated in pristine form.

Credit: Tom Long

In perhaps the most delightful moment amid this album-hopping set list, it takes a moment to clock that the hostile dirge in the mid-section is a cover of none other than Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” The alt titans ripped the guts out of the original’s composition and stitched back together a bloody rendering in its wake. Pinned to the back-and-forth of Corgan and Iha’s confrontational delivery, the pop masterwork was wholly transmogrified by the group’s menacing approach to angst — with enough self-awareness to pull it off with a wink. 

That doesn’t mean the show didn’t have its softer moments. While faithful renditions of crowd-pleasing anthems dotted the set, the grandiose opus known as “Tonight, Tonight” shrank into an acoustic reinterpretation with just Corgan and Iha onstage, and it turned into an amphitheater-wide singalong. Meanwhile, the members compartmentalized the orchestral opulence of “Disarm” into synth form. With three-quarters of the original lineup intact, the Pumpkins’ post-reunion showcase proved to be not so much a return to form as an update to it.

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