Smashing Pumpkins at Utilita Arena Birmingham review - 90s nostalgia with a taste of today

The Smashing Pumpkins
-Credit: (Image: Paul Elledge)

I was a mere 17 years old, a spotty A-level student in rural Shropshire, when Chicago rockers The Smashing Pumpkins released their seminal global smash Siamese Dream in 1993.

I absolutely loved the album back then and still do to this day. So, it is to my eternal shame that it has taken me 31 years to finally get around to seeing them live.

Sporting their most recognisable line up, lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter Billy Corgan took to the Utilita Arena Birmingham stage alongside guitarist James Iha and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin as they kicked off the 2024 dates on their The World is a Vampire tour.

If you have seen Corgan's recent musings in the music press, you will know he has been keen to play down the 2024 shows slipping lazily into a greatest hits set list of songs predominantly from the band's 1990s heyday.

Read more: Smashing Pumpkins halt Birmingham show as guitarist says 'I'm trying'

This stance is not helped by the presence of Weezer and Rage Against the Machine's guitarist Tom Morello among the line up of support acts.

I'm afraid Mr Corgan is fooling no-one as tonight's show was peppered with stand out classics, the names of which roll off the tongue like a student union jukebox before Facebook and iPhones were invented.

Tonight, Tonight, 1979, Disarm, Mayonnaise, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, Ava Adore…. Truth be told, you can never go wrong with such a setlist and deep down the band must know it.

Songs like Disarm and Tonight, Tonight turned the Utilita Arena into a giant karaoke booth while Today, arguably the Pumpkins' most famous hit single, was just glorious.

It was a brave move to place this fourth in the setlist and it was greeted by a sea of mobile phones as fans clamoured to capture the moment.

This was preceded by a wholly unexpected cover of Zoo Station by U2 (NB: another 90s classic) which came to a crunching conclusion with some hefty drumming from Chamberlin.

They even threw in Rhinoceros from their 1991 debut album Gish while the iconic Cherub Rock was saved for the penultimate slot.

Famous for its long intro which kicks off the Siamese Dream album in such recognisable fashion, it felt kind of weird to hear it as one of the last songs - like my musical memories in reverse.

Their latest album, the self-proclaimed rock opera Atum, also enjoyed an airing with performances of Empires, Springtimes and Beguiled.

The omission of Hummer from the setlist was a big disappointment for me personally but I'm allowed to nitpick.

A nod and a hat tip must go to support act Weezer. They played just over an hour, thoroughly warming the crowd up and bringing their set to a close with their monster hit Buddy Holly.

They were excellent and it was great to see they had so many fans in the audience despite being the support act.

There were very few frills in the performance. Aside from the dazzling light show, The Smashing Pumpkins just sort of exist on stage.

Maybe it is born out of their 30+ years together, their changing attitude to performing over time or that they would simply rather let the music do the talking.

James Iha, happy to share MC duties with Corgan, left the obligatory band introduction - a line up which includes newly hired guitarist and Taylor Swift's former drummer Kiki Wong - until ten minutes before the end.

The Smashing Pumpkins' lead singer and songwriter Billy Corgan on stage at Download Festival in 2019
The Smashing Pumpkins' lead singer and songwriter Billy Corgan on stage at Download Festival in 2019 - the band's last live show in the UK before the current tour -Credit:Joseph Raynor/Nottingham Post

There was no encore and even their bows were a bit lacklustre except for Corgan who stayed on stage to acknowledge the fans and spend some quality time with, randomly, a young child who I assume was his son.

It was never really explained why what looked like a ten year old boy made two appearances during the show.

It's been a while since the band hit these shores as their last UK gig was in 2019 at Download Festival and it has been even longer since they conducted a full tour here.

And however much The Smashing Pumpkins and bands of their ilk, such as Weezer and Rage Against the Machine may wish to try, they will never escape their 1990s heyday.

Nor should they. It's what makes them the top performers they are and cements their enduring legacy among a new generation of younger fans and 40-somethings like me.