A relaxed confidence radiated from Smashing Pumpkins’ founder William Patrick Corgan as he sang “The Spaniards” lyrics “Take me as I am” during the first concert of a two-night stint at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago on Oct. 24. The show featured no band, no back-up singers, no fuss, no flair. There was only Corgan, armed with an acoustic guitar, a piano and an arsenal of poetic new songs from his latest solo album, Ogilala, and the result was a truly special performance in front of an adoring hometown crowd.
The concert was comprised of a pair of intimate sets; the first, a track-by-track live rendition of Ogilala – accentuated by a gorgeous cover of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” – and the second, a retrospective of Corgan’s entire discography including a rarity or two. Both portions found fans absorbed in the experience of watching the prolific songwriter finesse each moment with perfect precision.
The forceful strumming of “Half-Life of an Autodidact” set the stage for an impactful moment of lyrical perfection when Corgan delivered the a cappella line “40 years to finally wake up / And 9 more to sling the snakes out of you,” pausing to let listeners soak in the artistry. The Ogilala set finale, featuring the eternal love song “Archer” – soft and emotional in its entirety – found WPC addressing the crowd with more than a subtle “thank you” for the first time in the evening. “I really appreciate you being here tonight,” he said before joking that he’d be back to play a “bunch of songs written before you were born” in the second set.
Corgan foreshadowed the tone of the second portion of the concert by beginning with the delicate and wispy track “Starla” off the Smashing Pumpkins’ B-side compilation album, Pisces Iscariot. Deep cuts including “Annie-Dog” and “Winterlong” nestled in nicely with enchanting covers of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” (also featured on Pisces Iscariot) and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” which found Corgan transposing David Gilmour’s iconic guitar riffs to an ornate piano composition.
“These days I try not to talk too much because we all know where that leads,” Corgan joked in reference to his recent headline-making appearance on Howard Stern’s show. He continued on to share insight into his early songwriting days – during which he lived only a few blocks away from the Athenaeum Theatre – before dedicating the unreleased track “Come Undone” to his former life. After stripped down performances of many more tunes including “Soma,” “Drum + Fife” and “Stand Inside Your Love,” the second set came to its conclusion with a rousing take on “Tonight, Tonight.”
Cheers surfaced from every seat in the house as Corgan sang of his “city by the lake,” prior to a short but satisfying encore of “Spaceboy,” “Age of Innocence” and “Farewell and Goodnight” which sent fans away with a loving lullaby and the promise of even more musical magic awaiting at the next performance.
(Photos by Laurie Fanelli)