There was no way any amount of rain was going to prevent the sold-out Stubb’s crowd from enjoying their night of both ’90s and ’80s nostalgia, sort of. Monday’s concert headliner, the alternative rock icons Smashing Pumpkins, looked and sounded like themselves from afar, but only one-fourth of the original band from their heyday was on stage. The tour opener, Bad City, brought hair-metal stylings straight from the ’80s, but the only thing the band’s members probably experienced in that decade was birth. Still, there was no better place to be than right here in Austin at Stubb’s Monday night. Even if you have seen this tour, Austin’s got its own unique experience that no other city has.
As the large crowd waited for what was probably some unknown opening act for the Pumpkins, the rain started to come down just a little harder than it did at door time. Just as everyone fought their way up to the half-dome cover above the Stubb’s outdoor stage, Bad City took the stage and riffed away on tunes from their debut album, Welcome To The Wasteland.
At this point, there are not many bands I haven’t heard of before I go to concert, so I knew what to expect. This is also what makes this fun when people watching, especially at big shows that draw many casual fans, or what I refer to as the “radio audience.” As I looked around me, looks of both bewilderment and looks of shock at what they were hearing. Bad City just came at them with their in-your-face party-rock and frontman Josh Caddy’s bleach blonde hair flailing around.
Midway into their set is when attendees really started embracing Bad City. Guitar legend Eric Johnson certainly did. The blues guitar legend, who is based in Austin, sat in with Bad City for a few songs. In what was a previously unannounced, totally impromptu move, Johnson sparked loud cheers and screams from the crowd. The whole thing was set up Sunday night at Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse in Austin when Caddy was having dinner. After realizing he was sitting next to Johnson, Caddy sparked up a conversation about being huge fan and of course about Bad City and the show at Stubb’s. Without a copy of the album to pass along, the two exchanged contact information after Caddy extended an invitation to join his band on stage. Johnson returned the call, liked their music and as you can see form our photos, that was all she wrote. After Bad City ended with their lead single, “Wildlife,” they left the stage with a lot of new fans in Austin.
Only a band of Smashing Pumpkins’ stature and catalog could follow a band like Bad City. Frontman and guitarist Billy Corgan was the only original member on stage. Gone were the Jimmy Chamberlains and James Ihas. No D’Arcy Wretzsky on bass either. Having seen the Pumpkins on multiple occasions since the early ’90s, I felt as if I were watching the Billy Corgan Show, featuring the music of Smashing Pumpkins. Billy was there singing and playing guitar, next to another female bassist (Nicole Fiorentino) and a young kid playing drums with a Karate Kid headband (Michael Bryne). Jeff Schroeder, a member since 2007, was also on guitar.
The crowd on the other hand, avid lovers of the songs themselves and of Corgan, cared not. Each time Corgan and company played one of the seminal band’s hit singles, it got louder either with screams of joy or because of attendees singing along. Set to a beautifully designed and lit backdrop of mirrored fan blades and multicolored strobe lights, the music has never looked this good before. The only thing new to experience was a couple of Billy Corgan’s songs, including the disappointing “Spangled.”
The rest songs was the Pumpkins’ catalog of greatest hits, minus “1979,” but still it was not the same for this Pumpkins purist. Perhaps it’s because I got to experience the original Smashing Pumpkins in the ’90s on multiple occasions that I may not ever be able to truly enjoy a set from this band posing as Pumpkins. It wasn’t as bad of a feeling that I got when I saw Axl Rose alongside new members of Guns ‘N Roses, one of them being a guy with a KFC bucket on his head, but it was pretty close. It was also difficult to stomach the encore the crowd called for. The encore was Corgan and Schroeder playing with their guitar pedals, overdoing spacey guitar notes. The encore was too long and people really seemed to cheer out of respect and nostalgia. That is what they paid for after all, the nostalgia to relive a time when rock was good. Despite this concert, we’ll always have the Pumpkins for that.