On stage at the PNC Bank Arts Center last night, Billy Corgan recalled how someone, after the previous evening’s show at Madison Square Garden, asked him why the Smashing Pumpkins were playing their special 30th anniversary show in New Jersey, of all places. He explained that it was because New Jersey knew how to rock, knew how to party, and had supported the Pumpkins early on. (They played Maxwell’s in early 1991, before their debut album, Gish, came out.) Whatever the reason, those who skipped the NYC show to see them at the amphitheater in Holmdel were treated to a lively (semi-)reunion packed with cameos.
The weirdest one? That would be Mark McGrath, who came onstage in a tropical shirt and belted out Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” It was so freaking weird (though, truthfully, no weirder than Corgan’s side gig as a wrestling impresario and his appearances on Infowars) that halfway through, McGrath actually had to tell the audience “This is happening.”
After calling Corgan the Brian Wilson of his generation and the Pumpkins the greatest band of all-time, McGrath launched into a cover of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” with them. Okay, then!
That wasn’t the night’s only weird nod to classic rock. The Pumpkins also did a fairly spot-on cover of “Stairway to Heaven,” blatantly ignoring the guitar-store guy from Wayne’s World. (Actually, Corgan played piano.)
— Smashing Pumpkins (@SmashingPumpkin) August 3, 2018
Then there was Courtney Love. The Hole rocker and Corgan have been notoriously at odds over the years, in part because Love allegedly used a couple of Corgan-penned tracks on her solo album without asking for permission. But Corgan introduced her as “one of my favorite people in the world. We’ve made love, we’ve not made love. We’ve made up, we’ve broken up. We’re back together again, like George and Tammy.”
Love, wearing a Gucci tiara reminiscent of the Live Through This cover, in turn described Corgan as her “nemesis, best friend, lover, and what a lover… worst friend, best friend, protector, career-maker, I love this man with all my soul. And he co-wrote, like, the songs that keep me sustained.” Then she launched into rusty renditions of two of them: “Celebrity Skin,” which she admitted was “mostly written by Billy Corgan,” and “Malibu,” which she described as “a song I wrote for Stevie Nicks and then Billy made it so good I kept it for myself.”
Love bantered with Corgan some more before the next song, confirming that she was only allowed to sing the chorus of “Bullet with Butterfly Wings.” She ended the song worshipfully on her knees, as you can see below, and eventually returned to the stage to help Joy Division bassist Peter Hook (father of Pumpkins tour bassist Jack Bates) with a cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Hook, whose polo shirt and khaki shorts were the antithesis of Corgan’s glam getup, also sang a New Order cover, “Age of Consent,” and played bass on Joy Division’s “Transmission” as Davey Havok of AFI did his best Ian Curtis.
Oh, and there were Smashing Pumpkins songs, too. The band played two of their signature hits, “1979” and “Cherub Rock” (the album of the same name turned 25 last week) with Dave Keuning and Mark Stoermer of The Killers. You can see the 28-song setlist here.