“…since we’re in San Francisco, we thought we’d do something special.” Bernard Sumner, singer and guitarist for New Order, as preface to an unexpected, second encore closer and cover of “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night. One of just a half dozen dates on this North American tour, the concert showed a band that has worked to refine their live set, with updated visuals as well as a bit of tweaking and reworking of what has become their usual selection of songs. It was definitely the best I’ve heard them in the past four years, and they seemed most energized during their performance of new song, “Plastic”. The sold out crowd of around 7,000 never stopped moving and bouncing as they ripped through a sequence of favorites at the end with “True Faith”, “The Perfect Kiss”, and “Blue Monday”. As has been tradition, they closed out with an encore of a few Joy Division covers, but the Scott McKenzie cover at the very end showed that they can still surprise when they are inspired to do so.
“I’m old; I need to catch my breath…” Words from the legendary Smashing Pumpkins founder and frontman Billy Corgan during a momentary pause, about two hours into a massive set which kicked off with their newly released Oceania (also the title of this tour), played front to back and in its entirety, followed by an awesome cover of Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, and well into live performances of their many, many classic hits. I think it was more of a breath of fresh air for the fans packed onto the floor of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium last night, who had the privilege of witnessing a true rock god at the top of his game, and in contrast to most popular music acts today: sans Auto-Tune, pre-recorded backing vocals, an army of dancers, and other artificial sweeteners. Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins are legendary for their layered, sweeping guitar-based sound and his unique, soul-baring vocals delivering authentic, sometimes fairly dark lyrics and sentiments. Ever the innovator, Billy Corgan continues to turn the music industry on its head, having essentially declared the album dead about four years ago, he now rebels against not the past, but the future. A strange era in music, but the Smashing Pumpkins keep doing their own thing in spite of changes and trends, and the Oceania-based concert last night was fantastic.