Dream Setlist: Smashing Pumpkins

Dream Setlist: Smashing Pumpkins

It’s the return of our “Dream Setlist” segment, and it’s a big one. Today, Andrew from Brooklyn takes on the catalogue of his favorite band, alt-rock legends, Smashing Pumpkins. Dust off your Zero shirts for this one:

It’s no secret that I’m a Smashing Pumpkins fan. Whether we’re lifelong friends or have shared just one passing experience, odds are that I brought up my favorite band during our time together. Billy Corgan’s cutting voice and relatable lyrics, Jimmy Chamberlin’s mind blowing jazz-inspired drumming, and the dulcet harmonies of James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky all combine to form a body of work that’s been an integral part of my own personal development over the past decade.

I wear my SP fandom on my sleeve because it reminds me of who I am. I was in a bad place that dark December afternoon when my fifteen-year-old self found an old scratched up double-disc CD copy of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. The LP was in such bad condition that the cashier gave it to me for free, but the tracks downloaded to my laptop regardless. The next six months became what I view as the first period of self-realization in my young adult life, and for each subsequent breakthrough, Mellon Collie was the soundtrack. I wore a permanent smile for a week and change after seeing them live for the first time later that year at New York’s Terminal 5. It was so liberating to be amongst my people, all come together to revel in our shared love for our favorite band.

Asking me to make a dream setlist for Smashing Pumpkins is a tall task…that is, if you don’t allow me to say “a two-hour performance of Mellon Collie in full.” That said, I will take Mellon Collie’s run time of 28 tracks as the basis for this setlist. As for the setting, I’ll choose Chicago’s iconic Metro Theatre, because to paraphrase Corgan regarding his hometown venue: once you’ve sold out the Metro, you know you’ve made it. So here we go: Andrew from Brooklyn’s dream Smashing Pumpkins setlist opens with…

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1. “Tonight, Tonight”

From the first full song off of Mellon Collie following an eponymous instrumental intro, the sweeping strings and swells of “Tonight, Tonight” are your hosts for the proceedings, beckoning you into the show with their open arms. It’s the perfect way to set the tone for an evening where “the impossible is possibletonight, tonight.”

2. “Tristessa”

1991’s Gish was an absolute stunner of a debut album, and clean cut rock and roll gems like “Tristessa” are the reason why. That thunderous riff throws the crowd at the Metro into a frenzy, leaving little doubt: we’re in for a good one tonight.

3. “Geek U.S.A.”

One of the greatest rock drumming performances in music history follows “Tristessa.” I’m constantly in awe of Jimmy Chamberlin’s talent, which is never more apparent than on this classic from Siamese Dream. Remember what I said about us being in for a good one? I rest my case.

4. “Starla”

Whoa, that was hectic. Better slow it down a bit with this dreamy 11-minute odyssey off of 1994’s rarities and B-sides collection Pisces Iscariot. Originally the B-side to SP’s first single “I Am One,” “Starla” is a song that builds and builds over its course, never dragging for a moment. The wonderfully diverse setlist of the first SP show I ever saw included this played in full. It was an absolute treat for a young man seeing his favorite band for the first time to bond with other fans over the band’s back catalogue. I’d be remiss to keep it out of my Dream Setlist.

5. “Muzzle”

Now that we’ve all caught our breath, how about a sing-along? “Muzzle” is one of my favorite songs off Mellon Collie, and of the entire Pumpkins catalogue. Imagine a crowd of people singing all together, “my life has been extraordinary / blessed and cursed and won…”

6. “Rhinoceros”

We’re taking it back to Gish for another dreamy, slow builder, similar to “Starla.” This beauty was the third track off the band’s first record. Album tracklists are a lot like baseball lineups, and this was to Gish what Mark Grace was to the 1991 Chicago Cubs, coming right at the heart of the order.

7. “Frail & Bedazzled”

We return to Pisces Iscariot for this cutting room floor sizzler that would have been right at home on Siamese Dream. That’s what happens when you have too many good songs for one record! Some have to get left by the wayside, but that’s a good problem to have.

8. “Bodies”

Track two off Mellon Collie’s second disc is as haunting as it is powerful, with its refrain of “love is suicide” hitting home for a lot of the young and disenfranchised romantics that make up a hefty portion of SP’s listener base. It’s okay, y’all. We’re all here together.

9. “Stand Inside Your Love”

2000’s Machina: The Machines of God is an underrated album, and it provided some great singles like this one. What I wouldn’t give to shout this chorus in unison with a thousand of my peers!

10. “To Sheila”

You didn’t think we’d forget Adore, did you? The opening track to SP’s fourth album was conceived, according to Corgan, on a tour bus with a pungent driver going through Polish countryside. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch the breath you lost singing along to “Stand Inside Your Love.”

11. “Glynis”

We’ve been going hard this set, so it’s time to take a chill period. This is one of the band’s sweetest songs, and also a rarer one, as it appeared not a Pumpkins record but on the 1993 alt-rock charity compilation No Alternative. If you haven’t heard it, you’re welcome. Let it soothe away your pain.

12. “Snail”

Ready to sing again? Good! This is my favorite song off Gish, something Jason Bateman and I have in common (he used the song at the end of his directorial debut, the 2013 film Bad Words). To me, this song signifies summer sun melting stress away. And boy, would I love that right about now during this dull winter!

13. “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans”

“Porcelina” is an absolute voyage. I’ve never heard it live, but I would practically die for the chance to be taken away on the wings of its lush, peach-fuzzed, blissed-out riffs.

14. “Cherub Rock”

The first SP song I ever heard remains one of the most played tracks on my iTunes, and for good reason: my happy place exists somewhere between the third verse and the final chorus.

15. “The Everlasting Gaze”

Better open up the mosh for this one. The lead single off Machina is a thunderous dose of heavy metal magic, never better than at the point where Corgan goes a capella for a verse, only for the instrumentation to return and swallow him whole.

16. “Panopticon”

2012’s Oceania is a snapshot into a time in the band’s career when, despite the sea of turbulence around them, they remained steady. The closest thing Billy Corgan had to a stable supporting cast between 2005 and the quasi-full band reunion of 2018 was the period of recording this oft-overlooked album, and if you were wondering if stability breeds success, well, look no further than this beauty. This song is my favorite of the Oceania era, a period which I believe will stand the test of time.

17. “Here Is No Why”

This is what I imagine living inside of a Milky Way candy bar to feel like. Smooth, sweet, and intense, with lots of nougat. I’m still not totally sure what nougat actually is, but the sonic equivalent to its taste is what I find in the comforting arms of this song.

18. “Bury Me”

If “Rhinoceros” was to Gish what Mark Grace was to the 1991 Chicago Cubs, “Bury Me” is its George Bell: the powerful cleanup hitter that packs a punch. Actually, I’d say the outro is indicative of Bell’s 1987 season, when he won the AL MVP with the Toronto Blue Jaysit’s just that good.

19. “Silverfuck”

The outro of “Bury Me” straight into the intro of “Silverfuck?” You’d have a hard time bringing me back to earth after that. This song is relentless in the best way, letting up only to allow you to catch your breath before hitting you again with primal drums and spectacular guitar solos from both Corgan and Iha. Who could resist chanting along to that breakdown?

20. “Galapogos”

Yeah, we need a rest after that run of songs. Why not this beauty? If you’ve got any pent up sadness left, now’s the time to cry it out. What makes SP great is how they can jump from fast and frenetic to slow and dulcet, and here’s a prime example of the latter.

21. “Try, Try, Try”

From the first time I ever heard Machina, this song affected me in a way that I can’t really put words to. It does that “happy and sad” thing that Kacey Musgraves sings about to perfection. There’s an uncanny mix of desperation and hope that just echoes from this tune straight into the listener’s soul. Bravo.

22. “For Martha”

They’ve broken us down with the hard stuff, and softened us up with the sweet. Now that we’re feeling nice and vulnerable, it’s time to bring the hammer down. It takes a great deal of trust from Billy to sit solo on the piano, singing this ballad he wrote for his motherat times a difficult mood to cultivate. But we are here to trust and be trusted, and Billy and the crowd have given themselves to each other throughout the show. So sing with me, Pumpkins fans: “if you have to go, ah well, goodbye / someday I’ll follow you, and see you on the other side.”

23. “Landslide”

That was as personal as you can get, so let’s get out of our heads for a moment with the only song of this setlist that Billy Corgan didn’t write: their spectacular cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” that is featured on Pisces Iscariot. (Spoiler alert: I prefer this to the original. Sorry, Stevie!)

24. “Thru The Eyes of Ruby”

This one is lifted straight from that Terminal 5 set when I first saw SP. It was the highlight of not only the show, but perhaps of my entire year. Nothing beats swaying in a group of like-minded youths, screaming “the night has come to hold us young!” over and over.

25. “Drown”

Boy what I wouldn’t give to see this one. “Drown” is the Pumpkins’ contribution to the soundtrack of Singles, the 1992 romantic comedy from my favorite director, Cameron Crowe. This movie soundtrack happens to be my favorite in history, and this track happens to be the credits song for that film. I’m gonna stop talking about this before I start because I could go on for FAR too long, but let me just say this: go watch Singles if you haven’t.

26. “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”

Here it is, the crowd pleaser. Like for many others, “Bullet” was the song that made me fall in love with the band, being one of the most popular singles in their catalogue. A hallmark of every SP live show, it ends the regular setbut wait, there’s more…

 

ENCORE:

27. “Silvery Sometimes (Ghosts)”

The first encore is the best song from the first SP album of the reunion, Shiny and Oh So Bright, Pt. 1. It’s a song straight out of the Machina era that lives in the year 2018, and we’re all the better for it. I can’t wait to make more new memories with this song as the years go on.

28. “Mayonaise”

Of all the classics, including favorites like “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” “1979,” “Today,” and “Cherub Rock,” there’s a reason this stands out as the most beloved for a large swath of SP fans. This is the SP model perfected: dreamy, dissonant chords with that iconic Superfuzz sound; a quirky riff; deeply relatable lyrics; and a Corgan-sung melody that drips with sincerity like honey. All together, these elements form a feeling of indescribable hope in the face of unbelievable lossa sentiment that keeps us going at times when we don’t want to face the world any longer. That’s why it’s the best, and that’s why it ends the show.

 

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