20 Years Ago: Smashing Pumpkins (Sort Of) Play Their Final Show
It was supposed to be their swan song, a grand goodbye to close a hugely influential career. Yet, like most things with the Smashing Pumpkins, their “final” show became far too complicated. The performance took place on Dec. 2, 2000, at the Metro in Chicago, but many key events preceded that night.
Like many successful acts, the Smashing Pumpkins had endured the dizzying heights and discouraging lows of rock stardom. Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993) and Adore (1998) became commercial and critical hits, each selling more than a million copies and solidifying the band as one of the ‘90s' most successful acts. Still, it was their 1995 double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, that proved to be the Pumpkins' magnum opus, a sprawling, genre-defining record that elevated the group among the era’s greats.
During their decade of success, the Smashing Pumpkins had to weather many stormy waters. Chief among them: drug abuse.
Drummer Jimmy Chamberlin spent years as an addict, with things coming to a head before a 1996 performance at Madison Square Garden. He and touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin overdosed on heroin, and while Chamberlin was able to be revived, Melvoin was not so lucky. In an effort to get clean, the drummer spent the next two years away from the band.
In 1998, frontman Billy Corgan welcomed Chamberlin back into the group. The two - along with guitarist James Iha and bassist D'arcy Wretzky - came to an agreement: Smashing Pumpkins would put out one more album, tour in support of it and then break up.
Watch a News Report Covering the Smashing Pumpkins' Final Show
Even with all parties on board, things did not go to plan. Corgan, always the band’s driving creative force, concocted a concept album where the Pumpkins would embody alter egos, similar to the Beatles' approach to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Each member would have a tailor-made character that they’d maintain throughout the new material, including recordings, concerts and interviews. “James would have been this super-aloof rock guy in high heels and a cape,” Corgan explained to Rolling Stone. “D’Arcy would have been this super-space queen. And it would have been 24/7.”
With 40 songs written, Corgan was prepared to make this final chapter the grandest in Smashing Pumpkins history. “Unfortunately, the band didn’t completely follow through,” the leader lamented. Wretzky soon quit the group, fallout from her own alleged drug addiction. The Pumpkins’ project suddenly became “more about survival - internal spiritual survival.”
Things continued to be bumpy, even once the band’s final album, Machina, was ready. With so much material, the Smashing Pumpkins suggested a two-for-one concept: Buy a copy of the album, get a download of a second LP, Machina II, for free. When their label shot down the idea, the band simply put Machina II online for anyone who wanted it.
Watch Smashing Pumpkins Perform 'Fuck You (An Ode to No One)' During Their Farewell Show
And so, the Smashing Pumpkins, a band held in the rarefied air of alt-rock’s greatest acts, hit the road for what would be announced as their last tour. Melissa Auf der Maur, formerly of Hole, would fill in for Wretzky on bass. Their final show would be a hometown gig at the Metro, the same venue where they made their debut in 1988.
With a sold-out crowd anxiously awaiting their set, the performance got off to an inauspicious start. “The first song was ‘Rocket,' which we were supposed to play after the Mellon Collie theme intro, which was played off a CD,” Corgan recalled years later in a Facebook post (via Antiquiet). “The theme finished, I lit into the opening riff of ‘Rocket.' Unfortunately, no one turned off the CD, so as I was playing, I heard ‘Tonight, Tonight’ come blaring out of the PA. … Classic SP fuck up for trying to be fancy.”
The rest of the show went much better, as the Smashing Pumpkins delivered a marathon 37-song set lasting four hours. All of the hits were there, including “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Disarm” and “1979.” An extended acoustic section of the performance found the band digging deep into its catalog. Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen even made an appearance, jumping onstage to help with “Cherub Rock.”
Watch Smashing Pumpkins Perform '1979' During Their Farewell Show
The final song of the evening was “Silverfuck,” a fan favorite album cut from Siamese Dream that alternates between moments of blistering sound and subdued tones. It served as an epic closer to the night’s career-spanning set. Corgan was openly crying as he exited the stage.
It would have been a poignant and fitting sendoff ... had it truly been goodbye.
The next few years were filled with compilation albums, solo efforts and other short-lived endeavors. Corgan and Chamberlin worked together in the band Zwan, releasing just one album, 2003’s Mary Star of the Sea, before calling it quits.
Then, in 2005, Corgan took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times announcing the Smashing Pumpkins’ return. "For a year now", the frontman wrote, "I have walked around with a secret, a secret I chose to keep. But now I want you to be among the first to know that I have made plans to renew and revive the Smashing Pumpkins. I want my band back, and my songs, and my dreams."
Iha, Wretzky and Auf der Maur were not part of this initial reunion, all replaced by touring musicians. Fans were largely turned off by the band’s 2007 LP, Zeitgeist, an uneven effort that marked a departure in style. For a while, Corgan and Chamberlin pushed forward as a duo, with the latter eventually departing in 2009. Less than a decade after the farewell show at the Metro, only the band’s frontman remained.
The lineup changes would continue throughout the '10s. So, too, would the underwhelming releases. Oceania (2012), Monuments to an Elegy (2014) and Shiny and Oh So Bright Vol. 1 / LP: No Past. No Future. No Sun. (2018) were met with a collective shrug and none delivered the kind of radio-friendly hit that defined the band’s ‘90s run.
In 2018, Iha and Chamberlin rejoined the group, with Wretzky remaining as the only founding member to return. Even though 2020’s double-album Cyr signaled a return to form for the Smashing Pumpkins, it’s yet to be seen if they can come close to matching the heights of their ‘90s heyday.
Watch the Music Video for Smashing Pumpkins 2020 Single 'Cyr'
Some have questioned whether the band’s short hiatus and unsuccessful modern albums have taken the sheen off the Smashing Pumpkins’ early groundbreaking alt-rock achievements. To that end, Corgan sees his band’s career in two separate parts.
“I think, as more time goes by, we all should look at SP as having two totally different eras: old school and new school,” Corgan wrote in a 2010. The frontman went on to declare that the “‘old” Smashing Pumpkins ended on that Metro stage in 2000 “and it ain’t ever coming back.”
“From my vantage point, that’s a good thing. That band will never sell out and never grow old gracefully (because honestly it couldn’t),” he explained. “Long live SP 1987-2000, a great fucking band when it was ‘on’ and a nightmare when it was ‘off.'”