By John Johnson, photos by Chaz Dykes of Chaz D Photography
A balmy Sunday night in Tampa, with ominous clouds looming in every direction didn’t seem to sway fans of varying ages from coming out to enjoy The Smashing Pumpkins. In fact, considering the genre of music the Grammy winning band is known for, the eery Florida sky seemed almost welcome. It certainly helped cool things down a little, and that was vastly appreciated.
The doors opened relatively early at 5:30, and the crowd trickled in as a light rain trickled down. Doc Martens abound, as were fishnet stockings, heavy eyeliner and black tee shirts, primarily adorned with a stark white star and the word ZERO. The contradictory moniker in reference to the headlining acts 1996 single off of the group’s album “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’.
Right on schedule, with less than half of the Midflorida Credit Union Amphitheater attendees in their respective spots, Rival Sons walked on stage. Sauntered would be a more appropriate description, but that would be the only delicate characterization about the Nashville based quartet that I would consider using. The mostly blues-based rockers originally from Long Beach California are as tight and talented as they come. Donning black dress slacks and a vest with no shirt, singer Jay Buchanan has what people in the biz would refer to as “killer pipes”. The only voice this Tampa native could even compare it to would be local phenom Steve Gruden, who unfortunately passed away in 1994. If you know, you know. Vocalist Buchanan is judiciously backed by guitarist Scott Holiday, more like Doc Holiday with handle bar mustache and cowboy hat, stood riff happy whilst slaying his numerous Gibson Firebirds. Thoroughly holding down the bottom end, but with only slightly less fashion sense, are Dave Beste on bass, and cofounder Michael Miley on drums. If you have the chance to see this band, do yourself an enormous favor and do so. Having been conceived in 2009 and with 9 albums under their belts, there’s plenty of material to enjoy. And as Jay mentioned himself regarding said discography and 2023 specifically, “2 albums in one year, we like to play rough “
Near the end of their set, the semitropical state blessed the arena once again with a 20-minute downpour. Although the lawn dwellers were less than pleased, it cooled the night air off by 20 welcome degrees.
In jet black suits with variations of black and white dress shirts, the five-piece group from NYC, Interpol crept on stage at 7:45, right on schedule. Dozens of bright white spotlight beams and dizzying strobes punched the newly darkened sky. The three prevailing members held center stage, firmly planted with their instruments and gratuitous wayfarers. Having enjoyed the bands earlier albums, circa 2003-2007, and never having seen them live, I was anxious to see them perform. Unfortunately, I found them to be slightly more somber and droning than I had hoped. Although somewhat Bowie- esque, with a pinch of Joy Division and some Black Rebel Motorcycle Club thrown in for good measure, they were still too bass-y for my personal tastes. That being said, many of the concert goers danced uncontrollably and seemed to know all the lyrics, regardless of how hard it was to hear them. On many dates of this tour, Stone Temple Pilots replaces Interpol as the middle act depending on the city. Dejectedly, Tampa was not one of those cities.
Before the main attraction were to take the stage, the audience was offered intermission alternative entertainment in the way of professional wrestling.
The NWA, the National Wrestling Alliance, had set up a ring amongst the food and beer vendors. One would think that curious if one wasn’t aware that lead singer from The Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan, had purchased the NWA back in 2017.
As if on cue, at 9:15pm, the house lights went down and the Judas Priest setlist was silenced. Blinding white lights danced down poles that hung from the rafters and between the numerous speaker arrays. A heavy electronic instrumental dubbed Atum pulsed from the amplifiers, yet no one was on stage, for roughly 3 minutes while the crowd surged in anticipation. Their semi-gothlike foresight was rewarded as the tall, bald silhouette of Billy Corgan ambled toward the center mic. His vintage Les Paul slung over his black monks robe by a thick leather strap emblazoned with a simple letter Z. Conversely, to his left, was original guitarist James Iha dressed in an all-white western themed ensemble. Pausing momentarily to plug in his retro six string, and looking somewhat like an Elvis impersonator, Iha jumped into the opening tune, “Everlasting Gaze”. The tempo picked up and the guitars blared, the lights transformed into a pulsating sea of colors, creating a dynamic and electrifying atmosphere. The Pumpkins 21 song set, consisting primarily of originals contained two abstract covers. The first
being song three, an inordinately slowed down cover of Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”. Around song 14, the alternative rock band from Chicago, treated their fans to the second cover, a rendition of Manfred Mann’s “Hubble Bubble”. This classic deep cut had William Corgan at his most animated and credulous of the evening. However, this cutesy behavior would not stand for long. The remaining 19 compositions of the night would be met with a much more ominous yet imperative frontman. On third guitar, but playing a majority of the lead parts, was Jeff Schroeder, band member since 2006. After being introduced by Corgan near the show’s finale, Schroeder competently blazed through the opening riff to Van Halen’s “Panama”. Original drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, at 59 years young and in peak physical shape, operated his kit with pounding metronome like precision. Bassist Jack Bates efficiently kept up with Chamberlain, digging in deep on rarities “Jellybelly” and “The Time”. The lovely Australian singer and musician Katie Cole assumed the role of fifth Pumpkin, appropriately dressed in witchlike attire. The only banter of the evening was the moment Corgan and Iha discussed the ever-present humidity of our fine state, as well as Iha’s apparent disdain and slightly unsubstantiated fear of alligators. The frivolity of reptile conversation was brief and followed affectionately by Corgan’s tribute to his father before playing an acoustic version of “Tonight”. The final three songs of the night are arguably the bands most revered, “1979”, a personal favorite in “Cherub Rock” and ending with the song whose title ordained hundreds of the attendees, “Zero”.
Having not seen the Pumpkins in nearly 30 years, I’d say they haven’t lost a step. In fact, they are more polished and seem to enjoy the process more than I remember. Overall, the setlist was a trip down memory lane. Evoking a sense of nostalgia and reminding us why we fell in love with the band way back in 1988. The World may be a Vampire, but the show didn’t suck.