(Reclaimed Timbre – A Music Subseries: 004)
Dave and I navigated the cornfields with the holy Zoomobile all the way to Lincoln Mall in Matteson early Saturday morning. Parking and walking over with our Fleckenstein’s donuts to stand in an already-glowing line of fellow Pumpkinheads, electricity radiated.
This line of note was for chasing the charm to the Ticketmaster booth at the service desk in the back of Carson’s department store. A chance at a glimpse of the Minerval Sanctum. We waited our fair share of time for the mall to open, but we had absolutely nothing on the guys who had been sleeping there on the sidewalk in a tent all night.(1)
Sitting on the curb, we conversed with other kids about our anticipation of Adore, which was to be released June 2nd, a date between that morning and the night of the show. That small experience was a first taste in bonding with strangers over a common interest. Profound and original curbside thoughts shared by my teenage self: “I mean who else could put out a double album as good as Mellon Collie? – and its not even a greatest hits album!”
That feeling of waiting and not being guaranteed a ticket became one of perpetual queasiness in the future. With a tinge of excitement as the line moved up, leading to the increased promise of a purchase, a rush of accomplishment would ensue. After the score, a feeling as though you had gotten away with something.
We exited the mall proper, paper tickets in hand – “Smashing Pumpkins, Soldier Field: Rain or Shine”. Magic in spirit. For my intent, the Smashing Pumpkins Adore tour Chicago was my first concert pure as the driven snow.(2) Hopping back in the sticker-covered Zoomobile we blasted “Today” through the stereo as we circled the parking lot in jubilation. A pair of dreamy-eyed lads swerving about, playing slalom with bollards in an imaginary ice cream truck.
The Adore tour was the summer after I finished high school, and our concert date was to be July 7th, 1998, on a Mayor Daly-deemed Smashing Pumpkins Day in Chicago. The venue was then ironically shifted from Soldier Field to the World Music Theatre…not in Chicago, but Tinley Park.(3)
I recall the day of my first concert well because it was also the same day I had finally broken up with my first serious girlfriend (after a few false starts, of course). I could not put that guilt-ridden, cringe-worthy morning breakup in to a better analogy than that of the skillful crafting of George Costanza from a show that would also break up that very summer:
“It was like I was making a prison break. I’m heading for the wall, and I trip and I twist my ankle – and they throw that light on you. Somehow I get through the crying and I keep running. Then the cursing starts. She’s firing at me from the guard towers. (Mocks a rifle cocking) Son-of-a-bang, son-of-a-boom! I get to the top of the wall – the front door. I open it up and I’m one foot away, I take one last look around the penitentiary…and I jump.”
So I had a spare Pumpkins ticket.
I didn’t want money for it. I just wanted to gift it to someone who would appreciate a last minute life-changing experience. To one day regale his or her grandchildren with a colorful one and only moment to witness the glory of twilight fading on blistered Avalon.
Maybe a newfound, last-second love interest who may have her course altered that fine day. Dave picked me up and before we set sail we made one stop for gas on the way to the World Music Theatre.
At the time I had no real way to touch base with anyone outside of my home-wired landline. I probably made one or two calls but really that sort of thing was futile. Anyone who even had the potential to go to a show last minute…had to at least been home in the first place to ride the telephone.
Dave pulled up to the pump and I sauntered clumsily in to the gas station to get some snacks. Eyes darting around in tense understanding that this was my final chance to change a life with my spare fortune cookie fortune. I went to purchase my dinner of pizza Combos and plastic bottle of Pepsi, and I saw her.
Working the cash register was the coolest stoner girl from high school. Désirée. She was two grades my senior as a sophomore, and of course I would never have had the spirited resourcefulness or initiative to approach her in art class. Even if I had, I was a fucking awkward slunk with the social etiquette of a Martian circling the earth – nothing to go on but fuzzy radio transmission to decrypt normalcy.
But with school in my rearview, what did I have to lose? Besides, I held her winning lotto ticket in my Bill-a-Bong wallet next to a packet of Salsa del Sol, in the far-reaching recess; the pocket of my Jnco jorts.
The untouchable White Witch – follower of the benevolent and mistress of the nymphs. Under nefarious illusion, in what I would consider a Faustian Bargain I offered her a night of revelry in exchange for her sole source of income. The Crossroads. Where the willows weep and whirlpools sleep. In what would equate to this person most definitely losing her job in order to hang out with me, some chubby geek in giant pants who she didn’t even remember, the idea of seeing the Pumpkins did cause a flicker of hope in her eye.
In buoyant celebration among applause from other clerks, customers, and soccer moms, Dave watched in awe as I blasted through the door, tickertape raining down, sunlight refracting rainbows through confetti and streamers – leaving the gas station with my fist in the air and my arm around the girl…
In reality, I left, holding nothing but my chips, my pop…and my spare ticket.
In the scheme of things all it meant to me was that she wasn’t a big enough Pumpkinhead.
On my way back to the car with literally all hope melted from the idea of handing off this extra ticket, in jest, I extended the concert invite pass to a burly biker Bam Bam Bigelow, gassing his Harley at the pump adjacent.
“Smashing Pumpkins?! That ain’t nothin’ but some candy-ass shit!”
And I say just go. Please Dave, just drive.
Get us as far as far can be,
Get us away from tonight.
– Chris Conley, Saves the Day
Traversing the gravel lot we approached the World Music Theatre. Knowing we were going to see Billy Corgan and James Iha trading harmonics and counter melody, at that time held the same exact buzzing feedback energy for Dave and I as walking in to Wrigley ten years prior. Andre Dawson and Ryne Sandberg, the Boys of Zimmer, playing in clockwork pine tar wizardry under lush green ivy.
The opening act, Atari Teenage Riot, was a left wing anarchist and anti-fascist duo from Berlin. Set to 8 Bit Atari ST drum backing they were an interesting choice to play before Cheap Trick – those old Rockford-based codgers stepping out with that goofy five neck guitar. Political punk stuff or cheeseball dad rock at the time might as well have been old pirate traditionals or background elevator music. We didn’t pay attention to them for shit. As apolitical, baseless Generation Y, 90s children of apathy we found our entertainment during those sets just wandering about the venue meeting other fans and randoms, causing mischief, pulling gags and generally cracking wise.
Some guy told Dave he looked like the singer from Fugazi, as if we knew who the fuck that was at the time. Our main catalogue of music during the era consisted solely of Smashing Pumpkins albums, singles, bootleg CDs, and rare imports. “Obsession” would be a term not used unreasonably here.
As of this writing I would never get to see the original four members play together live. Though, I would get to see Jimmy Chamberlin perform at the Sacred & Profane tour two years later, as well as three additional times with Zwan. But during the Adore era, to my pain, he was gone. Replaced by Matt Walker from Filter as well as a crew of pale and bald vampire percussionists and keyboardists in leather black.
I feel honored I got to see D’arcy play bass for this firefly-lit presentation. I didn’t understand at the time it would be my sole and last witness of her showcase, but now I feel grateful that I got to absorb it in the warmth of outdoor 1990s July.
As a soft dusk approached they started the set with “To Sheila”.
Ushering in a new era by murky banjo, the composition in essence is a starting point to knitting electronic and acoustic fabric over the album as well as the evening.
Seeing Billy play it out in real time that night inspired in me an entirely new appreciation for the song. Since this record only came out one month before the concert. A lot of the nuance, vulnerability, and peculiarity hadn’t locked in to me just yet.
It feels odd to say but there was a point where Adore was hovering in a window of time to me where I had to adjust all my dials, redirecting sails over the course of a few weeks after that first CD play in my car. By the time I saw them on the tour, I hadn’t even yet created or processed memories for the songs included. Sheila herself, the Gaelic consort actually still reminds me of the very night of the mid summer exhibition. I remember playing this song in my bedroom on the Sony stereo later that evening after I got home. Just to relive it.
As we stood somber watching our favorite band peripatetically, note by melody, enchant a stadium with gems from their new collection, I was only further solidified as a votary, falllin’ with the leaves. Galloping synthesizer bass descending on Daphne, and brooding, crestfallen tales to send tremolo over my still unabashed heart.
In the string of performances in the first encore, Billy performed “I Want You to Want Me” with Rick Nielsen. The second encore included covers of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”, and “Transmission” by Joy Division.
“Blank Page”, the final proper song of the performance as well as the album. A somber relic Billy had written about his marriage ending, I wouldn’t fully come to identify with the piece until fifteen years later when I myself would go through a similar grieving and meditation on loss.
Take a day. Plant some trees.
May they shade you from me.
May your children play beneath.
Originally titled “48 Chords” as a reflection of the completely insane number of non-cycling piano chords played in the song, “Blank Page” was a canvas only existing for a mastermind to unlock the math, secretly yielding. I have no idea how someone could ingeniously pen an antiphon in to a seamless psalm the way Billy has. Fucking Biblical.
The walk back to the Zoomobile under ink black and constellation, halos of glow sticks created kaleidoscopic closeout to our evening. Ice blue loops and hoops and pinks and neon dreams of greens over chirps of fellow teenagers in the warm Midwest humidity.
(1) Before the Internet took hold, I recall looking in the Tribune or the Sun Times to scan for concerts and shows, as well as ticket sale dates. The Reader, word of mouth, and Threshold, Crow’s Nest and Record Hunt poster fliers. To a degree I wonder where all of that concerted effort and energy went. I don’t think Lincoln Mall even exists anymore.
(2) I might put an asterisk by junior high youth group church bus corralling to witness Carman and Michael W Smith. Or even a more esoteric performance by the Gospel Gangstaz at Moody Bible Institute in 1994. Same church bus.
(3) Though Jimmy is from Joliet in Will County out there, so…close enough, I suppose.