The great Pumpkin debate

Last month, the Smashing Pumpkins announced their unprecedented nine-show residency at the Orange Peel, which will take place in late June and early July. And club manager Liz Whalen’s phone began ringing almost the next minute.

They’re heeeeere: For the nine Asheville shows, original Smashing Pumpkins members Billy Corgan (vocals/lead guitar/vision), above, and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin will be joined by newcomers Jeff Schroeder on second guitar and Ginger Reyes on bass.

“Friends who I hadn’t spoken with in a while began calling and texting me immediately asking for tickets,” she says with a laugh.

Local fan John Starling greeted the announcement with a laugh also. “I had jokingly told my wife that I wouldn’t want to bother seeing them on a reunion tour unless they, by some strange twist of fate, came to Asheville,” he says.

It turns out Whalen’s long-lost friends and the Starlings weren’t the only ones clamoring for tickets: The OP’s first attempt to sell the tix went bust when the flood of would-be buyers crashed TicketWeb’s servers. After switching to Ticketmaster the next day, all of the Pumpkins’ nine shows sold out in minutes, leaving lots of locals empty-handed.

The downtown club was accused of not looking out for its local customers, a charge that Whalen denies and Starling shrugs away.

“If we’d been able [to set aside tickets for locals] we would have loved to, but the band’s management and the promoter [Knoxville, Tenn.-based AC Entertainment] said no,” Whalen asserts.

“The [ticket] fiasco was frustrating, but come on—they’re frigging tickets to a rock show. It’s not like we were waiting on the cure for cancer,” offers Starling.

Whalen says that 20 percent of the tickets went to locals, but also concedes that the band “[isn’t] playing these shows for Asheville. I hate to say that, but it’s true. These shows are for the entire East Coast.”

If they’re not playing for Asheville, then why play in it?

Whalen points to Asheville’s ideal, centralized location—and also to a “previous relationship” between the band’s management and AC Entertainment founder Ashley Capps.

Rumblings on various Pumpkins fan sites have deemed the Orange Peel shows an opportunity for the band to work out any kinks in their sound before playing their other residency at the Fillmore in much larger San Francisco—a charge that Whalen denies. She insists it has more to do with the reputation of the venue—never mind how that rep may have slipped in the eyes of some locals.

Controversy aside, the Pumpkins (originally numbering lead vocalist/songwriter Billy Corgan, guitarist James Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin and bassist D’arcy Wretsky) are among the more commercially successful acts to ever appear on stage in Asheville. A key player in the alternative-rock boom of the early-to-mid ‘90s, the band was known for a heavy, lushly layered sound anchored by front man Corgan’s theatrical presence and signature vocals, which many critics have denounced as nasal. Achieving multi-platinum status, the group released six albums between 1991 and 2000, most influentially Siamese Dream and the double disc Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

After the Pumpkins’ dissolution in 2000, Corgan dabbled in other bands and released a solo album, but none of his projects have achieved Pumpkins-level artistic or commercial success.

“My wife and I got to see them on their ‘farewell’ tour after Machina came out, and, at the time, I felt, ‘What dignity, to know when your best days as a creative force are spent and go out with a bang,’” muses Starling.

“So, I have to admit that I’m going into this with a bit of skepticism as a result.”

A new single, “Tarantula,” from impending album Zeitgeist, was released soon after the two residencies were announced. The song is a fuzzy, hyperkinetic shout out to 1994—and while the new stuff may sound dated to today’s jaded music fan, Starling says that’s something the band has to be prepared for.

“Any show they play will likely be attended by as many people seeking a nostalgic glow as there will be people eager to hear what they’re doing now. But … I’m sure they feel like they’re still vital, or they wouldn’t be bothering with this whole thing.”

However, Starling is “curious to see how the new songs integrate with the old ones—and whether they can maintain the momentum needed to play the same town for two weeks.”

[Freelance writer Jason Bugg is based in Asheville.]

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