Smashing Pumpkins rocked one last time Saturday night, treating fans to a four-plus-hour show at the small Chicago venue where the band got its start 12 years ago.
Bandleader Billy Corgan wept at the conclusion of the marathon event, which marked the demise of yet another influential band from the early 1990s heyday of guitar-driven grunge rock. Fellow alternative rock bands Nirvana and Soundgarden are now defunct, while holdovers like Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails sell a fraction of the albums they used to.
After selling more than 22 million albums worldwide, Smashing Pumpkins also suffered in the sales stakes recently, and Corgan announced in May that he would retire the band at the end of the year, semi-facetiously blaming competition from manufactured pop stars of the moment, like teen idol Britney Spears.
The band's relationship with its recording company, Virgin Records, had become strained, and the band recently released a final work, MACHINA II/the friends and enemies of modern music, over the Internet.
The retirement took place at the Metro, a theater holding 1,100 people in the shadow of baseball Mecca Wrigley Field. The members of Smashing Pumpkins played their first-ever show there Oct. 5, 1988, months after singer-songwriter-guitarist Corgan had co-founded the group with fellow guitarist James Iha.
"Welcome to the last gasp of Smashing Pumpkins," Corgan said at the outset of Saturday's show, dressed in a sleeveless silver dress of the sort he has been wearing onstage all year.
With his father and girlfriend watching from the balcony, Corgan led Iha, drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, and bass player Melissa Auf Der Maur through a set that consisted of three "acts" and four encore performances. His father, William Corgan Sr., took the helm during one of the encores with a version of the blues classic "Born Under a Bad Sign."
The band played its big hits, including "Today," "Bullet With Butterfly Wings," and "Cherub Rock," and was joined on the latter by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. It also dredged up early nuggets like "Rhinoceros," from 1991's Gish album, and "Drown," from the 1992 Singles soundtrack.
Despite the finality, the atmosphere was far from funereal, and the set featured a few false starts and muffed lyrics.
After the band left the stage at the end of each act, a clown bearing title cards pranced around to circus music.
Corgan told the audience at one stage that they were "the greatest fans in the world. … Of course we don't believe that bullshit — but it sounds good when we say it."
At the end of the main set, Corgan, a lapsed Catholic, thanked God for looking over the band, and also acknowledged families and dead friends, and even enemies "for pushing us to try harder and be better."
The show wrapped at about 12:20 a.m. with Corgan announcing, "God bless Smashing Pumpkins." As he shook hands with the fans crammed in at the front and threw guitar picks into the crowd, people chanted, "Thank You! Thank You!"
Corgan started crying, initially shielding his eyes before sharing his grief with the equally emotional audience. He retreated to the wings where he hugged the band's burly roadies, who were also teary-eyed.
Fans had come in from around the country to see the spectacle. Alan Chalfont-Whitwam, a 17-year-old from Seattle, said he paid $600 each for two scalped tickets, while a fan from New York said he had forked out $1,400 for his single ticket over the Internet.
As a bonus, each fan was given a free CD upon leaving, a previously unreleased recording of the band's first Metro show.
Corgan, meanwhile, reportedly plans to lay low for a year before deciding what path his musical career will take.
Reuters contributed to this report.