Billy Corgan, aka William Patrick Corgan, is having his Blues Brothers moment. He’s getting the band back together, sort of. Like everything in the world of the Smashing Pumpkins since the ‘80s, the latest reunion of the almost all-original lineup comes with enough melodrama to fill a 10-ton tour bus hurtling over a cliff.
The Pumpkins announced Thursday that there would be a tour, including an Aug. 13 stop at the United Center (tickets ranging in price from $29 to $125 go on sale 11 a.m. Feb. 23 via Live Nation). The band will include three-fourths of the original lineup: Corgan; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, who has been in and out of the band several times since the beginning; and James Iha, whose Pumpkins membership was revoked nearly two decades ago.
Still missing in action, though, is original Pumpkins bassist D’arcy Wretzky, who in recent days said she was asked by Corgan to be part of the reunion, then claimed she was uninvited. The band responded that Wretzky “has repeatedly been invited out to play with the group, participate in demo sessions, or at the very least, meet face-to-face, and in each and every instance she always deferred.”
Wretzky responded Wednesday in an interview with Alternative Nation that Corgan “didn’t want me there” as part of the recording sessions for the new album and that even though she discussed joining the band on tour with Corgan, he had already hired Jack Bates, the son of New Order bassist Peter Hook, to play bass. “It was just unbelievable, really just disgusting,” she said. Bates’ role in the band has not been confirmed by the Pumpkins.
Is it possible to be sick of a reunion before it even begins? Of course, a strong new album by the partially reunited lineup would quell some of the grumbling, but the real impetus of most reunions is to revisit past glories. The notion of a Corgan-Chamberlin-Iha-Wretzky lineup playing ‘90s hits such as “Today” and “1979” has been a cash-in dream for rock promoters since the band began splintering in the mid-‘90s, soon after “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness” made the Chicago quartet one of the most successful rock bands in the world. Driven to fame and madness under Corgan’s leadership, the band has really never been the same since, and the singer-guitarist has been outspoken in the past about his distaste for becoming a nostalgia act.
Corgan carried the Pumpkins “brand” forward as essentially a solo act for two decades with Chamberlin contributing at various points. The last Pumpkins album, “Monuments to an Elegy” in 2014, included no original members except Corgan. His primary collaborator was Jeff Schroeder, a guitarist who remains part of the new lineup.
Though a tour even with a partial Pumpkins lineup is bound to stir up alternative-rock-era memories, the band’s future likely hinges on the next album. Corgan has been posting on Instagram describing sessions that include producer Rick Rubin, who has specialized in helping veteran artists such as Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath preserve or regain career momentum. Can he do the same for the Pumpkins?
Greg Kot is a Tribune critic.