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Metro's Top Note Theatre, Chicago Performance Review
March 29, 1998, 11:00 pm

James Iha.
(Metro’s Top Note Theatre, Chicago; Capacity 100; $12 top)
Presented by Metro.
Band: James Iha, Matt Walker, Solomon Snyder, Neal Casal, John Ginty.
Reviewed March 30, 1998.
Jae-Ha Kim. Daily Variety.

Covering a little known Eric Anderson number near the end of his 50-minute solo set, Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha sang, “I’d love to sing my ballad/But they only wanna hear me rock ‘n’ roll.”

Not after this show. The shy musician’s ballad-heavy solo debut was a stunner. And the intimate Top Note Theatre--a part of Metro, the club that gave the Pumpkins their first big break--was the perfect setting for Iha’s laid-back performance in front of a hometown crowd that included Pumpkins’ bassist D’Arcy, members of the Frogs and his parents.

Though Iha had performed four songs opening for Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan at L.A.’s Viper Room earlier this year, he said backstage that “that wasn’t really a show. It was so short that it was like performing on the radio.” Iha’s only other solo date was March 31 at New York’s Mercury Lounge.

Walking on stage in dark jeans and a black shirt, Iha appeared apprehensive as he kicked his 13-song set off with his beguiling single “Be Strong Now.” Backed by a tight four-piece band that included former bandmate, drummer Matt Walker, Iha caressed each syllable of the infectiously catchy song. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he left the solo work to the nimble-fingered Neal Casal.

About a third into the show, Iha acknowledged that the 11 cuts on his debut album “Let It Come Down” were not enough to constitute a full-length concert. With that, he wrapped his warm vocals around the Allman Brothers’ twangy “Sweet Melissa.”

The best songs (“Sound of Love,” “Lover, Lover”), though, were his own. Like Matthew Sweet and Steve Poltz, Iha is a deft storyteller who draws listeners in with his smooth, wistful delivery. He doesn’t clutter his music with excessive baggage. Rather, he strips it down to the core, laying his lyrics down on the line.

“You’ll have to pardon my ballads,” he said. “I write many, and they’re all sad.”
Fortunately, he wears sad well. Perhaps after all those years of interpreting Corgan’s tortured angst, Iha finally feels free to revel in the warmth of bittersweet love songs.

And what a treat that is for us.

Credit: Jae-Ha Kim

Source: Daily Variety