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James Iha Metro's Top Note Theatre
April 1, 1998, 12:00 am

Jae-Ha Kim. Variety. Apr 1, 1998.

Metro's Top Note Theatre, Chicago; 100 capacity; $12

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 Chicago's intimate Top Note Theatre -- a part of Metro, the club that gave the first big break to the Pumpkins -- 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.

Walking onstage in dark jeans and a black shirt, Iha appeared apprehensive as he kicked off his 13-song set with his beguiling single "Be Strong Now." Backed by a tight four-piece band, Iha focused on caressing each syllable, leaving the solo work to the nimble-fingered Neal Casal.

Like Matthew Sweet and Steve Poltz, Iha is a deft storyteller who draws in listeners with his smooth, wistful delivery. "You'll have to pardon my ballads," he said. "I write many, and they're all sad." Fortunately, he wears sad well.

Though Iha had performed four songs opening for Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan at L.A.'s Viper Room 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 in support of his debut album, "Let It Come Down," was Tuesday at New York's Mercury Lounge.

Credit: Jae-Ha Kim

Source: Variety