James Iha Debuts Solo Album In Chicago

April 1, 1998 12:00 AM ET

Diminutive indie-rock icon James Iha -- best known for his guitar work as a member of Smashing Pumpkins -- treated 100 fans and music industry insiders to a very special show on Monday evening at the equally diminutive Top Note Theatre in Chicago.

Located just above the Metro -- the same venue where the Pumpkins first courted major-label interest -- the Top Note is the happy little secret of club owner Joe Shanahan. Over the years, dozens of notable artists have used the space to give intimate performances or write and rehearse new material. (Chicagoan Liz Phair reportedly wrote much of her forthcoming album there.)

On Monday evening, the space was reserved for a gentle celebration of Let It Come Down (Virgin), Iha's recently released solo debut. Near midnight, Iha and his bandmates -- onetime fellow Pumpkin Matt Walker (drums), Neal Casal (guitar, backing vocals), Solomon Snyder (bass) and John Ginty (Hammond organ, piano) -- quietly strolled into the small room and breezed through a 13-song set.

"This is my first-ever show," Iha told the assembled fans, family and industry luminaries with only a trace of irony. "We're with you, James!" called out a jubilant fan.

Iha and his bandpals kicked off the evening with "Be Strong Now," the first single off the record and a pleasant showcase for the guitarist's smooth, plaintive voice. Barely moving, eyes shut for much of the song, Iha seemed delighted to be awash in music of his own creation. "I haven't been in an intimate setting like this for quite awhile," he mused later in the evening.

Marking a strong departure from his Smashing Pumpkins roots, Iha surprised many onlookers when he launched into a Dylanesque reading of "Melissa," the Allman Brothers number that has become a staple cover tune for many hippie rock acts.

"I realized I just don't have enough songs yet," he told the crowd with a shy smile. "I need another album." As Iha and friends wrapped up the set with a three-song encore, the crowd's warm applause seemed to signal their agreement.

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