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.