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Billy Corgan may have been the undisputed brains behind The Smashing Pumpkins, but James Iha, the band’s laconic second guitarist, was its squishy, lovelorn heart: Every few EPs, Iha got to present one of his own songs, almost all of them straightforward romantic foils to Corgan’s expressionistic angst anthems. (They were both earnest lyricists, but while Corgan wrote straight from a child’s id, Iha mainlined an adolescent’s imagination.) Since the Pumpkins’ initial breakup in 2000, Iha has been a fashion plate (dude looks good in black), a soundtrack composer, and an occasional member of alt-rock survivors like A Perfect Circle. On his second solo album, however, Iha’s back to being Sweet James. Look to the Sky isn’t as satisfying as his first record, 1998’s sun-baked Let It Come Down, but it’s a far more expansive overview of his pop DNA: Iha indulges his twin loves—power pop and mid-’80s Cure—with carbonated, lightly electronic production and a foray or two into chanson-like orchestral pop. And he gets away with lines like “I’m traveling at the speed of love/sooner or later I’ll be crashing,” even though he’s 44. Things get cheesy, sure. But Iha was always the Smashing Pumpkin you wanted to adopt.
James Iha performs at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U Street NW. $15. (202) 588-1880. ustreetmusichall.com.