Monday, Oct. 1, 2012
Better than: Watching VH1's I Love the '90s for the seventeenth or eighty-second time.
Seven years after the band members walked offstage and into indefinite hiatus, Garbage is once again a thing -- a touring, recording, gut-throbbing entity that damn near packed the Warfield last night.
And while it may be remembered (or dismissed) as a postgrunge relic with a few hits to its name -- at least for those of us who still have basic cable and/or a modern rock radio station -- Garbage's novel-in-the-'90s combination of obsessive production, clubby beats, and rock tenacity now seems kind of prescient. Look around at the pop music landscape in 2012 and we've got a lot more of the kind of stuff Butch Vig and Steve Marker were dialing up in a Madison, Wis., warehouse back in 1993: the rock band format has become largely an onstage vehicle for electronic and/or studio productions, and the lines between indie, pop, R&B, and dance music are now so blurry they're often hard to find at all.
So while it's too bad that Garbage's comeback album, this year's Not Your Kind of People, doesn't have any songs as memorable as the band's early hits, the new record nonetheless serves as a reminder that this band does have a legacy beyond "Queer" and "Stupid Girl" and "I'm Only Happy When It Rains" -- and maybe even some real creative spark left. Maybe.
Last night, the band was in hit mode. We got a setlist packed with Garbage's first-, second-, and third-tier singles, plus a few new songs, all delivered with remarkable energy. The setlist included all the tunes above, plus "I Think I'm Paranoid," "#1 Crush," "Milk," "Push It," "Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go)" and more. Of the big favorites the highlight was doubtless "I'm Only Happy When It Rains": It began with as a quiet string interlude from a synthesizer and a whisper from Manson, and climaxed in a massive singalong, with fans shouting and waving their arms all the way up to the rafters, leaving Manson beaming onstage. The song's subtle blend of programmed percussion and rock muscle -- led by Manson's charming villainy -- still make it this band's best achievement.
Even the new songs, while not utterly thrilling, sounded better onstage than on the record: "Blood For Poppies," a snooze of a lead single, held itself upright; while "Control," a My Bloody Valentine-esque slab of blues-gaze with harmonica flourishes on the chorus, thundered onstage last night, even if the harmonica lick was triggered by a synth. (Any unflattering resemblance to rock production landmark "When The Levee Breaks" was thankfully lost.)
The band's live production, though, often made for another highlight: Vig described the bandmembers (or "the boys," as Manson referred to them) as "tech-head geeks," and Garbage's set seamlessly combined lots of programmed drums and other sounds with the normal tools of a rock band. On certain songs, like "Hammering in My Head," the sheer bassy insistence of the band's underpinning throb reminded us that the current EDM craze among American rock fans is another thing Garbage arguably anticipated. (And the members are aware of it: Garbage is holding a contest among Beatport users to remix its next single.)
Next: Opener Screaming Females