Even Garbage, a Platinum-selling rock band with millions of fans, must suffer the indignities of the touring life. “Our tour bus is now officially dead to us,” Shirley Manson tweeted, at 5:09 a.m. Aug. 7. “We are currently hitch hiking to Orlando. Pray for us. Stay strong.”
Garbage’s Central Florida fans may still be on tinterhooks, with the group’s scheduled performance hours away at the time of this writing. Luckily for us South Floridians, Manson and her band made it halfway, lighting up the Hard Rock Live stage by 7:40 (yes, that early, to the chagrin of some!) Tuesday night. So when she exclaimed, after two songs, “We made it to Hollywood!,” the relief was palpable.
This double bill, alongside Blondie, certainly wouldn’t have been the same without them. “This has been a meeting that is long overdue,” Manson said, noting that Garbage hasn’t played this region since 1999. She made it up to us with an electrifying set of molten songs full of angst and spitfire, plucked judiciously from a more than 20-year career.
Clad in a floor-length scarlet dress coat, her bob an equally blazing shade of red, Manson looked like the belle of any ball, especially one thrown by Lewis Carroll. Whether standing downstage to let a fan billow her dress to pantomiming windmill guitars with her bandmates, she was a captivating presence, impossible to look away from. During “Empty,” she collapsed to her knees, feeling every painful lyric down to each syllable. She left the stage in the middle of “Cherry Lips” to commune with lucky superfans in the front section, slinked around the stage like a sinuous Bond girl during “The World is Not Enough,” and knocked the mic stand off the stage during the raucous send-off, “Vow.”
As one of the great post-grunge poets of the disenfranchised, Manson has lost none of her edge, nor has her band’s terrific music. Its latest single, the politically conscious “No Horses,” throbbed with apocalyptic urgency, while “I Think I’m Paranoid” remains a primo example of the loud-quiet-loud Pixies/Nirvana formula that made the ‘90s such an exciting time for alternative rock. “Why Do You Love Me?”—the only song in Garbage’s set that the rest of the cities didn’t get—was a blistering rocker that could wake the dead. “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When it Rains” both deviated agreeably from their album versions, the former with a deceptive intro, and the latter opening with Manson crouched on the drummer’s platform, crooning the opening stanzas like a jazz singer.
The adrenalized head-banger “Push It” was another of many highlights, yielding a modicum of pogoing from an otherwise docile crowd of Gen-Xers and older who have matured alongside the band—outgrowing mosh pits and crowd-surfing but certainly not the great music that once inspired them.
Blondie followed, and though any respectable bill would have Deborah Harry’s legendary New Wave act headlining, Garbage was unquestionably the main draw. Still a rebellious voice—she sported strange headgear resembling bees as part of her colony collapse disorder activism, along with a cape emblazoned with the phrase “stop fucking the planet”—Harry seemed to be having a good time onstage. But she also seemed to be on something that affected her performance, and not in a positive way. Her energy sagged even during the opening number “One Way or Another,” and “Call Me” was an abject mess, with Harry appearing to forget lyrics and mumble words that may or may not have been part of the song (though we got to see keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen rock that Key-tar like it was 1985!). “That was fun, actually,” she said afterwards, and I can’t say I agree.
As for “Rapture,” that song was a travesty even when it was released in 1980, and I diligently skip it every time I spin Autoamerican. Onstage last night, it seemed to stretch on for twice its length. The same tediousness marred “Fragments,” a slow-building number from Pollinator that led to a mini-exodus of fans to the bathrooms, or the bar, or their cars. Perhaps it’s saying something that the best number from the first half of the set was also the most incongruous one: the band’s short, bluesy take on “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” a hippie sing-along that felt like Bob Dylan by way of Chuck Berry by way of Blondie.
Patient concertgoers were finally treated to a solid finish. “Atomic” featured a rousing guitar-solo climax, “Heart of Glass” proved Harry still had the golden range to hit the song’s ethereal notes, and “The Tide is High” transported us briefly and pleasingly to a Caribbean island.
But the fact remains that very little in Blondie’s set was exciting. The necessary caveat, of course, is that Harry is 72, and the fact that she’s still playing 90-minute rock shows is an accomplishment in itself. It’s just not enough.
GARBAGE SET LIST
Sex is Not the Enemy
I Think I’m Paranoid
Why Do You Love Me?
Even Though Our Love is Doomed
The World is Not Enough
Happy When it Rains
BLONDIE SET LIST
One Way or Another
Hanging on the Telephone
Heart of Glass
The Tide is High