The storm clouds finally, mercifully departed for a few hours Thursday night, leaving an idyllic, balmy breeze in their wake. It was the perfect atmosphere to absorb one of the 1980s’ defining duos back in fine fettle and supporting their best work in more than 30 years.
In fact, Shirley Manson, lead singer of openers Garbage, twice mentioned the refreshing Atlantic Ocean air during her set; growing up in Scotland will do that to you. Taking the stage punctually at 7:30, Garbage played an excellent set—a fierce, driving and crunchy introduction to the band’s nearly three-decade legacy. Hit singles like “Stupid Girl” and “Queer” joined surprising selections like the sweeping “The World is Not Enough,” from the Bond movie soundtrack of the same name. “Wicked Ways” included a mid-song foray into Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” (the chords are remarkably similar), and closer “You Look So Fine” segued into a partial, muscular cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.”
The only disappointing aspect of Garbage’s set was the audience itself, which by and large was so sedate as to border on catatonic; very little of Manson’s magnetism seem to rouse the disinterested front section. I’ve twice seen Garbage open for titanic bands from previous eras (Blondie was the other). It’s about time they toured as headliners and received back the energy they so generously give off.
The vibe in the amphitheater couldn’t have been more different for Tears for Fears, with much of the crowd appropriately on its feet for most numbers. A pre-recorded overture of “Stay” preceded the band’s appearance, establishing a soaring and heavenly atmosphere that blanketed the audience, leaving its ethereal residue even over the heavier, chunkier numbers.
Tears for Fears was an apex band in the spacey, synth-driven, ad hoc genre of new wave, but last night’s performance flexed all of Roland Orzobal and Curt Smith’s generic muscles. The title track of “The Tipping Point,” awash in hazy green lights, evoked late-period Pink Floyd in all its proggy grandeur, while an extended, jammy “Badman’s Song” pulsated with southern rock swagger.
R&B and even gospel entered the picture, with radiant backup vocalist Lauren Evans taking the lead on the immersive “Suffer the Children” and assisting on the duet (originally recorded by Oleta Adams) “Woman in Chains.” Unbelievably, it was Evans’ first tour appearance with the group, and certainly far from her last.
Orzobal and Smith are justifiably proud of their latest album, their first since 2004—“Those who don’t have it … shame on you,” Smith deadpanned between songs—and one of the most satisfying aspects of last night’s set was the luster these songs gave off. Oftentimes, when a legacy band records new music (I’m looking at Pixies here, and Sting, and Gang of Four and many others), it lacks the innovation and excitement of the original material, and in a live setting, it just withers on the vine. That wasn’t the case with the eclectic material of The Tipping Point, from the infectious “Break the Man” to the beautiful and hypnotic “Rivers of Mercy;” “My Demons” is such an effective banger that it could be the work of any hot new band played on the Shark.
Music videos, graphics and animations swirled and writhed and pulsated on a circular-framed projection screen behind the band, enhancing the songs with urgency, poetry and psychedelic vibes, never better than the trippy sunflowers and butterflies that lingered over “Sowing the Seeds of Love.” Other, less definable forms seemed to suggest a secular sort of mysticism—a hidden knowledge rooted in cosmic symbolism. From the six-strong stretch from “Pale Shelter” to bombastic closer “Shout,” it was clear that an entire packed amphitheater came together as one to worship in the church of Tears of Fears, singing its almost mantra-like anthems to the warm and inviting heavens.