Love them or hate them, you never really know a band unless you’ve seen them live. I’m reminded of this time and time again, most recently when I caught the sold-out performance of Garbage at the Fillmore Silver Spring Sunday evening.
Once upon a time, I associated Garbage with a period of music for which I have little affection overall, consigning them to the bottom of a bin of post-grunge noise, most of which demonstrated little originality or imagination. I heard of their new album, Not Your Kind of People, and following tour last year with a bit of curiosity because I had not expected them to tour, much less chart again.
To her credit, singer Shirley Manson addressed this idea head-on in an often self-confessional dialogue with the audience. I say dialogue because the audience truly reacted to her and she to them. She created an unmistakable bond between performer and audience when she spoke, which she did more as the show continued, charming listeners with her Scottish accent. Manson said she had doubts if she could bring her band together again, if they would work well together after their time apart, and if anyone would want to listen to them. She looked at the charts and didn’t see anything that resembled her band.
But that process appears to have given her confidence. The introspection inspired the lyrics to the new song “Man on a Wire.” And she was irrevocably committed to making a new record.
The new record is pleasing and doesn’t contain any real surprises. For folks like myself not as familiar with Garbage as I could have been, what was surprising, however, was the level of performance in their stage show. The occasional exposition fits in to a loose but very talented stream of cabaret-style music and musings. At one point, Manson reflects on being in Silver Spring, Md., for the first time and breaks into Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” The rest of the band follows her into the song for a cheeky if half-hearted romp through its refrain. Later, Manson spots some behavior in the audience that she doesn’t like — perhaps someone pushing someone else? And she calls upon people to be nice, which leads into a bit of a spot cover of Die Antwoord’s “I Think You’re Freaky” (meant of course to be a compliment).
It’s this sort of apparent improvisation that speaks volumes about the band’s capabilities and their identity as a band. Butch Vig, producer savant, sits behind the drums while Duke Erikson and Steve Marker play alongside Manson. While the setup is nothing original, the connection between the members is palpable. Of course, they please the audience with well-known Garbage songs in addition to the new material, presenting a stripped down arrangement of “Only Happy When It Rains” and a dependable rendition of “Stupid Girl.” The band closes their main set with a surprisingly effective cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which prompts the audience to sing along.
In the end, I’m impressed with the band’s ability to cross the lines of punk, blues, electronica and trip hop. They quickly showed me they weren’t all I thought their were with an early introduction of the ravey “Hammering in Your Head,” which they introduced with a dialogue sample from the movie Blade Runner.
Perhaps like the Replicants of that movie, there is a lot more to Garbage than first meets the eye.