Twenty years ago, a pub’s jukebox was not complete if it didn’t include the debut release from Scottish-American band Garbage and the record’s mid-decade ubiquity quickly established its iconic status as singles including Only Happy When It Rains and Stupid Girl helped to build its relevance with rock music fans in every university dorm and student house across the country. Considering how fondly this record is regarded, it is no surprise that the band have decided to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the album’s release in the form of the Twenty Years Queer tour, which has so far seen them play to sold out venues across North America and Europe and there is an acute sense of anticipation amongst the sold out audience in Manchester tonight as show time approaches.
Manchester locals Dutch Uncles do a pretty smart job of warming up the crowd and the band are clearly stoked to be playing in front of such a large, appreciative audience. Their set list is full of sharp, angular rhythms yet it is during the more unpredictable moments, when the tempo becomes jagged that the band are at their most satisfying, and their 1980s sensibilities are cleverly complimented by a more savage 21st Century approach that is not always apparent on record. The final track of the evening certainly provides further evidence of the band’s smart ability to quickly alter the tone and tempo of a song when the climax violently morphs into something more thrash metal than the math rock, which initially appears to be the bands primary inspiration.
Show time eventually arrives and a huge white sheet tumbles from the ceiling creating a vast cinema screen that bursts into life, displaying a purposefully chaotic montage of footage representing Garbage, circa 1995 along with key historical moments and inventions that helped define the decade. All of this is accompanied by a recording of Alien Sex Fiend and this cinematic prologue to the main event proves to be particularly effective and the already rocking atmosphere goes up a notch as the silhouettes of Shirley Manson et al eventually emerge and launch into a rollicking rendition of Subhuman.
The screen eventually drops dramatically to the floor and Shirley Manson prowls to the front of the stage, taking in the adoration of over two and a half thousand fans as the familiar opening guitar salvo from Supervixen fills the room. This is quickly followed by Queer, which throbs with a snarling, kinetic energy. This is pure and unadulterated nostalgic pleasure and the crowd are clearly relishing the presentation of these iconic songs, performed with such energy and bravado. Although the intention of the tour was always to allow fans to experience the album in full, Shirley and co. have put a bit more thought into the presentation of their songs, refusing to stick rigidly to the track listing. From this point forward the set list’s direction becomes a bit more unpredictable and the evening is all the more impressive because of this.
Shirley Manson is certainly in wittering mode (in her own words) this evening, and she spends several moments explaining the significance of Garbage’s debut on herself and the band before acknowledging the incredible effect the record has had on her loyal fans. She goes on to describe at length the moment Butch Vig expressed his interest in working with Shirley and how the band actually came to be. These breaks in the songs affect the energy of the show to a degree but Shirley Manson is an amusing and down to earth host; this is supposed to be celebration of the band as well as the record so I think these interludes are perfectly excusable. They create a context for the songs that are being performed tonight, which include an inspired cover of The Jam’s The Butterfly Collector, demonstrating their perpetual desire to create something original that connects with such a kaleidoscopic audience.
The band march on in industrious style through their debut, reaching a high point just prior to the start of a four-song encore. Only Happy When it Rains prompts an already excitable crowd to lose it slightly and the formidable Vow has certainly lost none of its rage in the last twenty years. What is particularly welcome with these tracks and indeed the whole evening is the way Shirley and co. have shaped these songs into new arrangements. The songs are not direct presentations of the versions on record and each track has an element of originality about it, breathing life into what must be very familiar material for the band.
The encore provides an opportunity to dip into the other records that may be less familiar to some but the energy never waivers and includes a thrilling cover of Kick My Ass that ensures that by the end of the night Garbage’s faithful followers leave with compelling evidence of why this band became such icons twenty years ago.
For our interview with Garbage, click here.
Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto