Friday, September 02, 2005

“Now It’s Gah-bage!”*

Garbage with The Start

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Swank Home

The Commodore Ballroom, August 30/05

Wow. It takes an incredible amount of perversity or hubris to give yourself the name Garbage - you’re just sort of asking for it, aren’t you? Every smart-alecky reviewer who ever put pen to paper (or finger to computer key) can knock off a review without a moment’s thought (I’m not including myself in this group as I usually take considerably less time than that). Haven’t they been dogged by enough pithy reviews like: “They’re garbage!” “They’re right!” or “They’re also trash!” to make them heartily sick of the stupid name?

Perhaps inspired by Felix Pappalardi and Mountain, Butch Vig formed Garbage with Steve Marker and Duke Erikson in 1994 on the back of his success as producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Realizing they were all just producers, they hired front woman Shirley Manson to provide vocals and charisma. I’m just kidding about that - the band provides enough guitar neck strangling, lunging about, hunched intensity and other guitar histrionics to reward a degree of attention and Butch Vig is an excellent drummer. But Manson is the centre of attention - tall and slim with striking red hair and large eyes; she held the audience in the palm of her hand the entire night, chatting with the crowd, joking with her bandmates and singing songs, past and present, in her powerful voice (it’s not often singers can convey softness in a rock concert setting, but Manson does, quite easily - it’s not all that hoarse “rawk” shouting which can become a bit tiresome).

The band came out onto a spartan stage after a lengthy excerpt from Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails “Hurt”. Manson’s hair was tucked into a military-style cap and she was dressed in short, short cut-offs (with the name “Shirley” embroidered along the bum - not that I was looking! Uh...Lezah pointed it out) with fishnet stockings, striped socks and shoes not unlike Dorothy’s ruby slippers. After two numbers, she complained that the stage was slippery and a crew member brought out a pair of high top black runners that ran halfway up her shin. Manson proceeded to tie them up with her leg up on the monitor - an added thrill for the legmen and foot fetishists in the crowd (ahem). This little bit of stagecraft is repeated at shows, apparently, as I read about it happening elsewhere. That’s not a complaint, though; I’m a big-time advocate for showmanship at rock concerts. Later in the show, Manson also fell into conversation with a girl in the crowd, a member of the Garbage fan club, who complained that she’d been screwed around by the fan club over tickets. Manson promised to look into it and in recompense made the other band members come offstage and give the girl a kiss. When a song broke down, Manson canvassed the audience for requests and a girl, frantically waving a sign with the song title “Hammer In My Head” written on it, had the privilege of requesting her favourite song (I’m assuming that it was her favourite song and the sign wasn’t a desperate cry for help). It’s interaction like that with the audience members that really endeared the band to me.

The stage presentation was interesting too. As befits a band consisting almost entirely of producers, the sound was excellent - the best mix I’d ever heard at the Commodore. They had obviously taken the trouble to guarantee a quality sound; Butch Vig’s drums even had clear plastic shields set up around his cymbals, which were quite baffling. Oddly, there were no amps on stage, making it look quite bare. I wonder if all those Marshall stacks that bands insist on piling around the stage are just for looks? (Hmmm, I wonder...)

The opening act, The Start, was a crowd favourite as well. Its sound goes back to the golden era of punk - you know, Green Day, Rancid, etc. - combined with the effects-laden guitar sound of early eighties bands like the Fixx. On a couple of songs, the drummer had an almost Ringo Starr-like quality to his playing - that’s a compliment, by the way. The singer seemed to connect with the audience, but I found her a little over the top - too much dramatic stage stalking and head bows; and far, far too many leg kicks, chest thumps, dramatic collapses, courageous risings. She pointed at the ceiling so often I really thought there was something up there - apparently a holder of a Master’s degree in the Art of Hamology. While touring with Garbage, I hope she takes the time to learn from Shirley Manson how you really hold an audience’s attention.

*Walter Matthau in “The Odd Couple”

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