“…for those of you who haven’t been with us for twenty years, ‘welcome’. Thank you for listening, and thank you for connecting with us.” Shirley Manson of Garbage, talking about young people reaching out to the band, some of whom maybe weren’t even alive 20 years ago when they released their eponymous debut album. 20 years later, “connecting” has taken on a whole new meaning than it had in the mid-90s, as the Internet bounds us together in various forms and interfaces. This new tour is all about that landmark and somewhat counter culture album, Garbage, which came out in deluxe, remastered, reissue versions spanning three SKUs across multiple formats on October 1st. The “Super Deluxe Edition” features a whopping 62 tracks, including all of the B-Sides and remixes and demos galore. The “20 Years Queer Tour” is a celebration of that album, playing the whole thing front to back with B-sides sprinkled within, as well as a few songs from later albums and eras. The sold out show at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Wednesday night largely had a party-like atmosphere, as some fans spent the day waiting in line or participating in the Adventures in Wonderland add-on packages (which included swag, sound check viewing, meet and greets with the band, early entry into the venue, etc.). Having turned out for several of the band’s shows as they’ve made their comeback in recent years, they seem to kill it in concert more and more, and the trend continues with this tour, as they stand with confidence on stage, bathed in red-hued lights and performing over a sea of mostly black attire clad fans with the occasional pink feather boa as added flair. Even though they are looking backwards for this tour, they continue to move forward and it is an exciting time to be a fan of this band, who continue to reach up for their full potential.
Venue: Fox Theater
Where: Oakland, California
Promoter: Another Planet Entertainment and Red Devil Lounge Presents
When: October 7, 2015
This was the second stop of Garbage’s “20 Years Queer” tour at Fox Theater in Oakland, so there was a lot of excitement and anticipation in the air leading up to the band taking the stage…
Torres is a solo project by Mackenzie Scott. Her second album, Sprinter, was released this year. This was my first listen for the band, and I enjoyed their set. The final song of the set was the most rocking and seemed to be the best received. The photographers in attendance were told we could not photograph the opening set, otherwise I would have included some images here.
You can check out the video for the title track of her new album here:
- Shirley Manson – (Vocals)
- Duke Erikson – (Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion)
- Steve Marker – (Guitar, Keyboards)
- Butch Vig – (Drums, Percussion)
- Eric Avery – (Touring on Bass Guitar)
1995… funny enough, in addition to it being a key year for Garbage with the release of their debut, self-titled record, it was a big year for me personally as well, which makes it easy to transport myself back to that year and recollect and reminisce about what a different time it was, comparing and contrasting 1995 with 2015.
I graduated from college with my bachelor’s degree in 1995, and moved from Northern California to Los Angeles to start my master’s degree program in filmmaking.
It was such a different time in music – Napster didn’t even launch until years later, in 1999! It was the Golden Age of the compact disc, and the idea of trading music and buying music online did not exist. As such, MP3 players didn’t come out until a few years later in 1997, and didn’t take off with the mainstream for sometime afterwards (again, see Napster, which disrupted the music industry to such an extent it is still reeling today).
The Internet was in its infancy in 1995 – it was more about AOL and CompuServe and Usenet newsgroups than how it is used today, being ubiquitous in our lives from our phones to our televisions to work and play. We weren’t anywhere near as “connected” with one another 20 years ago, and that is reflective in everything, including the very personalities of people as you skew to younger and younger generations. Technology has not just touched people’s lives, but changed our culture dramatically.
Of course, not only were digital cameras NOT everywhere and cheap and portable and built into every cell phone sold as they are today, but the first consumer digital camera with an LCD screen came out in 1995 – the Casio QV-10 – and it cost about $1,000. The image resolution was not even counted in megapixels, but kilopixels! 250 kilopixels to be exact (or “320×240 dots”). On the professional side, you could drop $20,000 for the 1.3 megapixel Fujix Nikon, which had a removable hard drive that could hold up to 70 photos! Wow, how times have changed… but the idea of fans taking photos at concerts (let alone video) was not much more than a dream at that time.
Bill Clinton was about halfway through his presidency, the economy was good, and people were generally happy and optimistic (and of course 9/11 was far off in the future). Movies like Clueless reflected pop culture at the time – happy and bubbly and not too caught up with substance.
I’ve always referred to the 90s as my least favorite decade since I was born (in 1973) in terms of music overall… and 1995 gave us “The Macarena”. And the people celebrated. ‘Nuff said.
So how exactly did Garbage emerge in this atmosphere that would appear to be at odds with them in most every way? I still haven’t figured that out.
I last checked in with one of the band’s live shows at The Palms in Las Vegas in 2013, which bookended their comeback show at the same venue a year earlier. I also caught their last Bay Area appearance at The Warfield in 2012 as well.
I’ve shared my thoughts on the band in past reviews, but this is a summary in the event someone has come across this latest article without the context provided in the past…
The alternative rock band formed in 1994. All of the men in the band are American while Shirley Manson is Scottish. They found success with many hit singles and their music and sound is very much their own. The most recognizable songs to casual listeners would be “Stupid Girl”, “Only Happy When It Rains”, “Supervixen”, “Vow”, “Queer”, and it’s likely that most would have heard their title track to the James Bond film, “The World Is Not Enough”.
The group disbanded around 2005/2006, while each pursued other projects.
To the surprise of many, the band reformed and released a new studio album in 2012, Not Your Kind of People. I think that even they were caught off guard by the enthusiastic reception, and toured in 2012 and 2013.
As discussed in my interview with Steve Marker a couple of years ago, I’ve always felt that the ’90s was a really interesting time for music, and I have an opinion that the timing of Garbage coming onto the scene maybe was a bit of bad luck for them, in that I believe that their work, and their core identity as an important band has never been fully appreciated nor recognized. Again, this is all my opinion, but I think that part of it is just the fact that there was some pretty mediocre music that was popular at that time, and good taste by the public at large and mainstream in popular culture was in serious decline. One of my favorite bands that was hugely successful in the very early 90s – Nirvana – I think accounted for a shift in the musical landscape at the time, though that was obviously not their intent, but a consequence of their success.
While Nirvana is credited for creating the Grunge movement, I honestly could never hear any similarity whatsoever between the music of Nirvana and those who became popular subsequently, apart from wearing plaid and having long hair; musically, I don’t think that they (Nirvana) could be more different from their peers (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, etc.). For me, Nirvana had an unbelievable talent in creating catchy, hooky pop music – much like the Beatles. Only Nirvana did it in a uniquely Nirvana way. But it was still, at it’s core, pop music. The Grunge bands that followed… what little I could tolerate to sample… had nothing catchy about it whatsoever. I found it to be quite the opposite (as well as, frankly, whiny and self indulgent).
In any event, this Grunge music movement, as well as a resurgence in popularity of Country music (think Garth Brooks, etc.) – the mainstream celebration of this music pretty much put a nail in the coffin of the 80s New Wave music and those bands. It was a real change in the music industry, and the 90s were kind of the final decade in which the record companies had real control of who was heard, what was sold, etc., as this was just the infancy of the Internet as a public phenomenon.
So where does Garbage fit in all of this? Well, they were one of a few beacons of light in a sea of music that I personally didn’t particularly care for, and, I think, some people just missed them completely, as they were simply filling their mind with what their radio station of choice was feeding them.
Now, Garbage had many hits in the 90s – big hits – but this was limited to the “Alternative” music scene, which more or less supplanted (and in some ways was the successor to) the New Wave bands of the 80s. Alternative bands were just a bit edgier, a bit more diverse, and got more back to the roots of playing traditional rock and roll instruments, though enhanced by some of the tools developed in the 80s scene. You can see real shifts among bands – look at Depeche Mode, who hit their pinnacle with Violator, released in 1990 – Nirvana’s Nevermind came out in 1991 – then Depeche Mode’s follow-up to Violator was Songs of Faith and Devotion in 1993, which was an entirely different musical direction obviously influenced by Nirvana and others, and Alan Wilder even used a real drum kit in the studio and on tour for the support of that album. Everything changed.
Funny enough, Butch Vig – founder of Garbage and their drummer – was the producer of Nirvana’s Nevermind – probably the best album as well as the most important album released in the 1990s. In fact, Butch Vig was instrumental in a number of the truly excellent bands producing incredible albums in the 1990s… And while Garbage is completely different, it all makes complete sense, as you can hear and feel bits of influences with these other classic bands within the music of Garbage. Butch Vig was involved in making this incredible music that really lived outside of the times in which it was made, in relation to a lot of the other “popular” music being produced at the time. He was (and continues to be) a real visionary and musical genius. We were all living in this “breathless” world of ubiquitous Kenny G, and then you’ve got a band like Sonic Youth modifying the sounds coming out of their guitars by sticking screwdrivers in them. It was like music from another, much more interesting planet. And somehow, Butch Vig was their ambassador.
For me, Garbage is kind of the culmination of ideas that fueled these other classic bands, and it’s really kind of a miracle they are all together today and everything seems to be coming together as maybe it never fully did almost 20 years ago. Watching the band perform, they seem like family, and listening to them share about some of their struggles quite candidly on stage, between songs, they come across as very proud and determined to be the success that they deserve to be. But really, they already are, as their music has touched so many people, and each show brings such excitement and this sort of especially shared experience between band and the fans that adore them. I think in some ways the story of Garbage – having come completely undone, and now, being better than ever in every conceivable way – it makes their fans love them that much more, as they can not only enjoy the bands music, but in some ways accompanying them on their new journey in a somewhat vicarious way. There is a true bond between Garbage and their fans.
With the show at Fox Theater, the production has scaled up a bit from the last time they toured. They opened with a video montage showing 1995-era Garbage as well as some pop culture touch points at that time, to give some context into the world in which Garbage was born.
The first song, “Subhuman”, was played by the band behind a white curtain with white and red backlighting, reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho. This staging allowed the members to play with their shadows and build anticipation of seeing the band in full light on the stage, which happened when the sheet dropped and they kicked into “Subhuman”.
Shirley Manson’s stage persona still makes me view her as a bit of a Tim Burton dark heroine, but maybe with extra confidence in her powers.
As a band, they seem more fused at the brain than even, bringing all those wonderful sound elements together so seamlessly on stage. They even toss in little Easter eggs in their songs, like a bit of New Order’s “Temptation” mixed into “Not My Idea” and a snippet of “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” bridging “Trip My Wire” and “Vow”.
There is that intensity, fueling it all and somehow giving a feeling of the show propelling forward and upward throughout, at least for the hard core fans who were thrilled to hear those B-Sides played live for the first time since the 90s. This isn’t a long tour by traditional measure, and I think it is because it truly is a gift back to the hardcore fans who have supported them for decades now. This is truly a “fan service” tour if I’ve ever heard of one, and I’m sure some in the mainstream won’t quite get that or appreciate it.
I’m excited to hear that upcoming sixth studio album, which Butch said is nearing completion at the end of the show, promising more touring to follow.
Below is a photo of the set list (photo credit Official Garbage Website):
Below is the set list from the show at the Fox Theater in Oakland…
- Alien Sex Fiend (20 Years Queer Video Intro)
- Only Happy When It Rains
- As Heaven Is Wide
- Not My Idea
- A Stroke of Luck
- Girl Don’t Come
- The Butterfly Collector (The Jam cover)
- Trip My Wire
- Stupid Girl
- Dog New Tricks
- My Lover’s Box
- Fix Me Now
- Kick My Ass (Vic Chesnutt cover)
- Driving Lesson
- I Think I’m Paranoid
- When I Grow Up
- #1 Crush
Below are some photos of Garbage performing on stage (click any image to open a virtual lightroom with higher resolution versions of each photo) – apologies for not including too many of Steve – I was kind of locked in one spot in the packed photo pit and only had two songs to work with due to the hanging curtain on the first: