Garbage have spent 7 years in hibernation after a much-publicised falling-out, the result of an exhausting recording / touring treadmill and label disinterest, with Shirley Manson's solo album never seeing the light of day, as it was reportedly deemed "too obtuse and too dark for pop radio" by her then record company. 2012 saw the mighty return of Garbage, recharged + revitalised with renewed vigour and determined to re-establish themselves by picking-up from where they left off, with their fifth long player, Not Your Kind Of People (which has been self-released through their own label, STUNVOLUME). In a frank interview with DiS, the band's energy source, the one and only Shirley, admitted, "I spent my entire career feeling that I was coming from a position of lack. When you're a young woman who gets into business with a renowned and revered producer, the way the world views that can be complicated and diminishing for a less experienced, younger, unproven talent. I constantly felt, because I would read it everyday in the press, that I wasn't worthy of such a relationship. Even though I am a bolshie, feisty person it did eventually wear me down, if the truth be told."
Adding "It's tough for anyone to be in the music industry, but I think what has happened in the last decade is that a lot of women have forgotten what a struggle it was for previous generations to even get a foot in the door in the music scene and so have forgotten how tenuous their holding is. As a result I haven't seen much effort into trying to redefine the way women have historically been viewed as solely visual treats and playthings. Make no mistake, there is still an incredible struggle for women to be treated as equal around the world and in the music industry. I've always felt a responsibility to conduct myself a certain way. Before I broke into the music scene there weren't that many empowered women getting played on the radio. There are still very few women who have managed to navigate a career of any length or are considered of any worth and that bothers me."
And on reforming and performing live again, "There's a lot of different reasons. A lot of things have happened to us. A lot of things have happened to those we love. A lot of time has changed. A lot of time has passed, but we've got to the point where we're gasping to communicate and gasping for contact I feel more comfortable onstage than I do anywhere else in the world in my life. I feel completely uninhibited. I just don't feel self-conscious, in any way, shape or form, and yet in my day-to-day life even now I feel self-conscious."
Along with her bandmates Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig (who are all masters of their trade, as well as producers in their own right), tonight in Wolverhampton, fans - or 'Beloved Freaks' - are buzzing with excitable energy and more than ready to pledge their allegiance to Garbage. Who appear to be locked-on, in determined mood and fighting-fit with purpose! Kick-starting proceedings with the aptly-titled, Supervixen, the song's delicate + brutal dynamics, layered + latticed guitars and Shirley's instantly recognisable, downhearted and darkly seductive femme fatale vocals, are the perfect example of how the group successfully cross-pollinate melodic, head-rushing alt.rock with electronica and ear-worming pop hooks. Their key musical ingredients, sonic terrain or referential pillars if you like. As Shirley sings direct, heart-on-sleeve lyrics that have always come from a personal place, including, "Make a whole new religion, a falling star that you cannot live without, and I'll feed your obsession, there'll be nothing but this thing that you'll never doubt," before the track's closing kiss-off refrain, "Bow down to me." In many ways, streaked with her authoritative onstage presence, she is outwardly addressing her status as a 'voice' for other lost souls. Everyone in attendance is hooked and this is only the opening number!
Continuing with one of Shirley's favoured subject-matters
/ emblematic Garbage themes - negaholism - I Think I'm Paranoid is
a bone-shattering, radioactive tune which has a wonderful top-line
melody and so many addictive properties, it's untrue! Showcasing her
vocal skills / tonal shifts to perfection, the hulking chorus, "Bend
me, break me, anyway you need me, all I want is you
break me, breaking down is easy, all I want is you," causes the
assembled throng to pogo for the very first time. The highlights then
come thick and fast, with the slamming, sonic storm of Shut Your Mouth
and a hard 'n' heavy Metal Heart, followed by the band bringing out
the big guns, a pair of absolute classics in Queer and Stupid Girl.
Which like most adrenaline-veined songs so far, have featured extended
intros while the stage lights are blacked out in-between tracks. In
the studio and on record, Garbage are renowned for their methodical
approach to songwriting and carefully 'capturing' the balance between
human frailty and digital precision, with plenty of FX and atmospheric
nuances. But live, their music has a real bulletproof, pugilistic
power that enables you to experience the group's canon of songs in
a whole different way.
The cinematic Control, is the first new cut in the set list tonight and already feels like it deserves to be discussed in the same breath as some of Garbage's most satisfying work! With a distinctive, sheet-metal harmonica speckled sound and a seeping, tension-building push and pull arrangement, as the track reaches its climax, Shirley rightfully holds her arms aloft in victory, whose voice was pitch-perfect throughout! A vexed and sinister #1 Crush is tailed by the uptempo crowd-pleaser, Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!), which results in Shirley holding her mic out to the audience for additional help on a supersized chorus. Prior to a pulsating Blood For Poppies and referencing their extended absence once again, Shirley states, "As you're watching us, we're watching you - we're proud to watch you grow!" A shiny Special then sparkles and conveying so much in so few words, The Trick Is To Keep Breathing could be likened to an aural balm with a gravitational-pull. A jolting Battle In Me then thrusts straight into the next newie, Big Bright World - which has yet another unforgettable Garbage chorus - before Bad Boyfriend, with Butch pulverising his drumkit, sounds likes it's on steroids. Push It (including The Beach Boys sample, "Don't worry baby") ends in mass moshing from the crowd, while Vow, with its iconic lyric that couldn't have been written by anyone else, "Like Jesus Christ coming back from the dead," has the audience clapping along with the band during its finale. Easily one of the most thrilling songs the group has ever made!
For the encore and showing their united front, Shirley playfully introduces the individual band members by chanting their names over and over again without even looking at them, before turning to them and shouting, "You're here"! With the crowd then encouraged by Duke and Steve to chant Shirley's name, much to her amusement. However, Shirley does joke that spectators have been quieter than she would have liked them to have been this evening in Wolverhampton, "You can't make as much noise as a little girl from Scotland with red hair, but we'll see how you do as the night progresses." With swatches of chopped-up beats and manipulated vocals, Automatic Systematic Habit makes way for Not Your Kind Of People, a timeless and tender Garbage ballad with glorious harmonies that wrap themselves around you. The last song of the evening, Only Happy When It Rains, couldn't be more fitting given Shirley's aforementioned lyrical preoccupations. Beginning quietly then becoming louder, as Shirley paints pictures with words, the Civic Hall rises to the occasion by bellowing "Pour your misery down on me " right back at her, who is a performer well-versed in stagecraft, clearly feeding off of Garbage's audience. "Thank You Wolverhampton and Good Night," says Shirley after the stupefying track shakes the venue to its foundations, and with that, the group leaves the stage to overwhelming cheers and affection.
As a fan of every Garbage album, obviously, there are countless songs that I would've loved to have heard tonight. But for someone witnessing the band live for the very first time, I feel the set list was well-structured, giving an equal balance of fan favourites and new material, which is what any established act strives to achieve really, satisfying both themselves as well as connecting with the people who have paid to see them. Overall then, an exceptional gig, which along with their latest LP, proves that by carving their own niche, staying true to their sound and being fully-aware of their crossover appeal, Shirley and the gang are back with a bang!
Sounding stronger than ever, having complete confidence in who + what they are and now 'one' again after rediscovering the chemistry between them, Garbage are most certainly my kind of people.
A very special thanks to Liv @ Co-Operative Music, for all of her time and help.