It’s nice when you set your expectations low out of fear of disappointment, then find out your doubts were utterly, completely misplaced.
There were plenty of reasons to brace myself for a letdown Saturday night at the Paradise. According to random hearsay, GARBAGE used to suck live. I can confirm that they have, indeed, sucked during one TV performance I watched years ago. Through their 1995 self-titled debut and 1998 follow-up Version 2.0 stand as ‘90s classics, 2001’s Beautiful Garbage is a decisively mixed bag. Later, the phrase, “Come on, baby” would appear on every single song off 2005’s Bleed Like Me, and as Shirley Manson claimed in a recent PHX feature, the band totally didn’t break up. They just stopped playing.
Recently (because why not?) they reformed with the pretty-okay-not-bad-but-nothing-extraordinary effort, Not Your Kind of People. Bands that put out pretty-okay-not-bad records usually put on pretty-okay-not-bad-but-nothing-spectacular live performances. And I wanted something spectacular from the outfit responsible for “Only Happy When It Rains,” damnit. Which, in the end, is what I got.
Garbage have always been easy targets for needless snarkage. If you were around 18 years old during the mid-’90s and took the abstract notion “authenticity” in rock music seriously, Garbage probably pissed you off. Crimson-haired Scottish pixie dream girl Shirley Manson was recruited to front a band of well-connected studio guns, most notably Nevermind producer and drummer Butch Vig. Someone had correctly presumed ahead of time that a combination such as this would record a few platinum records. But even if they were prefabricated to tap into a zeitgeist of profitable angst, this is 2012, when Girl Talk and Skrillex are huge stars and there is no longer such a thing as “authenticity.”
If, on the other hand, you were closer to 11-years-old in 1995, Garbage probably didn’t piss you off as much as made you think things like, “This band is weird, but the singer makes me feel hitherto unfamiliar tingly feelings. Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinteresting.” Or, maybe that was just me.
Far, far less interesting was opening act Dezrah the Strange, a local magician who went over like a bag of hammers. “Ever had the biggest gig of your life and blown it?” he asked the crowd, being way too hard on himself. He did legit read a dude’s mind when he asked him to think of a country in Europe, and somehow knew the dude was thinking of Spain. Dezrah would go over like gangbusters at, let’s say, something like a Tuesday night at a cozy neighborhood bar. At a hot-ticket sold-out to-the-gills Paradise full of people who came to see a mythic rock band, apparently not.
Sometimes it’s awesome to break protocol and give the audience something a bit off-kilter. This time, it would’ve been proper to book an up-and-coming indie band or two to warm us up for Garbage’s triumphant journey through their catalogue of steel surfaced, cyber-punky, brooding, yet scorching dark pop. I’ve got some minor gripes regarding the set list (“Shut Your Mouth,” “Bad Boyfriend” and “Why Do You Love Me” all made it on there, but not “Dumb,” “Dog New Tricks,” or “Silence is Golden.” WTF?) but zeniths like “I Think I’m Paranoid,” killed everybody. Only good songs from Not Your Kind Of People – “Blood for Poppies” and “Automatic Systematic Habit,” to name two – were thrown down, with none of the record’s low points. Either Garbage secretly feel the same way about their own album that I do, or that was a just happy coincidence.
About halfway through 1996’s swooning “#1 Crush,” Manson hopped off the stage and sauntered around behind a barricade, stage-right. The excitement I and others felt knowing she was a mere 10 feet away from us seems totally creepy when you think about it a little. Manson might sing a few notes an octave lower than she used to, or inflect different syllables, but mostly she’s retained the smoky devil-may-care effortlessness that made her famous 20 years ago.
Normally, I can’t relate to the obsession of that song’s narrator, nor can I understand what compels people to hang outside a venue for hours after a concert ends hoping for an autograph, handshake, or a picture with some musician. But even though we left when we heard Shirley and the aging boys would come out after they finished their pizza, while lingering with the fanatics after the show, celebrity hero worship almost made sense. But I think I’m too ADD and easily distracted to ever make an effective stalker.