There may be four members in the rock band Garbage, but away from the studio, on stage, Garbage truly becomes the Shirley Manson show.
The opinionated, red-headed lead singer was in top form and feeling talkative during Garbage’s debut concert in Winnipeg, playing in front of a crowd of about 900 at the hot and un-air conditioned Burton Cummings Theatre on Aug. 25.
“It’s been a long time comin’,” the Scottish-born Manson said in her thick accent after opening the show with the band’s 1995 hit “Queer.” “I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to get here.”
The Madison, Wisconsin-based band — which includes Manson and three male band mates, Butch Vig (drums), Steve Marker and Duke Erikson (guitars) — was in top form, sounding polished and professional. However, Vig was unable to attend the show due to the death of his mother earlier in the week. Back-up percussionist Matt Walker replaced him.
During her opening talk, Manson took time to address the absence of Vig (who is best known for producing Nirvana’s Nevermind and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream), saying that he was known as the “stable” one in the group and would be proud that the band was able to “hold it together” without him.
After that sentimental monologue, Garbage dug deep into a four-song stretch of hard-rocking tracks from their latest album, Bleed Like Me. The band’s setup was simple but dramatic, with moving background images projected onto three small LCD screens on stands and a bright light bulb backdrop. In the centre of it all, with Marker and Erikson happily grinding their axes on opposite ends of the stage, was the five-foot-seven-inch Manson, who was dressed in a red T-shirt dress accessorized with a conductor’s hat, an oversized black belt and buckle, and boxing boots for a little extra stage comfort and attitude.
The night’s performances had Garbage turn their wall-of-sound guitar aesthetic up a few volume notches from their studio recordings, and Manson — the highlight — proved her chops as a deft and electrically confident performer.
Yet, Manson really hit her stride after performing the band’s first radio hit “Vow.” During a lull between songs, Manson’s stage patter became engagingly personal.
“The band gets nervous when I get chatty,” Manson said to audience cheers. “But it’s the eve before my birthday, so I can do whatever I f–kin’ want.”
Indeed, Manson turned 39 the next day and was feeling retrospective, as the band has marked their 10th anniversary together as performers.
“So few girls have followed in my wake,” Manson said. “I’m getting old and I need to retire soon.”
The audience expressed shock when Manson said this, especially since rumours have been circulating that this tour could be the band’s last.
However, the band soldiered on through a trio of songs — including an audience-pleasing one-two punch of their biggest hits “Stupid Girl” and “Only Happy When It Rains” — and then broke again to Manson, who took time to celebrate her upcoming birthday by enjoying some Scottish whisky and singing an expletive-filled “Happy Birthday” to herself.
The charmingly open chats continued in between songs, but the music uncharacteristically fell flat with the before-the-encore closer track “Right Between The Eyes,” which, to most, was an unfamiliar Bleed Like Me album track. And to start off the encore, another lesser-known Bleed track, “Happy Home,” brought the energy down even further. However, that was a rare lapse in a consistently great and well-thought out set. Fortunately, the show was brought back to previous heights when Manson took requests and treated the crowd to four more songs, including audience favourites like “Supervixen” and “#1 Crush."
"Boys Wanna Fight"
"Sex Is Not The Enemy"
"Why Do You Love Me?"
"Only Happy When It Rains"
"Bleed Like Me"
"Shut Your Mouth"
"When I Grow Up"
"Right Between The Eyes"
"Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!)"
"Not My Idea"
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.